Car Idle Alarm Helps You Stop Wasting Gas While Tweeting

[TVMiller] has a bone to pick with you if you let your car idle while you chat or text on your phone. He doesn’t like it, and he wants to break you of this wasteful habit – thus the idle-deterrence system he built that he seems to want on every car dashboard.

In the video below, the target of his efforts is clear – those who start the car then spend time updating Twitter or Instagram. His alarm is just an Arduino Nano that starts a timer when the car is started. Color-coded LEDs mark the time, and when the light goes red, an annoying beep starts to remind you to get on with the business of driving. The device also includes an accelerometer that resets the timer when the vehicle is in motion; the two-minute timeout should keep even the longest stop light from triggering the alarm.

[TVMiller] plans an amped-up version of the device built around an MKR1000 that will dump idle to moving ratios and other stats to the cloud. That’s a little too Big Brother for our tastes, but we can see his point about how wasteful just a few minutes of idling can be when spread over a huge population of vehicles. This hack might make a nice personal reminder to correct wasteful behavior. It could even be rolled into something that reads the acceleration and throttle position directly from the OBD port, like this Internet of Cars hack we featured a while back.

79 thoughts on “Car Idle Alarm Helps You Stop Wasting Gas While Tweeting

      1. Short of a car with a choke cable you have to pull to get it to start not one car made in the past 50 years require any idling past the 12 seconds it takes to get oil up to the top and dripping back down the journals.

        So unless you are driving an awesome classic from the 1960’s with mechanical points and a proper magneto, your belief the car needs to idle is based on misinformation.

        1. You forgot about the transmission. Most in the US are automatic and will not function properly until they are warm. Computer controlled manuals are the exception.

          It would be fun to see the difference between really needing to put some foot into it when cold vs letting it idle for a minute and thus needing to use much less throttle when warm.

          1. I’ve got a manual transmission in my daily driver. When it’s below 45F, until the engine bay has warmed up, it’s like you’re shifting through sludge. And good luck getting into reverse.

          2. There are no automatic transmission that need to warm up to function (assuming you are in normal, above freezing conditions). The pump will build up pressure in less than a second..

          3. >((assuming you are in normal, above freezing conditions).

            Yeah, about that. In many countries it’s normal to be at or below freezing for 6 months a year.

          4. >(assuming you are in normal, above freezing conditions).

            Here in Finland -30 degrees celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) in winter is not unusual. I have to ride 10km to school with my Honda Z50J all year round. Engine needs few minutes to warm up or otherwise it lacks power (which is very important in 50cc 4-stroke) and clutch will not work properly. But it starts with three kicks at most even if it has been out the whole night.

        2. It’s not required to idle the car, but it’s still a good idea. You’ll burn a ton of fuel driving around with the ECU pushing rich until the engine temperature goes up. Especially in the city when you might be only driving <10km per stop, idling the engine to get it warm will show up as significant fuel saving.

          And in the winter you have to idle for a bit anyways to get the windows to clear up, and revving the engine while the oils are still cold is really stressing on it anyways.

          1. Plus, you’ll get the catalytic converter warm before you start revving the engine, which means less pollution. If you just start and go, the cat will be cold and you’ll be spewing stuff like formaldehyde (thanks to added ethanol) in the air for the first few miles.

        3. Ever owned an old cranky car (mid 80s) with a small carb on it in a cold climate? Until you get enough heat that the sticky valve in the heat riser moves the car will drive for a couple hundred feet, ice up the carb and not start for a minute or two until it thaws a bit. If it’s cold enough and I don’t warm it up properly it’ll do it anywhere (i’ve done it on the highway at 40mph), but warmed up to proper operating temperature it purrs right along. Has an automatic choke and a fresh solid state ignition in it. Issue has nothing to do with lubrication in most cases.

