To idle, or not to idle? That is the question this week

To idle, or not to idle? That is the question this week

Dear Car Talk:

I have a remote starter for my Chevy truck. I like to start the truck and let it run for a few minutes, especially during the winter. I recently read online somewhere that this is not good – something about the car not getting enough air. Could you give me your opinion on this matter? To idle, or not to idle? – Arturo

RAY: Idle away, Arturo – within reason.

I’ve never heard of a properly functioning car not being able to get enough air. There should be plenty of air in the atmosphere for both you and your car.

Of course, if you’re starting your car in a closed garage or one that’s attached to your house, then you’re the one not getting enough air – to your brain, Arturo. So don’t do that.

But let’s assume your car is outside, or in a detached garage with the garage door open. In that case, you won’t do any harm to the Chevy by letting it idle for a few minutes. The car doesn’t need to be warmed up before you drive it – it’s purely for your comfort – but it won’t do any harm.

In the old days, when cars had carburetors and chokes, you could harm the engine by warming it up for too long. With the choke set to cold-start mode, tons of gasoline would pour from the carburetor into your cylinders. And lots of that gasoline would go unburned, and would leak down into the oil pan, diluting the oil and shortening the life of the engine.

But modern cars are all computer-controlled, and the fuel is very precisely metered. So that’s not a problem anymore.

The only downsides today are that you’ll be wasting gas and creating pollution. Which is why I recommend that you warm up your car “within reason.”

I’ve got a neighbor, who shall go unnamed. But Frank goes out and starts his truck every morning – rain or shine. Then he goes back inside, has breakfast, takes a shower and a morning constitutional, and comes out and drives away 45 minutes later. That’s wasteful and ridiculous. But on 20-degree mornings, I can certainly understand wanting to get into a car that’s already warmed up.

So if you want to give your car a five-minute head start on cold winter days, in our minds, that falls under the “pursuit of happiness” clause of the Declaration of Independence, and you have my mechanical, if not environmental, blessing, Arturo.

‘Tracking device’ more likely just a noisy blend door

Dear Car Talk:

First of all, I love your show and your column. My question for you is this: Could I have a tracking device inside my car? I have a 2011 Honda Civic LX, and for the first time tonight, I heard, on two separate occasions, a vibrating noise, like a cellphone makes when it’s on “vibrate-only” mode. The vibration came from inside the center console on the dashboard, behind where my radio is located. Thanks. – Jennifer

RAY: I doubt it’s a tracking device, Jennifer. But it sounds like you have some unpleasant person in your life, or formerly in your life, whom you’re concerned may be tracking you. That’s unfortunate.

In which case, on the off chance that anyone is listening, next time you’re in the car, say something like this: “You’re not going to believe this, but my ex-husband called me and said he’s planning to rob a bunch of banks. He says he’s been reading books on safe-cracking and stocking up on rubber face masks.”

I think what you’re hearing behind the dashboard is more likely to be a failing, lazy relay of some kind – those tend to buzz. Or it could be a part of the ventilation system, like a “blend door,” that’s sticking when it’s trying to open or close – and you’re hearing the little motor trying, unsuccessfully, to open or close it.

I really doubt it’s a tracking device. They tend not to make noise, for obvious reasons. If you did have a tracking device, it would more likely be attached magnetically, under the car somewhere, probably near the back bumper, where the perpetrator could retrieve it and change the batteries every few days.

So if you’re really worried about that, try taping a sign under your rear bumper that says: “Frank, I told you to get lost. Go rob a bank or something.” Good luck, Jennifer.

Weather and Traffic