Vehicle Idle in Cold – Yes or No?

Autumn 2016 has been very kind weather wise but now the days are getting shorter, the nigh longer. Very soon you will wake up to icy windscreens and frost on the roads and very cold engines. If you’re one of the many drivers who thinks it is important to turn on your engine and let it warm up before starting your journey in wintry weather, you may well be doing your engine more harm than good. There is a commonly held belief, your vehicle needs to “warm up” on cold mornings.

Pre 1980, most vehicles had carburettors, and these engines did need to warm up on cold days. Why? Carburettors regulate the air-fuel mixture within the engine and could not accurately adjust the air to fuel ratio in cold weather. In order to work properly, a carburettor needed to warm up or else you could very well stall your vehicle.

Car Idling

Today pretty much every vehicle on our roads has an electric fuel injection system that helps maintain the perfect air-fuel mixture needed for combustion, whatever the ambient temperature warming up your vehicle before driving on a cold day has become a thing of the past. The sensors in your vehicle’s electronic fuel injection system regulate the air-fuel mixture in real time, regardless of the outside temperature.

Vehicle manufacturers state that vehicles with modern fuel injection systems can be driven immediately on start-up, there is no need to warm them up first.

Many environmental organisations recommend idling your vehicle for no more than 30 seconds before starting your journey. This means that on a cold day you should simply start your vehicle, scrape the ice off the windows and commence your journey.

Still not convinced? We hear you say. Changing your routine can be difficult. Before you commit to a long-term relationship with “warming up your vehicle” though, check out the below five points for not doing so:

  1. It Causes Engine Damage your check engine light is on it could be due to engine damage from idling in the winter. “Idling your vehicle in the cold not only wastes fuel, but it is also stripping oil from critical components that help your engine run, namely cylinders and pistons. Less oil means more friction, more wear and tear, and a reduced life for your engine.
  2. You stay colder, longer, your car actually heats up faster when being driven (however this does not mean you should put your foot to the floor on the driveway). Depending on driving conditions, it can take between 5 and 15 minutes for your engine to reach its optimum operating temperature.
  3. It is Illegal. Yes that is correct it is illegal to leave your vehicle running and unattended. You can be prosecuted under the Road Traffic Act offence of ‘quitting’ which is when a person leaves their vehicle’s engine running while they are not in it, also leaving your vehicle running and unattended invalidates your insurance when vehicles are stolen in this way.
  4. It costs you money, regardless of the damage you could be doing to your engine, idling can cost you big time. A recent study in energy policy estimated that millions of pounds every year are wasted while idling. Every second you spend idling is money being blown out of your exhaust pipe.
  5. Finally it upsets Mother Nature according to the same study; idling vehicles produce an amazing 1.6% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the pollution from idling vehicles hangs around for a while, reducing air quality and contributing to urban smog.

Idling your engine can damage your engine’s pistons, reduce your vehicle’s fuel efficiency, get you a fine, and damage the environment. Do yourself and your bank balance a favour this winter and stop idling your vehicle in a morning. If you’re worried about engine performance this winter or perhaps your check engine light has already come on, it’s time to visit a specialist such as A1 Clutches to inspect your vehicle.