Car Repair and Maintenance

How to Idle a Car [Manual and Automatic Transmission]

Idling a car may seem simple, but it can significantly impact your fuel economy, the lifespan of your vehicle, and even the environment. When idle the wrong way leads to increased emissions, unnecessary wear and tear on your engine, and even wasted fuel. But idling your car becomes unavoidable at some point, so how do you do it correctly? In this guide, I will show you how to idle a car to save fuel and avoid mechanical issues.

There are specific techniques to idle a car, depending on the transmission. This guide will consider both manual and automatic transmission vehicles. It will also walk you through the proper techniques for idling your car and tips for reducing your fuel consumption and emissions while idling. Whether you’re waiting in traffic, picking up a passenger, or simply enjoying some air conditioning on a hot day, this guide will help you do it in a safe and eco-friendly way.

In some states, leaving your car idle is Illegal, so you want to confirm your state laws to avoid committing a misdemeanour. You do not want to pay the fine over what you could have avoided.

how to idle your car

Is it wrong for a car to idle?

No, it is not exactly bad for a car to idle. It does not harm your vehicle; however, idling it can waste a gallon of gas if you leave it for over one hour. Idling a car also burns up the oil if you leave it idle for too long.

How to Idle a Manual Car

Generally, to idle a car, you simply turn the ignition on, leaving the vehicle in a stationary position. The steps for idling a car are also different in automatic and manual vehicles. Let’s cover both transmissions, beginning with the manual transmission.

  1. Put Your Car in the Parking

First, you can confirm if your car is in the parking before you start the car engine. A manual transmission vehicle is typically parked in neutral and the parking brake is engaged. Where the parking brake is positioned is different in many cars, but you will typically see it on the center console.

  1. Apply Light Pressure on the Brake and Hold Down the Clutch

You will find three pedals under the steering in your manual transmission vehicle. These pedals each control the screen accelerator, brake, and clutch (looking from right to left). You want to gently hold down the grip while applying pressure on the brake.

  1. Start the Engine

To start the car, turn your car key in the ignition. You can locate the ignition on the right side of your steering column.

While holding down the brake and clutch, turn the key halfway to the right to power the engine. When the vehicle starts, let go of the key. Note that it can harm the engine if you continue holding the key while it is running.

  1. Ensure that the Shifter is in Neutral

When the engine starts, ensure that you have the shifter in neutral. A shifter in a neutral position can move from left to right. You can now release the clutch with the shifter in neutral. If you engage the parking brake, release the brake.

  1. Keep the Stationary Car in Neutral

You can downshift to neutral. If your car is in motion, hold down the clutch and get the shifter in the neutral position. Ensure to engage the brake by holding it down to keep the vehicle from rolling.

  1. Allow the Car to Run

Allow the car engine to run while the car is stationary. After some minutes, the engine temperature heats up, allowing the vehicle to operate normally. Your RPMs will increase as the engine becomes warm while idling.

How to Idle an Automatic Transmission

Below are the steps to put an automatic car idle:

  1. Turn on Your Car

To turn your car on, insert it in the ignition slot and turn it halfway to power the engine. In most automatic transmission cars, the ignition slot sits on the right of the steering column. Keep turning the key until the engine starts. You can then release the key. Do not hold the key after starting the engine to avoid damaging the car engine.

Depending on your vehicle’s make and model, the sequence for starting it may be different. In some newer cars with push buttons, you have to press down the brake pedal and press the button to start your car.

  1. Halt Your Car

If you are driving, stop the cap by gently holding down the brake to bring it to a stop. Your car will continue moving, but you can put it in the “park” so that it stops moving and you can safely release the brake.

  1. Let the Engine Run

After you idle your car, let the engine keep running. If your vehicle is cold, you must allow it to reach the idling temperature after a while. The time it takes for your car to warm up also depends on the make and model of your vehicle.

What You Can Do Instead of Idling

  • Don’t idle the car for long. Idling can use up to half of gallon of fuel per hour, depending on the type and size of your engine. If you idle for over a few seconds, consider turning off your engine to save fuel. We also mentioned not leaving a car idle as one of the ways to increase your gas mileage. Moreover, idling your car longer than a specific time may be illegal in your state.
  • Don’t use drive-through windows at stores. If you use drive-through windows at stores, you must idle your car while items are moved in your vehicle for a long time. Instead, save fuel by parking your car until you are done. If you have to use a drive-through window, reduce fuel consumption by putting your car off and waiting for your order.
  • Warm your car engine by driving instead of idling. Instead of idling your vehicle to warm the engine, move it a short distance to warm the engine twice faster than idling. You also save more fuel than when your car idles to warm the engine. While driving, do not rev the engine unnecessarily to avoid needless fuel waste.

Idling your car may be necessary, but is not always the go-to thing to do with your vehicle to warm the engine, do a drive-through window, or wait in high traffic.



Latest posts by Bernard Juchli (see all)

Bernard Juchli

Bernard Juchli is an experienced racer, mechanic and team owner who trusts Avon Tyres.Bernard is the lead driver and force behind his Big Dog Garage Race Team. He is the General Manager and Chief Mechanic of Jay Leno’s Garage. Bernard and his crew of seven are responsible for all repairs, restoration and fabrication of Jay’s incredible automobile and motorcycle collection.

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