I have repeatedly heard from various car enthusiasts that start stop technology has no benefit (or the tiniest smallest negligble benefit) to air quality so they turn it off entirely. Does it have an effect and how much?

I live in a busy town with many traffic lights in the centre with many traffic lights in the centre, there is a taxi rank where taxis idle for minutes at a time, there are high streets where cars wait outside shops and there are bus stations where buses leave their engines running while loading up passengers.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a variation on the "don't switch fluorescent lights off" myth that start/stop will take much more energy than leaving them on continuously. $\endgroup$ – Jan Doggen Oct 7 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ This question is a better fit for Sustainable Living, and already has answers there. That question again links to other questions in the SE network. $\endgroup$ – Jan Doggen Oct 7 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about earth science. As noted there is already a question on this topic on Sustainable Living. It might also be on-topic on Engineering. $\endgroup$ – Semidiurnal Simon Oct 7 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ This is clearly off-topic, but I'll note that a "negligible" benefit per car adds up at a junction that has thousands of cars per hour. (and I'm not so sure that it's negligible in the first place). Consider also benefits to fuel use. $\endgroup$ – Semidiurnal Simon Oct 7 at 21:23
  • $\begingroup$ idling uses around 0.75L of petrol per hour, as I describe below that is not a negligible effect on air quality in city centres. I would have thought that air quality and air pollution is part of earth science (many thanks to the links on other stack sites though...they are great!) $\endgroup$ – atreeon Oct 8 at 5:04

From Wikipedia:

In automobiles, a start-stop system or stop-start system automatically shuts down and restarts the internal combustion engine to reduce the amount of time the engine spends idling, thereby reducing fuel consumption and emissions. This is most advantageous for vehicles which spend significant amounts of time waiting at traffic lights or frequently come to a stop in traffic jams. Start-stop technology may become more common with more stringent government fuel economy and emissions regulations. This feature is present in hybrid electric vehicles, but has also appeared in vehicles which lack a hybrid electric powertrain. For non-electric vehicles fuel economy gains from this technology are typically in the range of 3-10 percent, potentially as high as 12 percent.

Many references at the bottom of that page all seem to prove that these systems indeed save fuel, e.g.
Ref [2] Do stop-start systems really save fuel? describes a hands-on test using three cars, saving 9.5%, 10.9% and 9.5% respectively


Generally idling will cause pollution in specific isolated areas and start stop technology could irradicate that pollution. Here I will concentrate not on the global impact of the pollutants but at the location where the pollution is released. The differing scenarios are important to how much of an effect start-stop / idling will have on air quality. The location affected by idling will of course determine what air quality affects. Taxi ranks, junctions, high streets, spaces outside schools, hospitals and other areas where cars often stop for longer than a few seconds. The longer you idle and the more cars there are, the more pollution you would create in that specific location. The number and type of person in the location where the idling is taking place would make a difference to how the air quality would affect people.

I present a few scenarios (a link at the bottom for my calculations)

A long journey with minimal stopping Here the savings on pollution would be negligible because the car would not be stopped idling for much time at all! Although of course the locations where the car does stop would be subject to fewer pollutants.

Major junction at 11:30am on a weekday (figures taken from Preston Circus Brighton) During a full cycle of all traffic lights going from red to green and back for all junctions, 69 cars passed during 112 seconds. The cars used an estimated 0.451L of petrol. During this time 32 cars waited for 30 seconds using 0.2L of petrol. Idling in this scenario is responsible for 44% of the fuel used and therefore I assume idling is responsible for 44% of the pollution. It is a place where pedestrians will wait at crossings, drivers will sit in their cars, cyclists will stop catching their breath and where pedestrians sometimes have alternative routes. 44% here is a huge and very significant number.

Single car waiting in a single spot In a car you would use around 0.75L of petrol per hour idling and you would change that single location from being pollution free to a place equal to a single lane road with regular traffic (1 car every 12 seconds)

A 1.5km stretch of road with 4 major junctions with traffic lights A single 1.5km stretch of road could have four major junctions in a busy city. A car stops twice for a combined total of 2 minutes. The car will use around 0.025L of petrol idling. Driving along this stretch of road would use around 0.15L of petrol, assuming the amount of fuel is equal to the pollution then start stop could reduce pollution by 6%. This is a fairly small amount compared to the total but it is still significant difference in the air quality along a large stretch of road. Streets like these in city centres will have many more people than in other areas waiting at the lights, walking along pavements, people working in shops, people living in flats above the roads, cyclists and drivers will be in their cars taking in the pollution. These areas are some of the most dangerous generally for people because of the number of people so 6% could make a significant difference.

A taxi rank A taxi rank with 10 cars idling in a space of around 35m. That 35m spot could have the air quality equal to a reasonably busy dual carriage way (a car every 1.68 seconds). Some taxi ranks are covered (such as those near train stations) which could make those spaces much much worse as the pollution would not be dispersed easily. There will be people waiting for taxis next to the taxi rank, people waiting nearby as taxi ranks are usually in busy locations and the taxi drivers themselves will be sitting directly in these toxic fumes so there will be many people exposed to this pollution. With start-stop, this pollution would be completely eradicated.

A school The cars could be spread out more so you could say it would be a half of the above, so a busy single lane A road maybe. The affects of pollution are greater on children because their lungs are smaller, more sensitive and growing. Children and babies in prams are also more affected because they are shorter and closer to the pollution.


  • $\begingroup$ I posted this in a private forum and wanted to record it publicly and posssibly get alternative answers; scientific if best! $\endgroup$ – atreeon Oct 7 at 18:57

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