Idling is the Worst Possible Way to Waste Gasoline

Every single day in America millions of drivers are wasting precious and costly gasoline because of one bad habit that they all share; idling their cars while they sit in line waiting for their children to get out of school.

In practically every blog  about saving gasoline and lowering gasoline costs that we’ve posted here on this website in the last couple of years, one of the examples that we’ve always given for saving gas is to not let your car run for more than a few seconds in idle while it’s parked.

The reason why is one of the most basic tenets of saving gas; when a car is idling, its MPG is negative. In other words, since your car isn’t moving forward, but you’re still burning gas, your MPG goes below zero.

Granted, the amount of gasoline wasted if a car sits idling for one or two minutes is minimal. The fact is however that, in front of elementary, middle and high schools everywhere in the United States, millions of parents spend upwards of 15, 20 and 25 minutes, 5 days a week, waiting for their children to be let out of school. Sometimes it’s even longer and, in most cases, their cars run in idle the entire time.

Now, some may argue that in the winter it’s necessary to leave the car running for its heater because it’s frigid cold outside. I’ll grant you that this makes a little bit of sense but it’s basically the same argument that’s used in spring and summer, especially in the South, when it’s too hot outside and the air-conditioning needs to be kept running.

When you take into consideration the amount of gasoline that’s being wasted five days a week and over 40 weeks a year, and the amount of pollutants that are being released into the air while these automobiles basically go nowhere, the resultant waste  and pollution being caused is simply astronomical.

If you think that this is overdramatic or exaggerated, please allow me to slip into the first person narrative here for just a moment.

As a father of two high school aged children, and a parent who’s moved a number of times for work, I’ve driven my kids to over a dozen different schools in four different states and have seen the same exact thing at every single one of them.

Some of those schools were in the northeast and some were in the southeast but, in front of every one, the majority of people sitting in line and waiting for their kids to be let out for the day were doing it while their car’s engine was running in idle.

Lest you think I’m an incredible hypocrite, I can honestly say that my habit has always been to find a spot somewhere near the school that my children were attending and park there until it was possible to move through the car line without stopping. (I can also say that, until recently, this caused more than a bit of “embarrassment” and frustration for my kids, who never quite  understood why their dad couldn’t just “be normal” and wait in line like everyone else.)

I’m a fan of hypermiling, I work from home and I basically follow every single money saving gas tip that has ever been featured here on this blog site. For me, to see this kind of waste on a daily basis is extremely frustrating, especially on a day like today when, here in the city of Atlanta, there’s an “orange alert” for air quality

So, if you’re a parent who drops-off and picks-up their kids from school every day, I’d like to ask you to consider the fact that you’re not only wasting money but also a precious resource that some scientists say will be depleted within the next 50 years. (That would be gasoline.) I’d also like to ask you to think about how idling your car for 15 to 20 minutes a day is adding to a pollution problem that those same scientists say are causing catastrophic global climate changes.

The fact is, it’s not just about saving a few bucks anymore, it’s about saving the planet.

I’ll get down off of my soapbox now. Thanks for listening


  1. In Switzerland, they have to shut off their engines at red lights. Everyone complies! In Germany, it is similar at unusually long lights. There are signs posted and everyone complies! It is a 10 second rule with today’s engines. If you are waiting for more than 10 seconds, you are just wasting gasoline. At railroad crossing through out Europe, there are signs posted informing motorists if the gates are down, they must shut off there engines. The European public is educated on the harm of an idling engine. They do not idle in Europe!

    I have been concerned about this problem ever since I learned from a European friend some 25 years ago, that idling causes more pollution than driving, because “it burns the fuel inefficiently.” I have been trying to bring about change, but to no avail! I have written an article entitled, “The Infamous Idling Engine.” I have not been able to get it published. I have been in touch with the NJDEP via the internet. I have the address of an agent that the ‘idling issue’ is her expertise. She has read my article. I have criticized the DEP for not doing enough to educate Americans on how bad idling is for the environment and their engines. I receive no response! When I ask her why aren’t there any public service announcements on both radio & TV, there is also no response!

    Approximately 3.8 million gallons of gasoline is wasted from gratuitous idling, each day through out America. The oil companies are aware of this waste. There is no doubt in my mind that the oil companies are paying off politicians and the DEP. They are responsible for stifling any kind of energy conservation programs in America, including educating Americans on how bad it is. This is profits at the expense of our health and the environment. This is “corporate dictatorship.” This has to end!

    The people that are aware of how bad idling is must form some kind of lobby/coalition to bring about change. “Strength in numbers.” We can not be complacent! It is later than we think!

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