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Melissa Slager |
Published: Friday, July 15, 2011, 6:50 p.m.

Engine idling a big waster of fuel

My latest pet peeve: people who let their car engines idle endlessly.

On a recent trip to the Olympic Peninsula, I pulled into a station to get gas near someone who was fueling up a mammoth motor home.

Its engine was running when I got out and was still running when I finished filling up and got back into my car, close to five minutes later.

The owners of this house on wheels, which probably gets about 5 miles to the gallon, apparently let its engine idle the whole time they were filling it up. Who knows how long this took - I saw neither the beginning nor the end.

Meanwhile, the owners were wasting a good part of the gas they were putting in, wasting their own money and spewing pollutants into the air to boot.

I’d already read somewhere that letting an engine idle for more than 30 seconds offsets any advantage of avoiding restarting, whether in fuel savings or battery or engine wear.

After witnessing the motor home spectacle, I checked with AAA Washington for their opinion regarding idling.

“We advise people to not let your engine idle for a long time because you get zero miles per gallon,” said Dave
Overstreet, a spokesman for AAA in Bellevue. “It is one of the worst ways to waste fuel.”

According to one AAA study, Overstreet said, the owner of a mid-sized V6-engine powered car can save gas by shutting off the engine if the idle time would be one minute or longer.

Also, especially with modern vehicles, there’s little advantage to be gained in idling a car to warm it up in cold weather, Overstreet said. Driving it does the trick.

Though some red lights take two or three minutes to cycle through, AAA doesn’t advise drivers to turn off their engines in those situations because it can hold up traffic. Continual stopping and starting an engine throughout the day, for days on end, might not be good, either, he said.

Still, I choose to err on the side of shutting it off.

When returning from the trip, in the ferry lines at Kingston a large pickup truck pulled up nearby and that driver let his engine run for a good two or three minutes before shutting it off.

Perhaps at that point he saw a sign in the holding lanes asking drivers to shut off their engines when parked.
Thank you, ferry system.
Jack Clausen of Lynnwood writes: Are there any plans to widen 146th Street SW near Mill Creek? The main entrance to Martha Lake Community Airport Park is off 146th and this is a road that in some places doesn't even have a shoulder for pedestrians. This, combined with the 35 mph speed limit on that road makes me concerned for the safety of the children trying to use that park.

Owen Carter, Snohomish County engineer, responds: Thank you for the question. We receive several requests each year for walkways. The county scores potential projects based on factors such as the number of schools within a mile radius, accidents, speed limit, access to businesses, parks and other public areas, and proximity to bus and train routes.

Using this criteria, 146th Street ranks 206th out of 254 projects currently on the project list. Because of that low ranking and limited funding, no walkways for this street are proposed in the county’s 2012 – 2017 Six Year Transportation Improvement Program.

The public works department will continue to seek outside funding for projects to improve pedestrian access in unincorporated Snohomish County.

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