My wife has accidentally parked and left her car running all day. What's the damage?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a troubling situation to ask you about. Three times in the past several months, my wife has parked her car, gotten out and absent-mindedly left this '99 Mazda 626 running. Once, she left it running all day at her office. My first question is, what kind of damage can this do? And the obvious second question is, why is she doing this, and how can I stop her? -- JR

RAY: Well, to answer your first question, leaving the car running all day won't do any damage. As long as the engine's cooling system is working normally, a modern car can run for days and days -- until it runs out of gas -- without causing itself any harm.

TOM: Think about it, JR. If long-term idling caused engine damage, wouldn't you see thousands of broken-down police cars in Dunkin Donuts parking lots?

RAY: The second question is trickier. I'd have to assume that she's not used to a car that's so smooth and quiet. What was her previous car? Was it a 1986 Chevy Cavalier with a bad muffler? My guess is that the signals she used to get from her old car -- the noises and vibrations that told her it was running -- are not there in her new car. You might need to loosen up the fan belt and get this Mazda squealing.

TOM: Still, a person has to be distracted in some way to forget to turn off his or her engine. So something must have distracted her on those days. Maybe it's Bob, the hot new guy from marketing?

RAY: Here are my suggestions: First, if she hasn't already, she should stash an extra set of keys at work. That might not help her remember, but it'll save you the trips to go rescue her. Then I'd get her one of those retractable key holders that you can clip onto your belt.

TOM: If she puts the car key on that and clips the thing to her clothing, and then tries to get out of the car with the key still in the ignition, she'll rip off whatever she's wearing and be so embarrassed that she'll never forget again.

RAY: No, it'll just give her a friendly reminder that she "forgot something." She can even clip it to her pocketbook if she's good at remembering that. And don't be too hard on her, JR. She's obviously got more important things on her mind. And in the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal.

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