Colorado is finally getting snow this season, and while that means more skiing and festive holiday celebrations, it also means colder temperatures. When temperatures drop, car owners often idle their vehicles  to warm up before driving or to keep themselves warm while their car is not in motion.  Idling is a necessary evil while we are at stop lights, but running a vehicle’s engine is an expensive, climate-unfriendly, avoidable, and often an illegal option for warming up your car in the winter.


Shocked that puffing (warming up your car unattended) is illegal? In 2012, Colorado State enacted the revised “Puffer” Law that allows enforcement officers to ticket individuals (for between $15 and $100) who have left their vehicles running for any period of time. Plus, municipalities such as Denver, Aspen, and Winter Park have passed their own idling regulation that fine citizens based on facts such as the idling vehicle being unattended and/or the duration of the idling (usually excessive is considered between 5 and 15 minutes).


Not only is idling illegal, but it is also detrimental to both the environment and your wallet. Emissions from a vehicle tailpipe include greenhouse gases and harmful air pollutants such as carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and criteria air contaminants (CAC) that are known to contribute to air pollution and climate change. One of the most detrimental emissions from your tailpipe is ozone, which is recognized as one of the most potent threats to human health. Impacts from ozone include increasing asthma cases and severe lung damage among other things. Cash flow wise, idling your vehicle for ten seconds uses more fuel and produces more CO2 than restarting your engine. Estimates from Idle-box, a toolkit for idling reduction projects, note that personal-vehicle idling generates about half of all idling emissions, which results in a cost of more than $10 billion nationwide each year. Also according to Idle-box, idling your car wastes about .3 gal/h for a passenger sized vehicle and about 1 gal/h for a big truck, which is money flowing out of your tailpipe.


There are a few options for individuals who want to eliminate their excess idling. Studies show that your car actually warms up much more quickly when driving than it does idling because driving engages the engine in your car more, which is where your car pulls the heat, to warm the vehicle. Also, when you are waiting in your car outside of regular traffic, such as when you are picking up your children from school, it is a more environmentally and economically friendly to turn your vehicle off while you wait and to restart it when you are ready to go. Plus, when going out to eat, instead of idling in a fast food line, go inside to order your food (which is also usually quicker). These are just some of the many options where you can reduce your idling everyday.


Trying to make a larger impact? Managing a fleet? There are multiple online resources available meant to help you make an idling reduction impact in your community. For example, Idle-Box was put together by Clean Cities and the Department of Energy to offer resources ranging from an Idle Reductions Savings Calculator to various facts sheets on how to best avoid idling that are specific to vehicle types. Plus, Engines Off provides multiple “driver tools” for anti-idling campaigns with focus areas such as schools, venues & events, buses, and fleets. Each driver tool provides extensive information on campaign strategies, idling infographics, and interested partners for each type of driving sector.


Cities such as Fort Collins are pledging to reduce idling and improve community health in their area. Communities can download the pledge form from Idle-box here and commit to prohibiting excessive idling on your property, commit to prohibiting unnecessary idling of your fleet vehicles, and commit to encourage employees to limit idling in their personal vehicles as well.  


Plus Denver police have started their own “Don’t puff your vehicle” initiative, which is also drawing attention to the fact that idling vehicles are also at high risk for being stolen. They claim that “[last] winter, more than 200 vehicles were stolen in District 4 [alone] and 33 percent of those taken from October to March because of puffing.”

Preventing idling is as simple as choosing to warm up your car by driving it or choosing to walk into a restaurant instead of going through the drive-thru. Small decisions like these every day prevent cars from being stolen, prevent billions of gallons of fuel being wasted annually and prevent those corresponding emissions impacts. So grab your coat, throw on a pair of mittens and hop in your vehicle because you (smartly) have only a couple minutes until your vehicle warms up.


*Pictures taken from Clean Cities and Engines Off!

Fleets, Solutions / Case Studies