      2. Very few motor vehicles require a substantial amount of idling before moving, even after being parked over night. While the engine is warmed up, other lubricants aren’t, so gentle operation is required for a time. Generally the engine could be operating without previous idling. during that time without harm. More often than not, extended idling is an acquired or learned habit, not a requirement by the manufacturer. Just saying,not expecting to change anyone’s habits. Unless they are an employee or someone else burning my fuel needlessly.

  1. Idle Fuel Consumption
    0.6L/HR per Liter Engine Displacement

    Toyota Camry 2.5L 4CYL (#1 U.S. Mid-sized Sedan)
    2.5 x 0.6 = 1.5 ÷ 60 = 0.025L/M

    Idle Pollution
    9 gram(s) of toxins (ex. CO2) per 1 minute

    Walmart Locations
    United States 4,540
    International 6,301
    Sam’s Club 647

    Calculation (Muted Prognosis)
    10 Idle Texters per Day per U.S. Walmart Parking Lot
    10 x 4,540 = 45,400
    45,400 x 9 = 408,600 Grams (901 Pounds) of Pollutants per Minute
    408,600 x 5 Minutes Texting = 2,043,000 Grams (4,504 Pounds)
    408,600 x 20 Minutes = 8,172,000 Grams (18,016 Pounds)

    45,400 x 0.025 = 1,135 Liters (299.8 Gallons) per Minute
    1,135 x 5 Minutes Texting = 5,675 Liters (1,499 Gallons)
    1,135 x 20 Minutes = 22,700 Liters (5,997 Gallons)

      1. In this situation, is a unsolicited ie not exhaled but produced by mechanical means, thus more toxic to the environment than not. Would you agree? I get your point, but it does say “ex” which you could argue methane is not a toxin but can be in the same context

        1. Human/Animal/Machine origin does not matter, the problem is that more is being produced than is being used by the environment so the concentration is increasing. The balance could be redressed by reducing emissions, or getting the environment to use more with plants or artificial means (solar powered factory that collects CO2 and produces carbon products).

        1. Or avoid adding processed sugar products to your kids diet at the get go. Nearly impossible with a stupid agriculture support policy that create corn surpluses. Surpluses that are refined to HFCS to make money from the corn, resulting in sweeteners in food products where they have never been. Often HFCS is the third listed ingredient, if not the second. Human kind has found so many ways to pollute the environment it depends on for survival. And yet people create straw men to avoid the topic.

    1. Suppose a car uses 1 L/h fuel to idle and 7 liters per 100km on a warm engine, and 12 liters on a cold engine with the ECU on rich. That’s pretty much what my Toyota does. Lets further suppose it takes 2 km of driving to warm the engine up (5-6 km in the winter).

      Idling for 5 minutes consumes 8.3 cl of extra fuel.
      Driving a cold engine for 2 km takes 10 cl of extra fuel.

      It’s pretty much inconsequential whether you idle for a bit or take off immediately. In the winter idling the engine to warm actually saves a bunch of fuel.

          1. People from before A/C would all kick our asses. I work out side in all weather conditions (construction) and you simply do not need. We are spoiled and there are consequences.

          2. Grow a pair? ;). I never had a work vehicle that had AC, but I was outside the vehicle more than I was inside. During the inter I’d idle it to keep a pair of gloves dry, and a small can of pipe thread dope thin enough to put on pipe threads. Summer was a birch, because the 2/70 AC was more like blast furnace than a cooler when it was over 100 F..

  2. How many people sit in a running car texting, talking on the phone, etc? In the handy usage info above I have to believe many to most of those people either have turned off or not yet turned on their car.

    And when it’s -20F here you do need to idle your car more than 2 minutes even if it was built in the last 50 years or it’s not going to happily zip down the road.

    It’s a nice idea and implementation though.

    1. You are far too generous to the human race. I invite you to pay attention to idling vehicles in parking lots for a month and note what they are doing inside…you will be surprised how prevalent it actually is. I don’t drive much at all, often walking and on the bus and I go through and around parking lots a lot (pun) and I see it in a disappointing abundance. Humans when free are wild reckless animals. It’s why we make boundaries but we have laxed on that and you can see the consequences.

