#SpareOurAir: What the cars are saying

Published on
April 21, 2023
Health, public safety and emergencies
Home and community
Parking, roads, traffic and transit
Water and environment
Smiling man holding a wallet with credit cards. Icons of a gas pump, a vehicle with car exhaust, City of Ottawa logo and a ‘no idling’ symbol.

As we approach Earth Day on Saturday, April 22, there will be heated debates on how to improve our air quality. But do you know what the vehicles themselves are saying?

Email from: familysedan(at)gasvehicles.ca
Date: Friday, April 21, 2023 at 11:05 am
Email to: allcars(at)gasvehicles.ca
Cc: citybylaws(at)ottawa.ca
Subject: Idle chit-chat (ha ha)

To vroom it may concern:

Most of you don’t know me but I can’t keep my hood shut any longer. All winter long, and even now that the weather’s warmer, you’ve been idling like a bunch of overactive smokestacks. What is idling, you ask? Most of the time it’s simply a bad habit: your owner waiting to pick up a child, pre-heating the vehicle, or sitting in the driveway listening to the end of a song. Idling happens when your gas-powered engine is running but you are not moving. This must stop.

Idling wastes gas. It’s bad for the air. It’s bad for the health of humans walking around the cars. It doesn’t matter how fuel-efficient you are, you get zero kilometres per litre while idling. Plus, with the price of gas these days, it’s your owner’s hard-earned money coming out of your tailpipes. Do what I do, and if you are in one spot longer than 60 seconds, just shut off the engine (unless you’re in traffic, of course).

Here’s another myth busted: Unless it is below -15 °C, you don’t need more than 30 seconds to circulate your oil and become fully lubricated and ready to go. I warm up best by driving, assuming my windshield is defrosted (a good scraper helps with that).

And did you know you can get a ticket for unnecessary idling? I’ve copied the City of Ottawa to clarify that point.

I’m just trying to help the reputation of us internal combustion engines.

Family Sedan


From: allcars(at)gasvehicles.ca
Date: Friday, April 21, 2023 at 11:15 am
To: familysedan(at)gasvehicles.ca
Cc: citybylaws(at)ottawa.ca
Subject: RE: Idle chit-chat (ha ha)

Dear Family Sedan,

I hear you! I know I’m breaking a by-law and I’m not pleased about it. But it’s not my fault. My driver is always waiting for someone. Yesterday, it was her son whose school day ended 10 minutes earlier. He was probably still chatting with a buddy. My driver figured he’d arrive any minute, so left my engine running. It was a bit chilly, around 10 °C, but my driver thought she’d be doing a quick pick up so didn’t wear a warm coat.

Average car, everywhere.

Hand turning key in car ignition. Icon of a thermometer, City of Ottawa logo and a ‘no idling’ symbol.

From: citybylaws(at)ottawa.ca
Date: Friday, April 21, 2023 at 11:42 am
To: familysedan(at)gasvehicles.ca; allcars(at)gasvehicles.ca; fleetservices(at)ottawa.ca; EVeverywhere(at)gasBgone.ca
Subject: RE: Idle chit-chat (ha ha)

Hello concerned vehicles,

Thanks for raising this important issue. You are right, the City of Ottawa has a by-law that prohibits idling for more than three consecutive minutes in a 60-minute period when the temperature is between 5 °C and 27 °C. But rather than fining the humans we’re hoping to educate them, like with the health impacts from idling:

  • Emissions from gas engines include harmful chemicals that can be breathed deep into your lungs. 
  • According to a World Health Organization report on air quality, these pollutants have both short- and long-term health impacts.
  • Children, older adults and persons with heart and lung conditions are especially vulnerable to poor air quality.
  • Ottawa Public Health has more details on the health dangers of poor air quality and traffic-related air pollution.

