Idle Myth

One of the characteristic aspects of the contemporary world is the way that old habits of behavior no longer tend to apply to changes in technology. Rules that were established during previous periods of technology as a means of safety no longer work the same way when one is dealing with different systems, which have their own systems of logic. We learn cliches from the past and do not always examine whether those cliches hold for contemporary systems and their issues. It takes some time before we learn how it is that things work, and a rapid pace of technological change does not always present the best circumstances to know the pitfalls of all of the systems that we are continually having to develop before moving on to the next one and so on and so forth.

One of the myths that one will often hear from an old timer who fancies himself to be knowledgeable about automobiles is that one should warm one’s car up before driving it. This was once a sound principle, and still is if one is driving a car that is old enough to have a carburetor, where it was necessary idle the car, especially on cold mornings, for long enough to heat the car up so that all of the systems were warm before one started driving. To be sure, there were likely some rather impatient people who had a difficult time doing so and hurt their engines considerably by starting the car up too fast and driving off, leaving the older engines to suffer a great deal of wear and tear while they were not properly heated up.

However, contemporary systems have changed things, and if one searches information about modern-day engines, one quickly finds that there are a significant amount of writers who have decided it is worth busting the myth of heating one’s car up by idling it for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. Let us go through some of the examples., has the following to say about the subject: “The answer is almost always no. Thanks to the way modern cars are built, it’s no longer necessary to let your car warm up before you start driving. And remember, once you have started it, avoid excessive engine revving – that’s no good for the engine. (This is true in warm weather, too.).”

AAA chimes in the following sage advice: “Want to know if you really need to warm up the car engine before driving, even during the cold winter months? AAA provides auto care tips that help you keep your vehicle running smoothly every season of the year. Myth: To improve performance, particularly in cold weather, allow the engine to run for a few minutes before driving. Fact: Start the engine and allow it to idle only for the time it takes you to fasten your seat belt. This ensures that lubricating oil gets to all of the engine’s vital parts. Driving the car normally and avoiding hard acceleration brings the engine to a warmer temperature faster, and also reduces wear and exhaust emissions. Naturally, a little longer idle time is ok in winter while you clear snow and ice from the windshield and other car parts.”

Consumer reports has a longer article on the matter that begins as follows: “It’s easy to understand the appeal of getting into a warm car when the temperatures outside begin to drop. Some drivers are also convinced that letting the car warm up before driving is also better for the engine. But is warming up your engine before driving really a good idea? Consumer Reports Chief Mechanic John Ibbotson says that giving the engine a chance to run for a minute before driving on a cold day is smart but that there isn’t a need to let it run longer beyond warming the cabin and defogging the windshield. And there is a real downside: consuming fuel and generating emissions.”

Motor Biscuit closes their article on the subject with some rather fierce words about the waste that comes from excessive idling: “You know the old saying, “Use it or lose it.” Well, if you drive a vehicle manufactured after the Y2K hysteria, you might be losing more than you think. Allowing your car to idle continuously has some negative impacts, such as burning through oil faster. This results in the need for more frequent servicing and oil changes. It also drains the car’s battery and causes spark plugs to go bad faster. In other words, unless you live in Oymyakon, your car has no seasonal preference. Of course, if you own a Tesla Model 3, Ford Mustang Mach-E, or other EV, such archaic practices must seem a lifetime ago.”

So, let us take this information together and put the myth on its head. While older vehicles benefited from idling at the beginning of their driving, modern vehicles far badly with extended idling, increasing wear and tear on the engine and on the oil, spark plugs and load on car batteries. There is a bit of disagreement about how much time is necessary to lubricate contemporary engines with idling, with the ranges being from as long as it takes to put one’s seat belt on (only a couple seconds) to somewhere in the range of 30 seconds to a couple of minutes at most on the coldest days. Most of the answers point out that the best way to heat up a modern engine is to drive it, and my own anecdotal evidence suggests that idling a car can even cause it to cool down a bit if it has a bit of heat left over from a relatively recent use while one is doing errands. What do you have to say about it? Should we be humble and cautious in applying principles learned on one sort of technology to newer forms and judging other people for not having the same (potentially wasteful) habits that we do?

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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