- Photo by Obi Onyeador (@thenewmalcolm) on Unsplash

Stop-Start systems - cleaner tech or empty gesture?

It's being introduced in nearly every vehicle nowadays, but why exactly?

39w ago

162.4K

Everyone knows the noise. Well, except perhaps those people who live remotely and who have never seen a stop-light - oh, how I envy you. But when in traffic, there's a noise that you can hear at any set of red lights, just as the signals are about to turn green.

It could come from your car. It could be the one next to you. It's the sound of a sleeping engine snorting and coughing awake like a smoker after Saturday night beers. It's the bark of the car's stop-start system prodding it into life after having dozed off when the wheels ceased moving.

Photo by Nabeel Syed (@nabeelsyed) on Unsplash

Photo by Nabeel Syed (@nabeelsyed) on Unsplash

It would be easy to simply sign off this article with a "Nah, don't like 'em" and carry on, but there are times that I feel that there is something a little underhanded occurring. It's not often that car enthusiasts and environmentalists can see eye-to-eye on matters - and I'm going against a firm belief of mine now in never discussing politics or religion - but if there's a common ground we can all find, then I'm all for it. Allow me to explain.

The car industry has done a lot of things to clean up its emissions. Regulators have also done many things to incentivise them to do so. Regardless of whether you believe in the aim, the efforts are being made to lower carbon emissions from the tailpipe.

But I am of the feeling that stop-start systems in cars are a cynical device that serve little purpose than to simply lower the fuel consumption figure on a car's advertising material. There. Simple. I said it.

I remain somewhat dubious on the efficacy of these stop-start systems for regular consumers. Perhaps if there is a lot of idling (and I mean a lot), then maybe there is some saving to be had, but modern engines are remarkably efficient at idle, and to shut them off frequently is arguably not really worth the minor inconvenience of having to shake the car into life at every junction.

Taxis and cabs might have more of a case, or perhaps the kind of peak-hour traffic that is experienced in the likes of London, Los Angeles and New York. The question could be asked, that with many millions of cars sold across the globe, how many find themselves regularly in the snaking queues of honking horns and heat haze?

Photo by Alexander Popov (@5tep5) on Unsplash

Photo by Alexander Popov (@5tep5) on Unsplash

Anecdotally, I have yet to meet anyone who, when prompted on the subject of Stop-Start tech, doesn't state that it's the first thing they turn off when they start the vehicle. Their startup routine consists of igniting the engine and extinguishing the stop-start system.

Reporting in 2016, Carsguide indicated that the testing for vehicle fuel consumption with these systems was not particularly comprehensive, using rolling roads and being shut off for long periods. This kind of methodology would hardly be representative of real-world conditions, even if people were to actually use the technology, and not stab it off when they start up.

So, if the regulations to lower emissions are being gamed for the purposes of advertising a lower number on a brochure - on a tech that arguably has little benefit to that aim - it should upset environmentalists. If the technology is intrusive to the driving experience, and proves to be more a nuisance that doesn't really deliver a gain, then enthusiasts should be equally upset. As car enthusisasts, we have become accustomed to "generous" fuel consumption figures for some time, so the fact that these number can be further fudged should irk us.

But any technology can also become a point of failure in a vehicle as the car ages. Anecdotally, I am aware of one individual who became stranded at an intersection when their stop-start battery failed.

There is, I feel, some common ground here, between my outlined divide of those who want lower emissions, and those of us who enjoy driving. If stop-start technology is dubious, then the benefits of stop-start features do little to reduce what environmentalists want reduced, while also intruding on the actual driving experience of the car, all the while not reducing what car enthusiasts want reduced ie money spent at the fuel bowser.

Photo by Jay Skyler (@jay_skyler) on Unsplash

Photo by Jay Skyler (@jay_skyler) on Unsplash

The nature of debate does tend to get heated, especially if one side perceives themselves to be making all the concessions. On this topic, if some common ground could be achieved, then perhaps a dialogue could be started, so that consumers are actually given tech that is both clean to use, and unobtrusive to drive.

In summary, we potentially have a feature that allows companies to claim their consumption and emissions are lower, while adding a feature that is more annoying than useful. It's a feature which could fail in the future, and may be regularly disabled by the driver anyway, negating the benefit.

It a tech that seems to have been given for appearances, but arguably has little gain.

So, effectively, stop-start functions should annoy all of us. It's baby steps, but maybe this is one thing we can all rally around, and we can stop the coughing of the engines, while simultaneously cleaning the air to stop the coughing from our own lungs.

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Comments (82)

  • And don't get me started on the extra wear and tear in the starter motor and battery...

      9 months ago
    • You make fair points, but I’m not sure on the wear and tear aspect. I understand that A lot of the worst fatigue is caused during cold starts, and once the engine is warm, it’s not as big a deal. However, many of these systems use a secondary...

      Read more
        9 months ago
    • I can't believe that starting car 10-20 times in one trip doesn't increase the wear on the starter motor compared to starting it once. I've read that some Mercedes Benz have extra wires on their batteries to monitor the voltage for the stop...

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        9 months ago
  • It seems like such a useless idea, because in temperature extremes, the engine needs to be running for heating or cooling inside the vehicle. I had a hire car in Perth, during summer with stop/start, and the first time the engine shut off and the cool air stopped blowing I looked for (and found) the button to turn it off.

      9 months ago
    • Exactly!

        9 months ago
    • That was one thing i dislike too. I forgot to actually include in the article.

      In a Subaru I found it shut off the air con, and in a VW I found it just kept the engine running to keep the air con on. In both scenarios, it negates the need for the tech...

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        9 months ago
  • Complete empty gesture and just one more thing to potentially go wrong on cars that are overly complicated to begin with, never mind all the unnecessary wear and tear on the starter. If I had a car with that feature, I would have to find a way to disable it permanently.

      9 months ago
    • That was raised by a colleague to me the other day, that dealerships are probably tired of saying "No" to customers. When a feature serves little purpose than to annoy customers AND your own salespeople, WHILE not actually delivering the...

      Read more
        9 months ago
  • I personally think that cylinder deactivation is a better option than stop start.... That whole annoying shaking and thunking as the engine restarts everytime 😒

      9 months ago
    • Definitely. When the car is rolling, it doesn’t need much energy to maintain it. As a cost per kilometre/mile, it’s probably a better proposition.

        9 months ago
  • The start stop button should be renamed the “a journey like this is best done walking, cycling or on public transport button”.

      9 months ago
    • Not a bad idea, but with all those words, could you imagine the size of the button???

        9 months ago
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