Green Living

Turn It Off

Letting your car idle wastes gas, pollutes the air, and damages your lungs.

Turn It Off
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During a youthful flirtation with an autoracing career, I fell in love with the smell of fuel emissions. While other 21-year-olds were at college, I was at a Miami racing school working extra hours for lap time. At the track I’d stride through the pit, heady with the fumes of sexy machines revving for competition.

Later, when a change in career brought me to smoggy Los Angeles, the correlation between my beloved internal combustion engine and stifling pollution made me rethink those sexy fumes—and I began doing my part by cutting back on idling. Now, like a reformed smoker, I get aggravated by unenlightened idlers. Sure, we all make regular daily trips from point A to point B (which account for 77 percent of road-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA), but what about when we aren’t even on the road? The average person idles his or her car for ten minutes a day, releasing approximately 1.3 pounds of carbon dioxide without traveling a single mile. The next time you turn the key in the ignition, consider these simple ways to save your car, everybody’s lungs (including your own), and the environment.

Switch off your car. Whenever you’re stopped for more than 30 seconds somewhere other than in traffic, turn off the engine and rely on the battery to run the radio or windows. (Restarting your vehicle actually requires less fuel than idling for more than ten seconds.) Except for instances of extreme cold or heat, your car will remain comfortable. And so will everyone who walks past your car: Fossil fuel emissions are hazardous to human health, possibly affecting lung development and breathing capacity for a lifetime. In fact, climbing national asthma rates have prompted 34 states and Washington, D.C., to enact anti-idling regulations.

Bypass the drive-thru. Park your car outside the bank or other drive-thru establishments and walk to the building. You’ll save money on gas, your legs will appreciate the exercise, and you’ll enjoy connecting with your community.

Skip the remote starter. Starting your car from inside your house may seem cutting edge but getting zero miles to the gallon is not. Besides, engines operate at optimal temperature while in motion. So the cylinders, spark plugs, and exhaust system suffer more wear and tear from idling. In fact, experts say you don’t need to warm up your car for more than 30 seconds, even in cold temperatures.

Spread the word. By reducing idling, you can transform your car into a virtual hybrid (which turns off its engine at every stop to improve mileage and decrease emissions) without ever spending a dime. To make a bigger impact, encourage your local school district to sign on to the EPA Clean School Bus USA National Idle-Reduction Campaign at



Woman in car image via Shutterstock