QOTD #61: Does idling hurt your car’s engine?

During my time as a driver manager with a fleet of 40 vehicles, I have noticed that some of our vans have developed catalytic converter problems. The most recent was a 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan (with 123k miles) which developed a check engine light with a P0420 code. The local mechanic told me it was the bank one catalytic converter needing to be replaced. This expensive repair caused me to wonder why the unit went bad.

The company I work for transports railroad crew members from one place to another. However, there are times when the crew is not ready to go for up to three hours. As you can imagine, if it is hot, the driver will keep the van running with the AC on. Now that colder weather has arrived, our drivers keep the van running for the heat. While I don’t have a problem with our drivers being comfortable, I am wondering if the idling of their vehicles is causing problems to develop inside the engine or catalytic converter.

Search the internet and you will find forums arguing about this:

“Not true. 90% of all wear is done at start up. Once an engine is running it’s best to leave it running. Letting it idle will not harm a thing. Not back then and not today. As long as the engine has oil pressure you’re not hurting a thing. Sorry but dad was wrong.” 1

“The main problem with extended idling was the wasted fuel, fouled spark plugs, and carboned up combustion chambers from the carburetor delivered fuel system and lesser ignitions systems of the era. … But, the company my mom worked for at the time in the mid-1960’s used a fleet of Corvairs, including the van version, and without any particular problems for all of the extended idling that the delivery units were subjected to.” 2

So… who is right? And how about with newer, fuel-injected engines today? Does idling cause your vehicle’s engine to foul spark plugs, wear out quicker, and mess up your catalytic converter? Instead of relying on the forums, I decided to visit the Car Talk website to find the answer:

These days, with fuel injection and computer engine management, cars and trucks can idle until they run out of gas without doing any extra damage to the engine (assuming the cooling system is working properly). Idling does add wear and tear to the engine –anytime the engine is running, you’re decreasing the useful life of the oil and slowly wearing out parts. But it’s no more harmful than driving. 3

What do you think? Is Car Talk right about this?

Five Rental Cars

During my recent business trip, I drove five rental cars in five days. I have mixed emotions about that experience. On one hand, I enjoy driving different vehicles as it gives me the opportunity to test drive new cars. On the other hand, not all those cars were comfortable. Even after several visits to the chiropractor, my lower back is still complaining. But that is to be expected … I suppose.

During the trip, I drove a KIA Sportage, a new Infiniti QX30, a Ford Fusion, a new Chrysler Pacifica, and a Dodge Dart. I had limited time in the Ford and Chrysler but they were both comfortable and luxurious. I don’t remember much about the KIA. But the other two were memorable in different ways.

When I got to Baltimore’s airport, the lines were long, I was tired, and nobody was cooperating. Even being a preferred member of Enterprise didn’t help me to walk in and get a car. However, I finally made a reservation through Enterprise’s website and found that all the cars were the same price … $270 for a one way trip to Syracuse. Yikes!

Instead of paying that much for an economy car, I chose luxury. Why not? I ended up getting the 2017 Infiniti QX30. It is a small SUV with a 2.0 turbo four and AWD. I received several compliments on the vehicle. It was stylish and interesting. But for my body size, it was too small to be comfortable. I think the combination of driving this and sleeping in a cheap hotel caused my back trouble.

However… there were some interesting things about this snazzy ride. The first thing I noticed was the interior’s use of Mercedes-Benz components. The power seat controls were on the door. The steering wheel controls were the same. And the cruise control was exactly like MB. No complaints about that as they were familiar and worked well. It was just strange to see them in an Infiniti.

The last car I rented was a 2015 Dodge Dart with 30k miles on the odometer. Even though it was a small car, the cloth/mesh seats were very comfortable. The Bluetooth system was also easy to use and allowed me to play audio from my phone. Nice. The performance, however, was lacking. The little engine could rev up to almost 6000 rpm but it made more noise than speed. Of course, this was after driving the turbo charged Infiniti so it probably is not a fair comparison.

Overall, I enjoyed driving the different vehicles. The Pacifica’s touch screen was the best looking HD quality unit I have ever seen. The Ford was very comfortable and luxurious. But with my back issues, I will be especially careful with the next car I choose … especially at $270 per day.

Old Car Lot — Norwalk, Ohio

On our way to Willard, Ohio for Easter, we passed a parking lot filled with a bunch of unrestored old cars. The first one that caught my attention was the little Jeep FC truck. I have never seen one in person and didn’t realize how small it was. On the way back from church, we stopped to take pictures. We also spoke to a man who was vacuuming out one of the cars. He directed me to the website where you quickly find out that the owner is interested in non-normal cars. Enjoy the pictures.

The Value of a Good Photo

I took pictures of our rusty Chrysler minivan and sold it one day after advertising on Craigslist. A good picture at the right angle can make a $400 car look like $4000. Take, for instance, this 1997 SAAB 9000 Aero. This picture was taken just after going through a $5 car wash. Everything looks shiny and the trees make it look like the owner lives in a nicer neighborhood. First impressions make a big difference.

P.S. Sometimes my pictures have been too good. When the buyer arrives, his idea of the condition may be better than actual. But that’s where the description comes in. This particular car has some rust and other issues. But it sure looks good. Hopefully, the good looks of the car in good pictures will bring in the customers — which is the biggest hurdle to cross. Once they are in, half of the battle is won.