May 30th, 2007 by Potato

One of the “low hanging fruit” benefits of hybrid cars that improves their fuel efficiency and emissions is that they turn the engine off when it’s not needed, such as at stop lights. In fact, with a little bit of key-turning, this can be achieved in most other cars, even if not quite as often. Many cities (including London and Toronto) have anti-idling bylaws that hand out tickets for idling more than 3 minutes, though enforcement is weak to say the least and the laws don’t apply when the weather is very cold or very hot — which makes sense from a comfort point of view, but is also unfortunate because it’s on the very hot days that cars need to be shutting down for air quality purposes. The startup period in a car does cause more wear, but there’s obviously a point where it’s more beneficial to turn the car off: I’ve heard many rules of thumb regarding how short a period of idling makes turning the car off worthwhile, from 10 seconds to a minute. Personally, I try to go by about a 30-second period: if I know I’ll be idling for that long, I shut the car off, except at lights (but I do for trains crossing by me). So when I was at the carwash this week, I shut the car off, but felt a little weird doing it (except for train crossings, I don’t usually get into idling situations). I was talking to Wayfare about it at the time, and debated whether we’d be waiting long enough to make it worthwhile — it turns out it really was, as we were waiting at least 4 minutes for the infernal machine to be ready for us. Now thinking about it in hindsight, I feel strange for feeling weird at the time. Turning the car off should have been my natural reaction, I shouldn’t have had to think about it for so long…

The thing that bugs me most about idling is the cabbies. They’ll idle for hours in front of the hospital on some days, if business is slow. There are a few who are pretty good about opening their windows and turning the car off. If the weather’s really hot, there’s at least one that will simply get out of the car and sit on the grass, or lean against the car, or one time, pull out a folding chair.

A CityNews spot recently talked about the short enforcement blitz last week to remind drivers of the bylaw, and mentioned that delivery trucks idle a lot (they do), partly because refrigerated trucks have to keep the engine on to run the compressor. First off, I don’t want my ice cream to come all melty, so they do have something of a point that strikes close to my heart. I have a few problems with that, though. Most of the refrigerated delivery trucks have a coolant pod on the transport trailer — that means that the coolant system for the trailer must be electrically driven (the AC system on most cars is belt-driven directly from the engine, which is why you can run your fan but not your AC in engine-off accessories mode). If it’s electrically driven, then the truck’s battery should be able to keep it going for a while (at least 10 minutes I would estimate, and a battery upgrade to run the cooler for an hour should be extremely easy to install right on the trailer). Also, most refrigeration systems run in cycles (or are capable of doing so, unless they are taxed to their maximum capacity), so the truck drivers should be able to cut the engines for at least as long as the system usually cycles off for (my fridge, for instance, runs for about 5 minutes every half hour — I could have a 25-minute blackout at my house and the food in the fridge would never know anything out of the ordinary was happening).

Also, this tiny news snippet was a little disappointing.

…the premier says Ontario won’t implement regulations as strict as those of California…. Ontario will stop short of California’s tough new tailpipe emission standards because they could hurt the province’s auto sector.

I think it’s pretty backwards to resist emission standards because auto manufacturing takes place in the province — stricter emissions standards don’t, as far as I know, actually hurt the car industry in general. People still buy cars. They just buy cleaner cars. Perhaps that impacts the bottom line of the automakers, or perhaps it’s an indication that the domestic manufacturers (or the particular models manufactured in Ontario) have trouble getting any cleaner and more efficient. If that’s the case, then the province should still go ahead with the tighter emissions standards — after all, there are still plenty of “emissions equipment optional” states to sell Ontario-manufactured cars to, and I’m sure most cars driven in Ontario aren’t made in Ontario, so stricter emissions standards would help our quality of life. And, if say California enforces stricter emissions standards, but cars are built in Michigan and Ontario, then the car companies are pretty much SOL. If Ontario and Michigan implemented stricter standards (even stricter than California, say), then the province (and state) could directly help the auto manufacturers with various tax incentives and research programs, and would have the justification for doing so. If the province helped make sure all the cars built here had superior emissions controls and fuel efficiency, then that would also help the auto sector become more competitive elsewhere (California, Europe, as well as with anyone who valued efficiency and low emissions in the other states and provinces), and in the future as well. After all, California emissions may seem strict and tough to meet now, but they’re not revolutionary, not by a long shot (the revolutionary parts were killed over the years by lawsuits and lobbyists). The other states, provinces, and countries globally are catching up. Do the car companies want to be seen as the ones fumbling to meet minimum requirements at the last minute, or the ones that have been successfully meeting California emissions standards all along? (wouldn’t it be great to say “Ontario efficiency standards” in the same breath? :)

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