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Idling Gets You Nowhere

Jana Fischback, Sustainable Wenatchee


In my line of work, I regularly see habits and behaviors I wish I could change, but I don’t let them bug me too much. I try to be encouraging, not judgmental. But I do have one major pet peeve: unnecessary car idling. I’m not talking about warming up your car in January when it’s freezing outside or keeping it cool in August when we’re approaching triple digits. However, our weather is mild enough here for a few months each spring and fall to roll down the windows and take in the fresh air. But when the car next to us is idling for no reason, that’s not really a pleasant experience. 


Aside from polluting the air we breathe, idling wastes fuel, and therefore wastes money, plus it puts unnecessary wear and tear on your vehicle’s engine. One common myth is that turning your engine off and on is worse than idling, but that’s only true if your car is more than 30 years old. If you’re going to be stopped for more than 30 seconds, you’ll save more fuel by turning it off - except in traffic, of course!

I see a lot of unnecessary idling while dropping my kids off at daycare and preschool. It may be a gorgeous day outside, yet the parent in the vehicle next to me is parked with the windows up and the engine on. If I were bold enough, I’d tell him or her that this is one of those times when small actions can really add up to make a big difference. 


There are over 100 daycares, preschools, and elementary schools in the Wenatchee valley. With several cars idling at each, every morning and afternoon, a lot of toxic exhaust is being released right next to little lungs. Air quality monitoring at schools has shown elevated levels of benzene, formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde during the afternoon pick-up at schools, according to the EPA. Because children’s lungs are still developing, they have an increased risk of developing asthma, other respiratory problems, and various adverse health effects from this exposure.


Next, factor in all of the idling that takes place at drive-thru restaurants, coffee stands, and banks that we visit on a regular basis - especially lately, when we’ve been dependent on to-go and curbside service. According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, vehicle exhaust is one of the most hazardous contributors to air pollution in our state. Fortunately, making an impact is as easy as rolling down the windows and turning off your car when you can. 


As we begin to come out of quarantine and get back on the road, now is a great time to consider how much you idle. When the weather is nice, just crack a window and enjoy the breeze. That way, we can all enjoy better air quality for our valley, improvements in child health, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and we can save a little money at the gas station. Turn the key - be idle free!


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Sustainable Wenatchee is a 501(c)3 non-profit that promotes a culture of environmental stewardship and social sustainability in the Wenatchee Valley.

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Saddle Rock photo by Frank Cone