And here are some tips on how to avoid idling:

  • Dress for the outdoor temperature so you don’t have to idle in case you are delayed.
  • Idling for 60 seconds wastes more fuel than stopping and restarting an engine.
  • If you’re using a drive-thru automated teller, you’ll be there more than 60 seconds so turn off your engine; possibly in a fast-food pickup lane too.
  • Use a block heater to warm up your vehicle on cold winter days; you can also install an automatic timer, so the block heater starts just two hours before you plan to head out.

We have lots of other tips on how to avoid idling plus information on electric vehicles.

We’ve copied our colleagues at Fleet Services to tell you what the City is doing to reduce idling in its own vehicles.

Your friendly neighbourhood By-law Officer.

From: fleetservices(at)ottawa.ca
Date: Friday, April 21, 2023 at 11:56 am
To: familysedan(at)gasvehicles.ca; allcars(at)gasvehicles.ca; citybylaws(at)ottawa.ca; octranspo(at)octranspo.com; EVeverywhere(at)gasBgone.ca
Subject: RE: Idle chit-chat (ha ha)

Thanks for looping us in. Here in Fleet Services, we’re doing our part to eliminate idling. For example, we are:

  • training all fleet operators how to avoid idling, and setting the maximum at one minute (rather than three) in a 60-minute period
  • using telematics (a system to collect data on individual vehicles) now installed on more than 90 per cent of the fleet, the City can track how often vehicles are idling versus moving; with most of the fleet covered we are establishing benchmarks against which we’ll measure improvements
  • converting the fleet from gas-powered to hybrid or all electric; to date 200 vehicles have been converted to hybrid and fully electric out of 471 vehicles that have a suitable green alternative to meet City operations

Our colleagues at OC Transpo might have information to share too.

Thanks for getting in touch,
Fleet Services.

From: octranspo(at)octranspo.com
Date: Friday, April 21, 2023 at 12:14 pm
To: familysedan(at)gasvehicles.ca; allcars(at)gasvehicles.ca; citybylaws(at)ottawa.ca; 
fleetservices(at)ottawa.ca; EVeverywhere(at)gasBgone.caa
Subject: RE: Idle chit-chat (ha ha)

Diesel vehicles are some of the worst offenders when it comes to generating air pollution. Here at OC Transpo, we’re tackling the issue on several fronts:

  • New operators are trained on how to minimize fuel consumption and avoid the negative environmental and health impacts of idling.
  • The permitted time for buses to idle at lay-up points depends on the outside temperature; between -5 °C and 27 °C bus engines must be shut down if the lay-up is expected to exceed seven minutes; below -5 °C and above 27 °C buses are kept running to avoid start-up issues.

What we’re most excited about is the goal of replacing our entire fleet with zero emission buses (ZEBs) by 2036. As each diesel bus reaches its end of life, it will be replaced by a ZEB. We have four on the road already, with 26 more coming into service in 2023.

Thanks for asking!
We’re here to take you there @OCTranspo.

Concerned young boy. Icons of a school with playground and tree, a vehicle with car exhaust, City of Ottawa logo and a ‘no idling’ symbol.

From: familysedan(at)gasvehicles.ca
Date: Friday, April 21, 2023 at 12:24 pm
To: allcars(at)gasvehicles.ca; citybylaws(at)ottawa.ca; fleetservices(at)ottawa.ca; octranspo(at)octranspo.com; 
Subject: RE: Idle chit-chat (ha ha)

Thanks everybody. This has been a terrific discussion.


From: EVeverywhere(at)gasBgone.ca
Date: Friday, April 21, 2023 at 12:37 pm
To: allcars(at)gasvehicles.ca; fleetservices(at)ottawa.ca;
 citybylaws(at)ottawa.ca; familysedan(at)gasvehicles.ca; octranspo(at)octranspo.com

Subject: RE: Idle chit-chat (ha ha)

Sorry I’m coming in late, but this discussion has nothing to do with me anyway. 😊

EV Everywhere.