      1. Shut up rellimvt! I’m charging my Pornhub VR glasses and phone! I invite you to quit walking around and peeping in cars! What a weirdo… Can you believe this person? Probably thinks they are a SJW do righter.

        1. I like your Leisure Suit Larry. So. baka. baka. baka. baka. baka. baka. baka. *click* You see what happens Larry? This is what happens Larry! This what happens Larry! This what happens. “When. You. Fight. A. Stranger. In. The. Alps.”

  3. Great job! It is also interesting that some of the newer cars with the touchscreen displays and fancy dashboards/gauges will prompt you to start your car if you’ve been sitting too long with the engine off and the stereo on so the battery doesn’t run down too far. I know the stereo amp probably takes some juice, but all of the lights and even the touchscreen shouldn’t consume much, but yet you can’t sit for long without it wanting you to start up the engine and idle.

    1. Newer vehicles even record IDLE TIME and show it to you like it’s a notice but make NO USE of it. That actually co-prompted this project. I would like to see manufacturers give alerts on idle time.

    2. A lot of newer cars have some tiny, low capacity batteries. At a former job I had to park near the street so I left the hazards on. Battery was dead on that HHR in about an hour.

      1. The batteries aren’t any different, but the parasitic power from all the electronics drains them dead pretty fast.

        The further problem is that the battery charging current depends on the battery voltage, so if you typically drive very short distances the battery will never charge up full. It may go from 50% to 70% in the time you drive, but going from 70% to 90% takes twice as long because the voltage differential gets smaller, so you’re always running with a half-empty battery and lead acids really don’t like that.

    3. There goes going to the drive ins and having sex with a person of the opposite sex you are attracted to. Oh wait, that has already happened. Capitol Hill Drive In stay alive. Only place left to make children without corporate overlords.

  4. This thing would need to be adjusted to handle Los Angeles traffic. Waiting at a stop light for 15 minutes isn’t uncommon during rush hour in the wrong parts of the city.

    1. I live in LA and believe it or not, averages are under 2 minutes. Yes more does happen but according to the very smart and very honest government officials of Los Angeles in the very honest and very functional California, they claim less than 2.

  5. I have to laugh at this project because if this really gets you in the ass you should come to Japan where during the cold of winters and heat of summers you’ll find workers parked in 7/11 parking lots who have just finished their cup-o-noodle lunch taking a half hour nap with the cars all idling to keep the car hot or cold depending on the season. 2 minutes texting is nothing compare to 30 minutes sleeping.

    1. Watched a woman in a Lexus SUV idle for 45 minutes near my work while her child was being taught baseball…and the weather was room temperature and she parked in the g d shade. The poor often run their cars they live in, in the same manner. Americans have this epidemic in every capacity. Work trucks sit and idle, semi truck drivers run idle and sleep. We are highly irresponsible with what we have around the world as humans because we are no longer scrutinized because it “hurts other’s feelings”. It’s not that we should not have access to things; it is we should be accountable for those things. I will now step down from my soap box. Thank you.

      1. do know why a lot of semi trucks run idle when they sleep? it is because of wear and tear on engines. Heck even smaller diesel engines have wear and tear on them so the cost benefit of leaving it on rather than turning it off then back on etc…… plays a major part. Also many trucks carry refrigeration units that require the engine to be running so please take that into account as well. Do not always think that just because you think they should do something it is 100% right and that your holier than thou thoughts are that because at the end of the day it is nothing more than your ignorance showing

        So if you still want to be on your high horse now think of this to make yourself feel better instead of complaining about vehicle drivers wasting fuel, why not go out and start petitioning for every cow in the world to be destroyed, the methane they create is much worse off for the atmosphere than the emissions by the cars worldwide

        1. Don’t the refrigeration units have their own generators to use when parked?

          Although I agree that it’s far easier to boycott factory farming than it is to entirely boycott fossil fuels. But do try your best in every respect.

