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Column: Let's be idle-free, Prince George!

PGAIR tips that could save money, reduce health risks, protect environment
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Vehicle exhaust pipe. | File photo

This informational column was submitted to PrinceGeorgeMatters from Lindsay Sackett, Northern and Interior Region Program Coordinator for the Prince George Air Improvement Roundtable (PGAIR).

Air quality in the Prince George airshed has been steadily improving over the years.

In fact, a report released by UNBC researchers early in February 2021 found that the industrial sector has reduced particulate matter emissions by 40 per cent and sulphur dioxide emissions by 24 per cent since 2005! 

This is exciting news for Prince George, since air pollution puts people -- especially children and older adults -- at higher risk for heart and lung diseases, while at the same time contributing to climate change.

Existing illnesses, including COVID-19, can also be worsened by even low levels of air pollution. 

While we may be moving in the right direction when it comes to air quality improvement, we still have a long way to go in Prince George. Achieving acceptable air quality won’t happen overnight or by reducing emissions from any single source, so it’s important that we all work together to continue reducing our emissions wherever possible.

One simple and effective way that individuals can help improve local air quality is by choosing to eliminate unnecessary idling.

By reducing the amount of time spent idling, which gets us nowhere anyway, we can reduce the amount of pollution that we’re putting into the air we breathe, save on fuel costs, and protect the environment.

Basic 'idle-free' tips 

  • Turn off your engine if you think you will be stopped for more than 60 seconds (except when you are in traffic)
    • It has minimal impact on the starter system, and idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel than it takes to restart your vehicle
  • Modern engines warm up quickly
    • The best way to warm up the rest of the vehicle is to gently drive it, but make sure your windows are clear before you go
  • Keep your vehicle well-maintained and check your tire pressure regularly
    • A poorly tuned engine uses up to 15 per cent more energy when idling than a well-tuned engine

Winter idling reduction tips 

When the temperatures drop, the amount of time that Canadians spend idling shoots up. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

  • Block heaters beat remote starters
    • While remote starts may be convenient, they can all too easily cause people to warm up their cars for five to 15 minutes, which is generally unnecessary
    • Timing your block heater to turn on one to two hours before driving is a great, more eco-friendly alternative
  • Use 0W-30 oil
    • ​​​​​​​A low viscosity will easily warm up the moving parts and gliding surfaces of a car in cold temperatures
  • Turn the engine off, but keep those seat heaters on (or use a cozy blanket) 
    • School zones are known to be air pollution hotspots during pick-up times; help keep the air clean for your child by turning off your engine while you wait

Reasons to reduce unnecessary idling

The bottom line: 

  • Idling gets you nowhere but wastes money and fuel while harming your health and the environment.


Idling to warm up (modern) engines is unnecessary 

  • Back when cars relied on carburetors as a crucial engine component, it was important that they were warmed up before driving to get the right mix of air and fuel. But electric fuel injectors in modern cars (that is, cars made during the 1980s or later) use sensors to supply fuel to the engine and adjust to temperature conditions. These days, the only reason to let your car idle is to get the oil circulating, which is taken care of after about 30 seconds.
  • Want to learn more? Check out this great 3-minute video by Engineering Explained.


Improve your health, and your children's health too.

  • Idling and exposure to traffic-related air pollutants has been directly linked to allergies, asthma and other respiratory diseases, heart and cardiovascular diseases, and even to cancer.
  • Children are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of engine exhaust because they breathe faster than adults and inhale more air per pound of body weight. Their small size also means that children are simply nearer to tailpipes than adults are.
  • Reducing unnecessary idling in school zones (and encouraging your friends to do the same) is a super easy way for you to reduce your child’s exposure to harmful pollutants. 

You’ll save money by saving on gas

  • Idling gives you zero miles per gallon. Gasoline engines consume between 2.5 and four litres of fuel per hour while idling, and diesel engines use between one and four litres per hour.
  • If 1,000 Canadian drivers avoided idling for just three minutes a day it would reduce fuel use by almost 25,000 litres a year, saving them approximately $25,000 annually.
  • Idling causes spark plugs to become dirtier more quickly. This can cause an increase in fuel consumption of up to five per cent.


Protect your vehicle 

  • Idling forces an engine to operate in an inefficient, fuel-rich mode that -- over time -- can degrade your engine’s performance and reduce mileage.
  • Oil becomes contaminated more quickly when a vehicle is idling than when it’s being driven -- especially for diesel engines. Studies have shown that prolonged idling reduces the operating life of engine oil by 75 per cent, from 600 engine-hours to 150-engine hours!
  • Unattended idling vehicles are also an invitation to car thieves.


Help the environment

  • Air pollution contributes to climate change, which is impacting B.C.’s forests. Already, the northern migration of the mountain pine beetle and record-setting forest fires -- both linked to climate change -- have had adverse impacts on the forestry and tourism industries. 

 

Reducing unnecessary idling is good for your wallet and car, good for the health of our community and good for the planet.

Plus it’s super easy to do! 

Remember, a single person reducing their vehicle idling might not seem like much, but individual actions – when taken by millions of Canadians – can make a big difference when it comes to clean air.

Let’s be idle-free, PG!