Columnist: Warming Up Your Car In The Winter Illegal, Dangerous

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn spends Tuesday’s column agonizing over whether its acceptable to warm up his family’s car on days when temperatures drop dangerously low.

Zorn, who fancies himself environmentally conscious, tries to assuage his guilt over trudging out to his wife’s car in the winter to let it run long enough so be comfortably warm. He points to all the usual eco-zealots who rail against the practice.

But Zorn also points out that it is illegal for Chicago residents to let their car to sit, idle and warmup without a driver. Although, remotely started cars are perfectly legal in Chicago, as long as the windshield has some sort of sticker.

But letting your car warmup alone outside, is a risk as these lonely, idling cars are sometimes stolen even when the car is locked as Zorn showcases a recent incident where this happened to a neighbor or his.

The idea that this practice is illegal is laughable.

If motorists want to warm up their car on a bitter, cold morning, who cares? If the car gets stolen, then that’s on the driver. They take that risk.

Is a warmed up car on days like this worth the risk?

That’s up to the individual driver.

Like Zorn, I think it’s worth the risk. Unlike Zorn, I feel no sense of guilt nor care if the practice technically breaks the law.

It’s a law that needs to be changed.

Here’s Zorn’s well written column, “Americans idle —Warming up your car is a risky, often illegal, tradition.”

8 Responses to Columnist: Warming Up Your Car In The Winter Illegal, Dangerous

  1. Jeff says:

    Walking away/leaving your car running in Chicago – locked or not – is beyond stupid. Why not just mail your car keys to your local car theft ring??

  2. DoR Employee says:


    Well…per Ordinance…it is actually illegal to leave your vehicle running per the Dept of Environment.

    Keyless Car Starters are allowed per the ordinance…but there is a 3 minute Idle Law.

    Gasoline Engine Vehicles…75.00 Fine
    Diesel Engines…250.00 Fine


    DoE states that the restriction is only in effect and enforceable between 32 degrees and 80 degree Days.

    So there you go.

  3. Brad says:

    Uh, not to nitpick, but that column isn’t from Tuesday, but rather 2 years ago.

    Still an interesting read. More ammo to show the wife why we shouldn’t bother spending the money to get one installed on our car.

  4. Pete says:

    The city’s War On Cars marches on…

  5. Glen Richards says:

    It’s NOT up to the driver. When stupid people do unnecessarily stupid things that raise the insurance rates for everyone else, laws are enacted to prevent them from doing those stupid things again.

  6. Bobby Maple says:

    Why should the government be concerned with insurance rates? That sounds like a matter between insurance companies and their customers.

    You can’t outlaw stupidity. If people want to leave their cars running unattended, they should have every right to do that. If it becomes a big enough insurance risk, insurance companies will create an exclusion for such thefts, just like they exclude flood and termite damage from homeowner’s insurance.

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