Idling cars not the answer in cold weather
December 9, 2013
Steamboat Springs — The season's frigid temperatures that hit last week are making it harder to start your car and taking longer for it to warm up, but the Steamboat Sustainable Business Consortium is trying to promote the message among Routt County residents that idling vehicles isn't the answer.
The Sustainable Business Consortium was formed in 2006 as a program that works primarily on local business sustainability in areas like energy, finances and community involvement.
In 2012, as part of the consortium's community involvement project it sponsors annual, a "Spare the Air" no-idling campaign was started.
Lyn Halliday, the consortium's chief executive officer, said a collective decision was made to continue the no-idling program into 2013. Halliday said about 80 signs are posted around town at local businesses, educating passersby on the effects of car idling over long periods of time.
"A lot of the focus is on young children who are very susceptible to exhaust," Halliday said. "It can be from a car or bus, especially if the children have asthma or a respiratory ailment."
Halliday said the consortium's campaign isn't necessarily a "don't-do-this-or-else" kind of program, but rather a fact-based guide to making smarter decisions when it comes to warming up vehicles in Steamboat's cold winter weather.
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She said dozens of local businesses have hopped on board by posting the campaign's no-idling logo at their property, and even Colorado Mountain College sustainability students have gotten involved.
"There's been a fair amount of positive response," Halliday said.
The campaign offers advice that includes turning off vehicles that are parked or not moving for more than 10 seconds and warming up an engine by driving the vehicle gently rather than letting it sit idling for a prolonged period.
"Frequent restarts are no longer hard on a car's engine and battery," the campaign's fact sheet, produced by the Environmental Defense Fund, says. "The added wear is much less costly than the cost of fuel saved."
How much pricier can it be? The consortium is contends that up to $650 a year can be saved – between 1/5 and 7/10 of a gallon per idle hour – depending on fuel prices, car type and idling habits.
But there is also a judgment-call angle to the no-idling campaign, Halliday said, especially when weather drops to critical levels, like Steamboaters have been experiencing this week and last.
"If it's 30-below zero, use some common sense," she said. "If you have infants, toddlers or elderly people, there are times with exceptions. The point is to educate people, get them more aware and get them to think about it."
Steamboat Springs Patrol Sergeant John McCartin said Colorado does have a state law prohibiting drivers from leaving their cars idling unattended with their keys in the ignition. The law, however, is subject only to idling on public property, and remote-started cars are exempt from punishment, McCartin said.
McCartin believes the basis of the law is to guard against vehicle theft rather than to protect the environment.
“As far as I'm aware, it (the law) was designed because people were doing it – leaving their car running with the key (in the ignition) — and people would see it and then go steal the car,” McCartin said. “I think that is the reason it was created, but I could definitely see another side of it — the environmental part."
McCartin also noted that Denver police issued a notice to area residents less than a week ago that “puffing” is both illegal and makes vehicles susceptible to theft, especially in the cold winter months.
But Halliday said the consortium's no-idling campaign is meant simply to give Routt County residents the tools to make the best decisions possible and maybe save some cash in the process.
"Some just do it by habit, and some people leave their cars abandoned and idling,” Halliday said. “We want it to just be kind of an awareness piece."