What is idling and how to cut costs with Force

Idling Report Calculator Small

For anyone who relies on vehicles to get the job done, any extra expense or wear and tear on your fleet is a threat to your bottom line. But many would probably be surprised to know the hidden costs and negative impacts associated with something as seemingly innocuous as idling. 

This article will help you understand what idling is, how it affects your fleet, what it’s costing your business, and how to prevent it.

What is idling in a truck or van?

Idling is when you leave a vehicle’s engine running when you’re not actively driving. When you idle a vehicle, the engine is still generating enough power to operate the vehicle’s baseline operations smoothly, but not enough to actually move the vehicle. If air conditioning is running, the engines work even harder

There are times when idling is unavoidable–like when you’re waiting for a light to change–but in most situations idling isn’t necessary. Aside from waiting at red lights, how often do your drivers leave the engine running while they’re parked outside a business or residence? That habit might be costing more than you expect.

Idling has many adverse effects, which is why there are anti-idling laws and other idle reduction efforts in place. Idling doesn’t just affect your business’ vehicles and financial health. Health effects of idling can include eye, throat, and bronchial irritation, asthma-like respiratory responses; increased risk for cardiac arrest; and more.

How much gas does idling use?

The amount of fuel consumption of a vehicle idling is dependent on the size of the vehicle and the vehicle’s engine size and type. Larger vehicles like trucks tend to waste more gas than smaller ones. In the United States, about a billion gallons of fuel is consumed by idling heavy-duty trucks and locomotive engines each year. 

Generally, the smaller the vehicle the less gas it will use while idling. For the average vehicle with a 3-liter engine, every ten minutes of idling costs over 1 cup in wasted fuel and that quantity doubles if the vehicle has a 5-liter engine.

So for even a small truck or van, that might not seem crazy, but with fuel prices fluctuating, the costs of idling can add up quickly. At zero miles per gallon, it’s still more than anyone would knowingly want to waste.

How much gas does idling for 15 minutes waste?

According to the AAA, a good approximation is that for every 15 minutes you idle, you use ¼ gallon of gas. That means that with an average gas price of $3.272 per gallon, businesses are spending $3.272 for every hour spent idling, which can add up pretty quickly when you’re driving to and from job sites.

Does idling use as much gas as driving?

Because the engine isn’t running at a high enough RPM to move the actual vehicle, idling doesn’t use quite as much gas as driving, but it’s still using more than if you were to simply restart the engine. Research has shown that restarting uses significantly less fuel than letting the engine idle for several minutes.

When is it worth it to restart the engine?

If you think it takes several minutes for idling to use more fuel than restarting the engine, you’re not alone. Research shows that most Americans believe that a car can be idled for around 3-4 minutes before it’s more economical and better for the engine to turn it off; however, it’s actually only a matter of seconds, not minutes. 

Idling for just 30 seconds wastes more fuel than restarting the engine. Idling for even just a few minutes every day can add up to quite a bit of money per week, which can tip the scales for small businesses. And in spite of myths that suggest restarting the engine is bad for the vehicle, all that time spent idling unnecessarily is also more harmful to your vehicle than you may expect. 

Find out how much idling is costing you. Calculate the costs today.

Does idling cause damage to a vehicle?

Yes, letting a vehicle idle does more damage to the engine than starting and stopping. Running an engine at idling speed doesn’t protect your engine or help it run better. It actually causes twice the wear on internal parts compared to driving at regular speeds.

How does idling impact maintenance costs?

Idling can cause a buildup of carbon residue in an engine.This happens because vehicles are designed to move, not sit on the side of the road with the engine running. When idling, the engine is not operating at its optimal temperature, so fuel is only partially combusted. 

This means that fuel residue can build up on the cylinder walls, causing damage to engine components including spark plugs and exhaust systems, leading to an increase of replacement parts needed, engine repairs, and other expensive maintenance costs. In the worst case, idling can lead to unexpected breakdowns resulting in lost business and paying customers–a steep price to pay for idling in a driveway! 

How to reduce engine idling

Idling is simply a bad driver habit. And like every other habit, there are ways to adjust behaviors and kick the habit to the curb.