        2. I get the notion you are a truck driver. Fear not because AGAIN my main concern is with novelty reckless common average every day citizen drivers who abuse at the cost of pollution and fuel waste. Now if you want to talk about semi trucks, you could and should all be replaced by trains and boats and better local distribution methods. And I agree with Dax because I too know from actual drivers and mechanical experience that wear and tear is myth and hype and generators power other components so, I accept your theatrical outrage and then dismiss it. *tips hat* You got to know when hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, know when to run, …etc

          1. Made my day, thank you very much.

            Also very interesting device and I appreciate the idea, though I fear the most thoughtless idlers won’t be adressed by it… sadly

      2. I’d suggest you stand near the exhaust of diesel truck when it’s starting cold, you’ll quickly understand why they are left running to stay in operating temp…
        Until parking lots have electrical outlets to plug in and draw power to heat the engine and power accessories, this will be common.

        1. I don’t see European trucks idling all day and night.

          They also use some sort of fuel heater (Eberspächer/Webasto) to start up cold. It’s simply a fuel burner that heats up the coolant and pumps it around the engine till it’s warm enough to start.

          The argument that it wears the engine out to start and stop it is largely bullshit. Maybe if you’re in Siberia, and even then it’s mostly for keeping the fuel hot because the diesel would gel up in the winter without constant heating.

      3. I don’t disagree with the sentiment in general as a society the Americans (and the Japanese) are fairly irresponsible and wasteful with what we have, but idling for 2 minutes before driving because you are sending a quick text doesn’t bother me. My wife had a Nissan Cube. I never drive it cold. I always start it and let it idle for a minute. I have noticed performance changes in the engine when it is not running cold. I think it’d be better to do something to go after the people idling for long times than short.

      1. A lot of them are company workers who aren’t paying for the gas so they don’t care. They just fill the truck when it needs gas, and because they do it consistently the company they work for never notice. Also it’s probably a tax write-off so it doesn’t matter so much.

    1. They do not turn off the engine while on shift. Needs to stay on to run the alternator, to keep the battery topped off, which runs the radios, lightbar, Computer, AED (in some districts) etc.

      Not to mention having a completely topped battery could mean the difference between life or death if the alternator is killed during a pursuit, firefight, etc. A completely full Battery can run everything for only about 15 minutes.

      1. 15min life, really? I tough we were on hackaday here, so make an educated comment:

        Take one example, diesel car (bigger battery): 12v 60Ah with 600A capability.
        Alternator for this car: 12v 100A.

        15 min life mean 240A, let be conservative, 200A consumption. Twice what the alternator is providing. Your battery cannot sustain this kind of load for long…

        In real life, you can run some time with a failing alternator, but once your battery is running out of juice the first thing you notice is the steering aid failure if your car use an electric hydraulic pump.

        1. The battery voltage goes down under load. You don’t actually get 60 Ah out of a 60 Ah lead-acid battery with any sort of load beyond a little LED light. The 600 Amp cranking capacity only works for a few seconds before the voltage drops below 7.5 Volts.

          Under a moderate to high load, you’re lucky to get half the coulombs out of a lead-acid battery. That’s why they’re so crap for powering equipment.

          110 Amps at 12 volts is only 1.3 kW which is easily the load if you’ve got all sorts of bells and whistles and electric assist pumps going.

      2. “a completely topped battery could mean the difference between life or death if the alternator is killed during a pursuit, firefight, etc.”

        real life isn’t like Die Hard.

      3. Actually…they turn vehicles off all the time for long stretches because the computers have batteries and isolate to that when off and nothing else operates while off. Coms are through on person radios, not relayed, and obviously lights are car bat but only when in operation. They do it (and I also know enough of them personally to know) is a combination of training to have a theoretical instant response and subsequent laziness from that training. No offense, SGT Maki, but he knows it’s true.

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