Earth Friendly: Diesel engines are not what they used to be

Kate Garcia

Have you ever heard that joke, "it's like watching a monkey bang on a keyboard"? Well, that's what I feel like 95 percent of the time I have to do anything with cars. I just know how to start them, drive them and park them. My dad made sure I also knew how to change my own oil, but he still gets a phone call when that time rolls around. Thanks, Dad.

Other than that, when it comes to how cars work, you might as well give me a banana and call me Cheeta (that's a Tarzan reference for all you young'uns out there).

I find it very easy to talk about why we should walk/bike more over why we shouldn't idle our diesel engines for what seems like insane periods of time, mostly because I've never owned or driven a diesel truck. When I was an avid cycler, I would sometimes get a much unappreciated up close view of what comes out of a diesel engine, but that is about the extent of my firsthand knowledge of these huge trucks.

So I spent some time this month trying to find out a little about these foreign-to-me things, and here's what I've learned so far with the help of the good ol' interwebs and talking with my master mechanic friend.

Diesel engines are pretty darn big; thus, it takes quite a bit more to operate them, like two batteries instead of just one and special fuel instead of the more common gasoline. I'm told one reason these trucks are left to idle is that since it takes more to start the engine, which in turn wears out the starter much quicker.

Another reason to idle is to keep the fuel liquid during freezing temperatures and prevent gelling, which will also shorten the life of certain engine components. In the older diesel engines, after a long run, it was normal to let your truck idle for 10 to 15 minutes to let the bearings in the turbocharger cool down.

So there are a couple of important (and potentially pricey) reasons to idle your diesel if you have a model older than 2004.

It was about that time technology caught up and manufacturers began equipping these trucks with things like high torque starters and high volume oil pumps.

While I have learned that while it may be necessary to idle older diesel engines to keep them mechanically sound, I have also learned it is not necessary to leave them running for hours.

I learned that since the newer diesels are outfitted with new technology, and diesel fuel is more refined than it used to be, it can actually hurt the engine to treat it like you would an older diesel.

So unless you are the type who likes to burn hundreds of dollars a year going nowhere, drive a diesel responsibly. Heck, you might even save enough to put a fancy lift on it or maybe steps for those of us who are on the shorter side.

Kate Garcia is the programs coordinator for the city of Victoria, Environmental Services.