Welcome to 2018. If you’re reading this from the United States, the odds are pretty good that you celebrated the occasion surrounded by some measure of cold. As such, the odds are also favorable that, before heading out into the world, you started your car and let it warm up a bit before braving the chilly temps. In doing so, you may have broken the law.
Unbeknownst to many, several states and local municipalities have laws on the books that specifically limit how long a vehicle can idle. There are no federal guidelines for such things, but the Environmental Protection Agency has compiled a list of various laws and ordinances that relate to idling vehicles for an extended period of time. The agency freely admits this 102-page document is just a basic reference item created through the organization’s “best efforts,” so not seeing your city or state on the list doesn’t mean you’re free and clear to let your car run all night.
Now that your blood is boiling over the man telling you not to warm up your car when its cold, we should point out that much of what we read in this document comes with exceptions for both gasoline and diesel vehicles, and there is also usually some room for interpretation. For example, Denver restricts idling to 10 minutes unless it’s below 10 degrees, in which case all bets are off. In Chicago, long idling times can be justified “… whenever weather conditions justify the use of heating or air-conditioning systems for the welfare and safety of any occupants… .”
On the flip side, if you let your car run longer than five minutes in Washington D.C. regardless of outside temperatures, you can get hit with a fine up to $5,000. Yikes.
Here’s the thing though. We didn’t read every word in this document, but a majority of these ordinances seem to exist for noise and smell issues in residential city neighborhoods, and we can totally understand that. Nobody wants to hear a straight-piped muscle car idling for an hour in the middle of the night, or the clatter of a big diesel truck chattering all night long in a quiet neighborhood. And it seems all of these laws allow for at least few minutes of idle time, which honestly is plenty of time for a modern car. As for getting heat inside, that will actually rise quicker once you’re moving anyway.
We all still have a few months of winter to deal with, but if you’re the type who likes to run your car for a half-hour before venturing anywhere, you may want to check with local laws to make sure you’re not opening yourself up to a fat fine.