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Engine Pre-Heaters: Smart Alternative to Unnecessary Engine Idling Fuel, Wear and Tear on Engines and Health Problems

Engine Pre-Heaters: Smart Alternative to Unnecessary Engine Idling

FENTON, Mich., Jan. 17 -- With the cold weather season in full swing, millions of American drivers are starting each day by idling their vehicles for 5 to 10 minutes. This routine practice may seem harmless, but it wastes billions of gallons of fuel and pollutes the air with a particularly noxious mix of dangerous emissions. In addition, it creates additional wear and tear on engines leading to higher maintenance and repair costs. Webasto's BlueHeat(R) is an engine pre-heater, or parking heater, which offers a practical alternative without the negative effects of idling without compromising your comfort.

The negative effects of engine idling have been extensively researched and are well known in the scientific, regulatory and automotive communities. Most American drivers, however, aren't aware of its consequences, which include:

1. Idling negatively impacts air quality -- Emissions from a cold, idling engine contain extremely high levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons.

2. Idling wastes fuel and money -- It's been estimated that American drivers unnecessarily consume over 2 billion gallons of fuel each year while idling. With gas prices at their highest levels in years, the cost of idling to individuals is significant and the cost to our economy is astronomical.

3. Idling adversely affects the health of millions -- Researchers have proven a direct link between air contaminants present in vehicle emissions and serious respiratory conditions. Younger children and older adults are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of these pollutants.

4. Idling is not good for your engine -- Idling after a cold start leaves fuel residue and condensed water on engine and exhaust components causing damage and contamination of engine oil.

5. Idling is illegal in 42 states -- Although most anti-idling laws are still aimed at large trucks and commercial vehicles, a growing number of regions and municipalities are planning or close to enacting laws limiting or prohibiting idling of passenger cars.

Engine Pre-Heater Provides a Simple and Effective Option to Idling

The engine pre-heater, or parking heater, offers a practical alternative without the negative effects of idling. Most important, pre-heaters still provide the only real benefit of idling, which is having a warm interior and defrosted windows before setting out in cold weather.

Pioneered for use in Europe over 50 years ago, this compact device (about the size of a toaster) is installed under the hood and integrated with the vehicle's existing fuel and heating systems. According to Webasto, one of the world's largest manufacturers of pre-heaters, millions of personal and commercial vehicles in Germany and other parts of Europe are equipped with the devices.

When activated, a parking heater enables the vehicle's coolant to begin circulating through the engine and heater core. As the coolant passes through the pre-heater, it is warmed by a small, safe fuel-operated element. The pre-heater draws and burns a very small amount of either gasoline or diesel fuel from the vehicle's tank to heat the coolant.

At the same time, the vehicle's heater and defroster fans are automatically activated by the pre-heater and -- after a cycle of about 10-15 minutes -- the result is a comfortable interior, defrosted windows and a warm engine block.

Even in the coldest weather, the warmed engine enables the vehicle to start quickly and reliably. The heated engine components also help to significantly reduce the amount of pollution the vehicle emits, thus extending engine life.

The Case for Engine Pre-Heaters

There is little doubt that the planet's supply of oil is dwindling. And there is little doubt that our global environment is being adversely affected in part by dangerous gases and chemicals released by the vehicles we drive.

While there is no total solution to either problem, the adoption of engine pre-heaters is a small step that addresses both problems at once.

"Over the past several decades, the automotive industry has invested billions of dollars on technological initiatives to develop more fuel efficient vehicles and to decrease the amount of dangerous emissions. Electric, hybrid and hydrogen vehicles have been extensively covered in the media for their tremendous 'green' potential. But, realistically, widespread adoption and mass production of these types of vehicles and the advantages they offer are decades away," says Rolf Lichtner, director of marketing services at Webasto Product North America.

"Vehicles powered by internal combustion engines will continue to be the standard for another 15 to 20 years, at least. But, we can't afford to wait that long. Because there is no magic bullet that will quickly solve our environmental and energy problems, we need to address them with smaller, practical solutions. Becoming more conscious of unnecessary idling and equipping cars and trucks with pre-heaters are examples of smaller steps that can make a big difference," said Lichtner.

Lichtner said that pre-heaters make a lot of sense because drivers don't need to change their habits or compromise their routines. At the same time, Lichtner said, pre-heaters have the potential to decrease our annual collective fuel bill by billions of dollars and reduce by up to 100 times the dangerous gases emitted by idling engines.

Installation and Costs

Pre-heaters can be installed by most automobile dealers in almost any new or used vehicle. Installation takes several hours and doesn't affect or change your vehicle's engine or performance in any way.

Although the pre-heaters don't create cold air to cool down vehicle interior temperatures in hot weather, they can be used in warmer weather to activate ventilation fans that lower the temperature of the vehicle to that of the outside air.

Vehicle pre-heaters, such as Webasto's BlueHeat model, can be purchased and installed for about $1,800. If purchased and installed at an auto dealership when buying a new or used vehicle, the price of the pre-heater can be included in the amount financed adding approximately $20 to $30 to the monthly payment.

Lichtner said that several automakers are considering making pre-heaters available as a factory-installed option, which would bring the price down considerably.

Pre-Heaters are Common in Europe

Fuel prices in Europe average about $4.50 per gallon and in many countries there are strict laws prohibiting or significantly limiting vehicle idling. For these reasons, millions of cars and trucks in Germany and neighboring countries are equipped with the devices.

"Although higher gas prices and the threat of a stiff fine were two motivating factors in the wide scale adoption of pre-heaters, European drivers have a somewhat different perspective than American drivers. For them, idling isn't just against the law, it's viewed as irresponsible and politically incorrect behavior," said Lichtner.

Lichtner admits that it will be sometime before American drivers stop idling by the millions. But, he adds that increased awareness of global warming, continuing higher gas prices and more driver awareness campaigns and related anti-idling laws greatly improve the prospects for pre-heaters and the benefits they provide.

About Webasto

Webasto Product North America, Inc., based in Fenton, Mich., provides a wide range of sunroofs, thermosystems and other products to the passenger vehicle and light and heavy-duty truck aftermarkets.

It is a subsidiary of Webasto AG, one of the world's largest suppliers of open roof systems and thermosystems to the automotive industry. The 103-year old company is based in Stockdorf, Germany and employs over 5000 people in 43 countries.

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