Car Idling Laws Change in Subzero Temperatures

Updated: 12/30/2013 1:40 PM
Created: 12/30/2013 10:36 AM
By: Katherine Johnson

With subzero temperatures also comes a change in the laws. We caught about a dozen Minneapolis residents idling their cars past the legal limit this morning, and none of them knew they were breaking the law.

"It's the first thing I do when I get up. Let the car warm up," said Dierre Sherrod as he warmed his car up for the morning commute.

Much like Sherrod, starting and scraping off the car is just part of a Minnesotan's morning routine.

"I usually come out about 15 minutes early," said Meg Kissel.

And 15 minutes is all the time you have if you're within Minneapolis city limits. In below-zero temperatures, drivers in Minneapolis can leave their car idling and unattended for up to 15 minutes. When the temperatures warm above zero, the idling limit is just three minutes.

"Maybe half an hour," said Kissel, on how long she lets her car warm up. "But I wouldn't know the difference. It's the morning. You forget time!"

Even that 20-30 minutes warm-up didn't help Kissel on Monday morning. She spent the whole time scraping off ice including inside the windshield.

"I came out and started it too late, so I've been scraping the outside even though it didn't snow at all," said Kissel.

We watched Dierre Sherrod's car run unattended for more than 20 minutes before he started loading up for the day. That's five minutes over the legal time limit.

"I've got a spare key in the house so I just lock it and use the remote starter to unlock it when I come back out," said Sherrod.

At least he locks it.  Out of all the holidays of the year, New Year's Day 2013 saw the most auto thefts nation-wide, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Kissel didn't lock her car this time, but she says her frozen doors would have made any theft pretty tough in the first place.

"I unlocked it, and warmed it up, and then I came back out and it was actually frozen shut," she said. "I'm out here kicking it, and I couldn't get the doors open. Not because it was locked, but because it was frozen shut."

Idling laws differ from city to city. In Bloomington, you can idle all day as long as your car is locked. In Edina and St. Paul, you can idle in your driveway, but if you're on a public street, keys cannot be in the ignition and your doors must remain locked.

If they catch you, police can take your keys and hold them until you pick them up at the station.

Minneapolis/St. Paul

50° | 46°
  • Feels like: 35° F
  • Wind: SE 13mph
  • Humidity: 55%
  • Thu Mainly cloudy and rainy
    58° | 42°
  • Fri Mostly sunny
    52° | 37°
  • Sat Partly cloudy
    52° | 36°
  • Sun Windy with a few showers
    50° | 38°