How Bad is Idling Your Car REALLY?


We have all heard it plenty of times. Don’t idle your car! Children are breathing that exhaust! YOU are breathing that exhaust! But yet, when you show up to school or to the airport and you are just sitting there, surrounded by all the other people idling their cars… it becomes pretty darn hard to turn off the engine! So, how does idling REALLY affect air pollution, and what difference does turning off the engine really make?

Well, let’s take a quick look at the EPA statistics on driving versus idling to see how much pollution you can emit while idling your car. We will use NOx (nitrogen oxides) as the key pollutant to measure, since it is a major component of car exhaust. We will also only be looking at personal vehicles, or light duty passenger vehicles in EPA language. Two key facts: For every mile driven in a passenger vehicle, your car emits 0.69 grams of NOx. And for every minute of idling, your car emits about 0.059 grams of NOx.

Put more clearly:

1 mile driven in car = 0.69 g of NOx emitted

1 minute idling in car = 0.059 g of NOx emitted

So where the heck are we going with this? Let’s look at how the two compare. 1 mile of driving puts out about 12 times as much pollution as idling for a minute. So, if you sit there idling for 12 minutes, it is like driving 1 mile in your car!

Let’s paint a picture of this real quick. Another school day has ended, and there are a bunch of cars lined up waiting to pick up kids after finishing classes. BUT, instead of sitting still, they slowly circle the school at 5 miles per hour for 12 minutes, spewing out pollution from their tailpipes as they go. Of course, they do not want to turn their engines off, so they must keep circling and putting out pollutants. No parent would willingly circle a school for 12 minutes at a 5 MPH pace waiting for their child, because that would be a ridiculous waste when you could just be sitting still. Can you imagine running into parents at a school and having them wave at you as they go by, saying “Just doing my laps before the kids get out!” Furthermore, school administrators would be outraged that parents had gotten there early just to drive in a circle and put pollution into their school’s environment for kids to breathe!

The bottom line: it may not feel like anything is happening when you are sitting there, hanging out in an idling car, but the reality is that sitting in an idling car is just like driving around slowly and putting out pollution needlessly as you wait for the person you want to pick up. And all you have to do is take out the key when you are waiting for 30 seconds or longer, and the problem is solved!

(or buy an electric car) 🙂

This one feels like it is going to need a video to accompany it. Look out for one in the next couple weeks!


Image credit:

–The Vivergy Team


One thought on “How Bad is Idling Your Car REALLY?

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