  1. Don’t ‘warm up’ your engine. It’s a common myth that your engine needs to ‘warm up’ before you hit the road. For most modern vehicles, engines are designed to get moving right away.
  2. Turn off the engine. Unless you’re in traffic, cut the engine if you’re going to idle for more than 30 seconds. This means that when your drivers pull into a customer’s driveway and are getting their things together or notifying them of your arrival, it’s best to turn the vehicle off right away.
  3. Train and coach drivers. Kicking bad habits is easier when you establish best practices early on. Including guidelines for engine idling should be part of your training program.
  4. Use a GPS fleet tracking software to measure and manage idling. Force Fleet Tracking offers a per-vehicle idling report and idling percentage, which can be used to gather data about what vehicles and drivers are doing. This means you can see if there are ways to improve performance and reduce idling time among the fleet, and incentivize good driving habits.

Is idling illegal? 

Aside from being bad for your business and hard on your vehicles, idling can also be downright illegal. In some states and municipalities, you could face fines for excessive idling.

What’s the legal definition of idling?

When it comes to anti-idling laws, idling refers to ‘the operation of an engine in the operating mode where the engine is not engaged in gear, where the engine operates at a speed at the revolutions per minute specified by the engine manufacturer, or when the accelerator is fully released and there is no load on the engine.’

Which jurisdictions have anti-idling legislation?

Both the Department of Energy and the EPA have programs and incentives in place to reduce idling, and many states have legal repercussions for idling, which vary from state to state. 

For example, in Washington, D.C. you could be fined $5,000 if your car is sitting around with the engine running for three minutes. In other states like Pennsylvania, you can legally idle for 20 minutes when the temperature is below 40º. There are also many local ordinances to discourage idling, such as those limiting the number of minutes per hour a vehicle can idle.

In which states is it illegal to idle?

Per the EPA’s most recent compilation of State, County and Local Anti-Idling Regulations, the following states have anti-idling legislation: 

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas 
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

How much fuel and money does idling waste?

If you’re wasting a gallon of gas for every hour of idling, and across the country, the average gas price at the start of 2023 is $3.272 per gallon, depending on how much your drivers are idling and how many vehicles are in your fleet, that dollar amount wasted idling can be astronomical over the course of a year. 

Idling Report Calculator Small

Let’s assume you have a fleet of 4 vehicles, and the average fuel price in your area is $3.20 per gallon. If your drivers are idling the average amount of 1.5 hours per day, idling is likely costing your business $161 every ten days. Calculate the costs for your fleet with our idling cost calculator.

How much gas do you use idling per minute?

If every 15 minutes spent idling wastes approximately ¼ gallon of gas, that works out to 2.1 fluid ounces per minute.

How Force can help you save money and reduce costs

If you measure it, you can manage it. And Force helps you do just that to reduce overhead costs associated with idling. Without a GPS tracking solution, business owners are left in the dark, wondering if their drivers and operators are running and idling company vehicles unnecessarily.

Idling reports are just one of the solutions that Force offers to take the guesswork out of idling costs. With Force’s idling reports, you’ll have the data you need to quickly identify excessive (and expensive) unnecessary idling in your fleet so that you can correct this type of driver behavior. 

Another way to reduce the costs associated with idling is to improve your vehicle dispatching. Being able to quickly see where all of your vehicles are makes your dispatching more efficient, leading to reduced travel time. Less travel time means more jobs completed and cuts down on inefficient routing and waiting for directions.

Vehicle health and maintenance reports help business owners avoid downtime and reduce overall maintenance costs beyond those issues caused by idling. Force’s fleet tracking system monitors for battery health, fuel levels, factory recalls, and diagnostic trouble codes, then breaks it down into plain English so you can understand and take action quickly.

Finally, Force’s driver RoadScores help you nip driver-caused issues in the bud. Idling and other bad driver habits, such as speeding, hard braking, harsh acceleration and cornering, and other unsafe driving practices, all lead to higher fuel and engine wear, and accidents. Force shows you a rolling average RoadScore out of 100 and alerts you to unsafe driving behavior as it happens so you can identify opportunities for driver improvement and create a culture of safety.

Idling is just plain bad for business

There are a lot of myths out there about idling and engine restarts, but at the end of the day, idling is costing Americans, small businesses, and damaging vehicles. By leveraging Force’s full suite of small business solutions for your fleet, you’ll not only keep your vehicles running smoothly in the long term, your business bank account will speak for itself.

Cut the engine and your costs. Start your free trial today.

Published January 30, 2023