Answer Man

Old thinking about car idling is running on empty

Q. I am having a minor disagreement with a friend. When she runs into a store, she keeps her car running. I say she is wasting gas, but she says her husband insists that it takes more fuel to start the car again than to let it run. I told her I’d let you be the final arbiter and would never mention it again if you agreed with her.

— C.V., of Granite City

A. I hope you have some money riding on this one, because I see a free fill-up in your future. To update an old saying, idling cars are the devil’s workshop. Unless your friend is as fast as Supergirl in accomplishing her errands, she is needlessly padding oil company coffers.

Here’s the automotive golden rule, according to every car expert I can find: Unless you are driving a dinosaur, it is senseless to let your car run in neutral for more than 10 seconds. Not only do you dangerously risk a stolen car, but you also are foolishly wasting gas and polluting the air.

Your friend’s husband was right once upon a time. When cars had carburetors, it did take a much larger dose of fuel to turn over their engines. Back then, it often was said that cars used more gas starting up than they did in maybe 20 or 30 minutes of regular driving.

But unless your friend is driving one of those behemoths with the big tail fins, she really needs to update her thinking. Today, cars use electronic fuel injectors, which are extremely miserly when they decide how much fuel is needed to fire up your mechanical beast.

How miserly? In a test by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in Florida, researchers concluded that restarting a six-cylinder engine — with the air conditioning running, no less — uses as much gas as idling the same car for six seconds. Let your car idle any longer than that and you may as well stand on that parking lot and throw money into the air.

That’s why you see more and more cars today being sold with start-stop engine technology: While you’re driving, the motor will die when you hit the brakes at a long stoplight or other traffic jam and restart automatically when you let off the brakes or hit the clutch. Currently, an estimated 40 percent of cars sold in Europe and Japan boast this feature, and one research firm says 8 million cars in North America will have it by 2017.

If you’re worried about engine wear from frequent starts and stops, let me put your mind at ease. A study by Natural Resources Canada found that the added strain on engines and batteries amounts to an estimated $10 a year. At the same time, a conservative estimate by the Ohio Air Quality Department found the average car uses nearly two-tenths of a gallon of gas per hour of idling — about 60 cents based on a $3-per-gallon price. (Some say the waste is much more.)

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, every 10 minutes of idling puts a pound of carbon dioxide into the air. It is estimated that in New York City alone, idling vehicles spew 130,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year. That’s the stuff many scientist believe causes global warming.

And while we’re on the subject, let me address another common myth. Many people apparently still think that on cold mornings you need to let your car idle for minutes on end to warm it up. Not true, experts say, unless you’re pulling out of your driveway directly onto I-64. Yes, if it’s 10 or 20 degrees or below, you should let it warm for a minute or two so the oil thins out a bit. Otherwise, start and go. Drive gently for the first 10 minutes, but drive.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, a car driven for 12 minutes in 14-degree weather will achieve the same temperature as one that idles for 30 minutes — and you’ll be getting somewhere.

“All you’re doing with a long warm-up is wasting gas, increasing pollution, raising the temperature of the planet and making yourself 10 minutes late for your chiropractic appointment,” Ray Magliozzi once wrote on his popular “Car Talk” blog. “If it starts and keeps running, put it in drive and go. Go gently ... but DO drive it.”

Q. Someone told me he heard that Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, who died last week, went to school in Belleville. Did he hear right?

— T.N., of Belleville

A. Indeed, he did — and it’s a story that might surprise many people if they aren’t aware of it.

Cardinal George contracted polio when he was 13, and, because of his disability, his application for admission was rejected by the Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary in his hometown of Chicago. Instead, George applied to and was accepted by the former St. Henry Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, which was run by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

He joined the Oblates in 1957 at the age of 20. After four years of additional study — including at the Oblates’ Our Lady of the Snows Seminary in Pass Christian, Miss. — he made his solemn vows on Sept. 8, 1961. Through his long bout with cancer, George, who wore a leg brace to support his weakened muscles, was considered a hero to polio survivors, according to stories in the Chicago Tribune.

Another chance: Anything with a battery or cord — including the batteries and cords — can be recycled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today during the Belleville Kiwanis Club’s Recycling Day at Rural King, 2801 N. Illinois St. in Swansea. It’s free, except for TVs and computer monitors, which are $5-$20, depending on size. They’re also looking for gently worn shoes for the Solea Water Project Unwanted Shoe Collection, which turns shoes into wells for those in the world who need clean water.

Today’s trivia

During whose presidency were the greatest number of states admitted to the union?

Answer to Thursday’s trivia: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the use of the word “dive” to describe a seedy tavern or other establishment of ill repute arose from the fact that these establishments originally were housed in cellars or basements, into which customers could “dive” into without being seen. The OED states that the term first appeared in the New York Herald in July 1871: “One of the gayly decorated dives where young ladies ... dispense refreshments to thirsty souls.” An 1883 edition of Harper’s Magazine mentions “opium-smoking dives.” Finally, in 1886, it is used in direct reference to a tavern: “A grand entrance takes the place of the tavern, which is relegated to down below, and is called a ‘dive.’”

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or call 618-239-2465.