car exhaust fumes

Vehicle idling

Show the air you care

Traffic is one of the major causes of air pollution. Reducing emissions from road transport is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve local air quality. This can be done by reducing the use of vehicles, especially older, more polluting vehicles, and by avoiding idling whenever possible.

Air pollution is associated with a number of adverse health impacts. It is recognised as a contributing factor in the onset of heart disease and cancer. Additionally air pollution particularly affects the most vulnerable in society, including children and older people, and those with heart and lung conditions; therefore the need to reduce air pollution is vital.

On the whole the air quality across the majority of the borough is good. Monitoring has shown that Cheshire East has a number of small areas where concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are exceeding the national objective, and as such, have declared Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) and implemented an Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP).

The Cheshire East AQAP contains an action to educate and where possible enforce requirements to switch off idling engines to help improve air quality. Unnecessary vehicle idling causes increased fuel use and emissions of pollutants..

What is engine idling?

Engine idling is the running of an engine when it is not required for:

  • driving of the vehicle or
  • examination of the engine or
  • operation of machinery e.g. operation of a tail lift

Vehicles idling while stationary cause unnecessary use of fuel, an increase in emissions, a noisy environment, especially for residents and businesses and is also an offence under the Road Traffic Act.

In modern cars, idling actually increases wear and tear on the engine as it leads to incomplete fuel combustion and the build up of residues. Idling causes damage to cylinders and the exhaust system.

By not idling, you reduce the level of harmful emissions being released into the atmosphere and help to make our local environment cleaner and safer for everyone.

Impacts of idling

Idling engines can cause significant air pollution. An idling engine burns fuel less efficiently and can produce up to twice the emissions of a car that is moving. It pumps out unnecessary sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere.

Vehicles idling while stationary not only cause an increase in harmful emissions, but also an unnecessary use of fuel plus create a noisy environment, especially for residents and businesses.

It is particularly important to avoid idling near schools because research shows that exposing children to high levels of air pollution can stunt lung growth, as well as causing behavioural and mental health problems.

Exhaust Fumes
Switch off your engine when stationary

What can you do

Switch off your engine when your vehicle is parked for more than one minute. This does not apply if you are stopped at traffic lights or a pedestrian crossing of any kind, or if your vehicle has broken down and it is necessary to run the engine to fix the problem.

Examples of when the anti-idling rules apply are:

  • When your car is stationary at the side of the road but is not sitting in traffic
  • When you are waiting at a railway level crossing
  • When you are waiting outside a school or business
  • There’s no need to leave your engine running if you’re parked up waiting for someone or you’re in traffic and haven’t moved for a while. Idling wastes fuel and can increase wear and tear on your engine.

By switching off your engine, when it’s practical and safe to do so, you’ll help protect your health, save money and reduce air pollution.

Alternatively ditch the car and walk or cycle instead!

Download and use our Schools Anti Idling Resource Booklet to champion no idling at your school or nursery, plus don't forget to tell us all about your successful campaigns -  

Idling myths and truths

Myth: Turning the engine on and off wears it out/ Idling reduces wear and tear on the engine, particularly when cold.

This is not the case in modern cars; electronic ignitions have eliminated this problem. Idling actually increases wear and tear on the engine as it leads to incomplete fuel combustion and the build-up of residues.  Idling causes damage to cylinders and the exhaust system.

Myth: The engine needs to stay on to keep the battery fully charged.

Batteries have evolved. Modern batteries now need far less running time to retain their charge.

Myth: Idling is needed to keep the catalytic converter hot and working properly.

Catalytic convertors do need to be warm, but an idling engine does not achieve this. The catalytic convertor will retain its heat for over 20 minutes after the engine is switched off.

Myth: Starting an engine uses more fuel and produces more pollution than idling.

The opposite is true.  This is the reason for the development of stop-start technology.

Myth: The best way to warm up a vehicle is to leave the engine running for a few minutes.

Modern engines do not need a lead in time to warm up before use.

Myth: When it's cold you need to keep the engine running to keep the car and passengers warm.

The car engine will stay warm for over half an hour.  To maintain heat through the fans you can turn the engine off but keep the ignition on.

Page last reviewed: 29 May 2024