What is Idling and What does it have to do with Cars?

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The coldest days are behind us for the year here in Southern California, but Northern California is still colder and the North-East is still getting snow. It sure would be nice to go from a warm home into a warm car so we do not endure the cold weather too long, or at all. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Rather, it is not exactly legal here in California and much of the United States. By this, we mean that it is illegal to warm up a vehicle, and then get into it once it is nice and toasty.

Turning on the car to get it warm before you get in and drive off is called idling and it is actually a misdemeanor charge here in California that can give you a fine. There is actually a “grace period” or maximum idling time allowed in California and that is 5 minutes. Anything beyond that is where it becomes 100% illegal.


There are some exemptions to this 5 minute idling time, including, but not limited to:

  • It is okay to leave a bus idling if passengers are on board.
  • A bus driver can warm up the vehicle for 10 minutes before beginning to board the first group of passengers.
  • Emergency vehicles are not required to obey the 5 minute idling period.
  • Mechanics can keep the vehicle running if they need to inspect and/ or repair.

A person who disobeys the idling laws here in California and is caught doing so will be given a minimum fine of $300. Subsequent charges will increase the fine anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000.

All other states that have idling laws have different amounts of maximum idling time for a vehicle, like 30 minutes or just 3 minutes. Their fines are also different. Across the board, idling is either illegal or frowned upon because of the potential accidents and the extra air pollution, among other reasons.

Californians are urged to avoid idling their vehicles as much as possible. If you really cannot tough it out you have 5 minutes to warm up your car, and only 5 minutes.