Known as stop-start and various other names, a technology designed to shut off your vehicle’s engine when stopped in traffic is now on its way to the U.S. from overseas, according to AAA.

Early versions of the technology date back to the 1980’s, and more than 40 percent of the new cars in Europe and Japan already use this gas saving technology. One research organization predicts that more than eight million vehicles in North America will be equipped with stop-start systems by 2017.

“Significant advances in the technology will gain momentum as auto manufacturers work to meet more stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for 2016,” said AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson.

AAA’s Automotive Engineers in Heathrow, Fla. are already addressing a number of the common questions:

What is stop-start? It’s a technology that automatically shuts off the engine when a driver is stuck in traffic or waiting for a red light to change. It can improve fuel economy up to 12 percent and contribute to a reduction in vehicle exhaust emissions.
How does it work? Engine shutdown occurs when vehicles with automatic transmissions are stopped for several seconds with the brake pedal applied. With a manual transmission, shutdown takes place with the transmission in neutral and the clutch released. Once the brake pedal is released or the clutch pedal is depressed, the engine restarts automatically.
How much does it cost? On some models, the stop-start system is standard equipment and its cost is included in the vehicle price. Where stop-start is offered as an option, it generally costs around $300.
How much can it save? If gasoline costs $3.75 per gallon, the owner of a car that normally gets 20 mpg and is driven 12,000 miles per year would save an estimated $167 per year in fuel costs if the vehicle is equipped with an engine stop-start system.
Are there any downsides? A major challenge in developing stop-start systems has been engineering the systems to meet consumer expectations. The engine stop-start transitions must be smooth and seamless, and drivers new to the technology will need to learn that engine shutdown at idle is a normal thing and not a sign of a problem. In some vehicles, heating and air conditioning performance could suffer if the engine remains shut down for an extended time. And the larger, more powerful batteries required for these systems will be more expensive to replace when the time comes.
What American market vehicles offer this technology now? All hybrid cars have stop-start capability, although they use a different technology than the systems on conventional powertrains. The systems are available on 2012 highline vehicles from BMW, Mercedes and Porsche. By 2013 the systems will be available on popularly priced models from Ford, Kia, and possibly others. Even trucks will likely add stop-start in the next year or so.

Learn more about this technology and other research from AAA Oregon/Idaho and through the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety