Put idling misperceptions out to pasture

I have a few idle thoughts. Idling thoughts, to be specific.

To idle, or not to idle, that is the question – at least in this town where you have a fair chance each day of stopping to wait for a train to pass.

I had an interesting experience this past weekend. My son and I were making a trip to the recycling center near Prospect and Riverside. As we were unloading, a big Dodge pickup backed in alongside us, filled to the brim with recyclables. I’m always pleased to see the weekend pace at the recycling center. It means lots of people are trying to cut down on what hits the landfill. And this fellow seemed to be one serious recycler, with a dozen bags and containers in the cargo bay.

But when he climbed down from the cab, he left the engine running. And this was no short stop. Between toting from truck to bins, and resorting and rearranging throughout the process, easily five minutes passed.

Something didn’t add up. Here’s a guy who clearly cares about the environment, at least through his recycling habits, but he had no problem burning up fuel and generating pollution through unnecessary idling.

Perhaps from his perspective, it was necessary. I did a little research. I’ve learned that misperceptions still remain about whether it’s better to shut down an engine or idle it, depending upon the duration of delay. I grew up believing the myth that restarting an engine consumes more fuel than idling for a few minutes. Some of that might have been true in the days of carburetors, but that’s no longer true with fuel injection. The EPA’s clear: If stopped for more than 10 seconds, shut down.

But what about diesel engines? Again, myths rule. Apparently, many people believe shutting down instead of idling leads to restarting trouble, unnecessary engine wear, gelling of fuel and – one more time – more fuel burned from restarting than from letting things run. According to the EPA, restarting problems have vanished with new generations of engines; new fuel blends bear no resemblance to those of the past; and restarting a diesel engine uses the same fuel as 30 seconds of idling.

Blame it on the cowboys. Back in the Wild West, the gunslinger hero would sidle into the saloon, packin’ danger on both hips and leave tied up out front his ill-tempered charger, stamping at the ground and looking askance for interlopers. Old Dodger was ready for a quick getaway should trouble arise.

But gone are the hitching posts, replaced by concrete parking stops. Still, today’s cowboy can climb down from a high cab, like arcing a dusty boot down from the saddle, to plant with authority on asphalt. Shot o’ red eye or Big Gulp, what’s the difference? It’s reassuring to know that, should trouble break out in the 7-11, a man can head for the hills in a hurry, as long as the engine’s left running.

Let’s face it: That low surly rumble of 6.7 liters of Turbo diesel makes a statement. With not one horse, but 350 of ’em, surely that driver is a man to be reckoned with, even if he’s just picking up a gallon of 2% and a six-pack of Slim Jims.

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