Is It Illegal to Idle Your Car?

Depending on where you live, it may be illegal for you to leave your car idling. Read on to find out which states have laws against idling and why you shouldn't be "warming up" your car in the first place.

It can be really unpleasant to hop in a cold car in the morning: Your nose starts to chill, your bum is freezing on the cold seat, and your hands freeze on the ice-cold steering wheel—even if you have a heated steering wheel, a weird car feature you may not have even known you had. It’s tempting to run outside and start the ignition to let your car warm up for a few minutes while you gather the rest of your belongings (like these things you should never leave in the car). But is it illegal to idle your car? As tempting as it to get your car warm and toasty ahead of time, doing so could get you in hot water with the law. Not only that, you could be damaging your engine in the process (and this isn’t the only car maintenance tip you should know about).

Is it illegal to idle your car?

It can be, depending on what state you live in—or even city or county. No, your lawmakers don’t want you to freeze in your car in the morning. Anti-idling laws exist with a much bigger purpose in mind: to prevent air pollution. Punishments range from fines to written warnings. According to the EPA, more than two dozen states and many cities and local counties have laws that limit the amount of time that a vehicle can idle. A complete guide to idling measures in your state can be found at the American Transportation Research Institute.

States where it’s illegal to idle your car

States with anti-idling laws include:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Not only is idling potentially harmful to the environment, but it could also lead to mechanical problems. No one enjoys sitting in a cold car, but Popular Mechanics advises that the process of warming up your car “does not prolong the life of your engine; in fact, it decreases it by stripping oil away from the engine’s cylinders and pistons.”

So there you have it: There’s no benefit to warming up any modern-day car model. If you still insist on warming it up, though, it should be for no more than 30 seconds since the engine warms faster when you’re actually driving the car.

Now that you’re in the know about car idling, find out what to do if you lock your keys in the car.