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Auto stop/start must die; maybe the chip shortage will kill it

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I have long hated the mild-hybrid auto stop/start engine function automakers have been enthusiastically foisting on unsuspecting customers for the past several years. I mean, it saves like 0.04 gallons of gas for every tank. So, the hard starts, vehicle vibrations, lag time and loud noises are totally worth it.

Not.

If you aren’t familiar with this horrible feature, first let me ask if you own a Mazda? Next, let me say: You’re lucky. Now, let me explain what it is, why it’s so awful and how you might avoid it.

So, what is auto stop/start?

In its simplest sense, auto stop/start shuts off the engine when the vehicle is idling. While this seems like a good idea in theory, I have yet to find an automaker that has carried it out in a way that doesn’t suck. Sure, it’s gotten better in the last few years, but the aggravation it causes still isn’t worth the miniscule fuel savings you get.

In some of the less expensive vehicles that use this technology, the vehicles often shutter to a stop with a clunk, clunk, clunk sound that leaves you feeling like you just stalled a car with a manual transmission. Luxury automakers have smoothed out the clunk, and excessive sound deadening materials mute the engine noises as it turns on and off.

But the transition between off and back on is still glaringly noticeable as the vehicle doesn’t have an electrified propulsion system, just an electrified starter, so it can’t actually move until the engine starts back up.

The good news is: Most vehicles have a button that turns this system off – unless you have an older General Motors vehicle, then you’re S-O-L. The bad news: You have to hit this button every single time you turn the vehicle on – unless you own an older BMW, then you should never, ever get rid of it.

Why else does auto stop/start suck?

Here’s the thing, when the engine shuts down, the HVAC system gets muted. This means, on a hot day, the air conditioning shuts off in favor of a fan that blows lukewarm humid air in your face. It’s slightly better on a cold day where the heat shuts off, but you still only get lukewarm humid air.

Another reason I hate this feature is because, in the back of my mind, there is always the fear that when the engine shuts off, there will be a glitch that won’t allow it to turn back on. And, yes, I have had this happen. Thankfully, I was at a stop sign, not a light or in stop-and-go traffic. But after several annoyed honks of motorists behind me and a vehicle restart, the engine did turn back on.

The worse problem in my book, however, is the lag time between engine off an engine on – especially if you have the misfortune of being in a turbocharged vehicle. The “on” process begins as soon as you lift your foot off the brake, and most automakers will tell you it takes milliseconds for the transition to occur.

But if you are in a situation where you need immediate power – like turning left into a small window of traffic – that transition lag can be a problem. And I’ll tell you it’s more like 2 or 3 seconds than a couple milliseconds. On more than one instance, I’ve had to make a fast maneuver from a stop, forgot I hadn’t deactivated the auto stop/start system, and nearly gotten hit by someone who thought my “hesitation” was a reason to play bumper cars.

To be fair, I never have gotten in a crash because of auto stop/start, but the lag and near misses have given me (and probably a couple passengers) heart palpitations.

How do you avoid it?

Buy any Mazda other than the new CX-50. I say that somewhat as a joke, but Mazda was one of the last holdouts on bringing stop/start tech to its vehicles in the United States.

Another easy way to avoid it is to buy a full hybrid. The difference between a full hybrid and a mild one is quite simply this: A full hybrid allows you to move under electric power without turning the engine on. Thus, there is no brake-lift lag, and the vehicle starts moving as soon as you hit the accelerator. The added benefit, when the engine is off, it doesn’t mute your HVAC system. And if you get a good hybrid, the transition between engine on and off isn’t clunky.

The final way to avoid it: Buy electric. No engine, no problem. The electric motor supplies instant torque for instant go.

The blessing of the chip shortage

There have been a number of supply-chain disruptions due to the ongoing global microchip shortage, and this means automakers are having a hard time getting enough chips to push out new vehicles. This, in turn, has driven up the price of used vehicles.

In fact, automakers have been sidelining mostly built vehicles for the past year, waiting for microchips that power everything from head units to heated seats. However, realizing this chip shortage isn’t going to be over anytime soon (a lot of analysts are saying mid-2023 before we see any recovery), automakers like General Motors and Ford Motor Co. are starting to sell vehicles without microchips that power non-essential functions.

One of those non-essential functions happens to be auto stop/start.

So, if you hate this feature, now might be exactly the time to buy. Automakers are even giving buyers money back to accept a vehicle without this feature.

Wait! You’ll take away the most hated feature ever and give me money to do it? Yes, please!

The bottom line

I see the auto stop/start as a stop gap for automakers to say they’re doing something to get better fuel economy, when it’s really just a cheap fix that does nothing. Instead of investing in full hybrid technology or making the leap to electric, they’re saddling consumers with aggravation and annoyance.

But, maybe it’s just me? This is an opinion piece for a reason. If you disagree with me, feel free to argue and tell me why this is a gift to the world instead of a curse.

Oh, and GM owners with that old can’t-turn-it-off tech, I have a work around for you if you haven’t found it already, just comment below, and I’m happy to share the secret. The auto stop/start engine must die, and I will help kill it in any way possible.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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2 Comments

  1. James April 17, 2022

    That is a great article Jill. I totally agree. The stop/start is just plain annoying. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    1. Jeff May 4, 2022

      Is your work around in a GM product to not select D but choose L and then use the + button to select up in gears all the way up to the top gear (9 in my wife’s GMC)? Or do you have a better method? I use the above method when driving her GMC, but it is too much trouble for her to do. Besides everything you pointed out, it is going to wear out the starter much faster and potentially lubricated engine components. Continuous pressurized lubrication when the engine is running is better than stopping the oil flow and then restarting the engine. This is especially true when using the specified low viscosity 0W-20 engine oil that will leave less residual film on components reducing friction at start up than older higher viscosity oils would.

      Reply

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