I appreciate this is a question that can't be answered in facts and figures, so I'm after a general idea. I drive a 1986 Supra, which has a modest 2.8-litre engine. I often shut the engine off while waiting at traffic lights to save fuel, but I'm wondering how much it saves when I have to crank the engine before pulling away.
Somewhere along the line, I heard that it took about 30 seconds of idling worth of fuel to start a cold engine (i.e. the same amount of fuel as the engine would burn idling for 30 seconds), and for a hot engine, that drops to around 10 seconds, so I try to shut the engine off if I'm going to be waiting for more than 10 seconds.
I'm wondering if this "rule" only applies to more modern cars, which is why I mention the age of my Supra. Obviously all EFI engines "flare" after being started with the key to ensure the engine catches; if more sophisticated fuel injection systems have finer control over the extra fuel used during the flare, they might use less fuel to start.
The perfect situation is waiting facing downhill where I can let the car roll, then bump-start it using its own momentum instead of the electric starter (since it doesn't flare), but those are few and far between.

  • While I appreciate the nature of the question, I'm not sure it can be answered definitively. It seems to me all answers will be subjective and opinion based, versus factual. Every vehicle is going to be different. If you are asking specifically for your car, then you need to take into account the state of tune for the vehicle itself and also how worn out is the engine. I think your 10 sec wait time is probably not a bad measure for engine shutdown, but again, that is JMHO. Jun 16, 2015 at 16:24
  • @Paulster2 : I can take a stab at answering this question objectively
    – Zaid
    Jun 16, 2015 at 16:28
  • @Zaid ... AB-SO-STINK-IN-LUTE-LY!!! It is my opinion someone cannot. I have no control over whether some else can. If you can, I'll upvote in a moment and encourage others to do so as well. I look forward to reading (and upvoting) your answer! Please, please, please, prove me wrong ... I need that every once in a while. Helps keep me humble, which is no easy task ;-) Jun 16, 2015 at 16:32
  • I think it's not just an a little richer mixture, which costs more fuel after starting. The battery has to supply electrical devices while the motor is off, and also the starter. So, it needs some charging when the motor is running again. The motor has to handle that additional load, which costs some extra fuel.
    – sweber
    Aug 30, 2015 at 14:49

3 Answers 3


This question is very multi faceted because fuel economy is such a complex topic. When a car is starting first the computer check the coolant temperature sensor to see how hot the engine is. In the memory of the computer there is a look up table that dictates how much fuel it should add for a specific temperature. This table is very conservative and the computer will add more fuel than is actually needed just to make sure the engine starts. Then the computer will set the idle speed motor to the max value as per look up table as well this is why that flare up happens. Whey you start cranking the engine the computer starts adding fuel and spark, but it will take at least 3 to four revolutions before something happens and then at least a half second for everything to stabilize. A this point the computer takes control of the idle and brings the flare down. Finally, this is the point that is often forgotten, the computer has to bring the engine under closed loop control. In closed loop control the engine is most efficient as compared to open loop control that uses a similar table mentioned up above. The biggest obstacle to getting under closed loop control is the temperature of the oxygen sensor. If it is too cool it will not read and will start reading when it is sufficiently warm. Most vehicles are equipped with oxygen sensor warmers. With the age of your car i'm not sure if it has one and that would cause it to take longer to warm up.

With all of this being said i'm not sure how much fuel you are actually saving. The extra fuel needed to start the car and to bring it under closed loop control may actually waste more fuel then just idling for that 30 seconds. Also your starter and ignition switch both have a rated life, an average number of times that they can preform their job. That amount may be 1000 times or 10000 times but turning the car on and off like you are is greatly increasing the rate at witch you will reach failure. Ultimately the extra wear you put on your engine components may out weigh the fuel savings that you might be getting.

  • You're right about the closed-loop aspect - I hadn't considered that. Supras only got oxygen sensors late in the mk2's life though - mine doesn't have one, so it runs open-loop permanently. However, I have heard that cars with them deliberately run rich from cold to warm up the sensor with hotter exhaust. I also appreciate that heated oxygen sensors use electrical power which has to be replenished by the alternator. I'm looking to fit an aftermarket ECU as part of some performance modifications, so maybe I'll be able to finely tune the startup parameters that way
    – Gargravarr
    Aug 31, 2015 at 16:13
  • Have you read this? Way less than 30 seconds of idling to pay back the energy for the starter when the car is warm. physics.stackexchange.com/questions/57794/…
    – FarO
    Nov 27, 2015 at 13:37
  • For new cars it is 1 to 3 seconds not 30 seconds! (the theory and info is great but maybe not the conclusion, if it is 30 secs then start the car 60 times and you should have used 0.6 litres of petrol, easy to measure....very doubtful it would use so much but if it is it would definitely be worth a test). Even if you needed a new starter every 5 years you would be saving yourself enough in fuel vosts to warrant that spending...and idling is bad for your engine which is the most expensive part
    – atreeon
    Oct 25, 2019 at 6:10
  • @atreeon 1 to 3 seconds, not 30, what? My conclusion states 30 seconds of idling, not how long it takes to go into closed loop.
    – vini_i
    Oct 25, 2019 at 12:51
  • @vini_i thanks for replying! (I'm trying to get to the bottom of this!) I have heard many sources say that the best way to get a car at the correct temperature is to drive it carefully - this would put the car into the most efficient closed loop position quickest and a more efficient temperature quicker. So, when you start the car, don't idle it at all to warm it up, just drive it (but don't floor it). In fact idling can take the car out of closed loop because it isn't running fast enough. That being said most cars are in closed loop almost immediately anyway.
    – atreeon
    Oct 28, 2019 at 16:17

If your driving is consistent, you could test it out by measuring your gas mileage, with shutting your vehicle off at lights, and not shutting it off. You would want to average at least 3 tanks of each to make sure there aren't any weird outliers (stuck in traffic, muggy weather).

If you want an exact answer for your vehicle, you would need some way to measure the amount of fuel passed into the engine. If you have datalogging access to your ECU, you might be able to calculate fuel consumption based off of injector pulses.


1.1ml of petrol per engine restart

For fuel injected engines, this paper suggests for a 1.5 litre engine it takes 1.1ml to 1.2ml of fuel to start a car. In another study, the graph below (link) suggests the amount of fuel used when idling is, in relation to engine size, linear - the bigger the engine the more fuel.

So, when idling a 3 litre engine you will use twice as much fuel as a 1.5 litre engine (0.6 litres per hour) and I would expect this difference to be the same when starting a car because the amount of fuel used starting a car, like idling, is dependent on engine size.

The 1.1ml of fuel study is an old study (2002?) and, with improvements in computerisation and sensors in fuel injected engines, I would assume the amount of fuel required is now less. The all important mixture of air and fuel can be optimised automatically.

25 year old carburetor based engines are different to fuel injected

With fuel injector engines, how cold the car is won't have much to do with how much fuel it will use to start up. With carboretor engines (entirely phased out in cars by the early 1990s), it will be more expensive in fuel and depend on the warmth of the engine, the use of the choke an other factors.

1 - 3 seconds of idling is equal to one restart

I've heard reliable sources for modern fuel injected cars quote somewhere between 1 and 3 seconds of idling equates to one restart of an engine.

Don't let your car idle; to warm the engine drive it carefully

The information you heard about the difference between idling and starting up is not true for fuel injected cars - all new cars made since the 1990s. This information may be true for very old carburetor based engines. You are better to drive your car carefully as soon as you start your engine up (don't floor it and don't let the car idle to warm up; you can start and stop your car as much as you like...the total cost in starting a fuel injected engine will be less than the total cost of idling).

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