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Warming Up Does Little for Cars, Causes Needless Pollution

Flickr Creative Commons
Warming up cars in cold weather doesn't help the car's performance, while it does waste gas and generate unecessary pollution.

Many people think it’s a good idea to idle their cars for a few minutes to warm them up during cold weather. It used to be recommended.

Now experts say engine warming just wastes gas and pollutes the air.

A longtime clean-air activist and member of the Utah Air Quality Board.  Kathy Van Dame has studied how clean-emissions equipment works in new cars.

“They are designed not to need warming up,” she says. “And, as a matter of fact, the catalytic converter, which removes your pollutants, heats up more efficiently when you are actually running rather than idling.”

Glade Sowards, a scientist with the Utah Division of Air Quality, agrees warming up simply means extra pollution and wasted fuel.

“You have between, say, 60 and 90 percent of your emissions for a typical trip happen in that first 50 seconds that the car is running while the catalytic converter is trying to warm up,” says Sowards, whose work focuses on pollution from cars and trucks.

Getting on the road turns out to be the fastest way to get pollution controls running right and better fuel economy. That helps explain why Utah Clean Cities, the state government, Kennecott Utah Copper and many other Wasatch Front organizations have anti-idling campaigns that are aimed at both reducing pollution and saving fuel.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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