Drive Green – Learning to Cruise Lightly on the Earth

Cars take a tremendous toll on the environment and they’re at the heart of our fuel inefficiency in North America. We’re in love with our cars and the freedom they provide us, but they’re poisoning our air and driving our climate to change more rapidly than the earth can handle. According to the US Energy Information Administration, vehicle size, fuel consumption, and number of vehicles per household have gone up steadily over the last few decades. In fact, 2001 figures put average vehicle miles per household over 1,000 gallons per year, costing us between $1,400 and $2,300 in fuel annually.

The Facade of the Greenhouse Stock Photo - Image of daylight, crop:  126011156

With the cost of gasoline skyrocketing, fuel efficiency is on everyone’s mind. Thankfully, short of getting rid of your car and walking, taking public transportation greenhouse air conditioner, or carpooling (which are great options!), there are some things to improve your carbon footprint, and save money in the process.

Without even touching your car’s engine or changing the fuel we use, you can improve how much carbon dioxide it emits by paying attention to driving habits. Start off by planning out your errands so that you stay close to home-after all, the fewer miles you drive, the less fuel you consume. And while you’re planning, try to group tasks so that you can run several errands at one time. Cold engines wear faster and produce more pollution, so combine your trips so that your engine doesn’t have to warm up with each time.

But while it’s good to be as efficient as possible when driving around town, don’t make the mistake of leaving your car running while you’re in the store or picking up your kids from school. Believe it or not, idling for just two minutes is equivalent to driving over one mile, so shut off your engine, even if just for 30 seconds. And if idling is unavoidable, set the gear to neutral, which cuts noise pollution and produces fewer emissions.

Now, on to actual driving techniques. Did you know that the faster you go, the less fuel efficient your car runs? We’re all in a hurry, but slowing down even by just 5 mph can have an impact on how much fuel you burn every month. An optimum speed for reduced emissions, according to many environmentalists, is 55 miles per hour (mph). You can get even more out of each tank by using your cruise control, which further increases your vehicle’s efficiency.

Another good driving tip is to drive more smoothly. Rapid accelerations and heavy braking actually causes your car to guzzle more fuel, so it’s in your best interest to even out your driving habits by cornering and braking steadily, accelerating gently, and maintaining consistent speeds.

Finally, if you’re on the road on a hot summer’s day, know how to cool your car efficiently. There’s a lot of confusion about whether you should use your air conditioner or open the window to cool off. On the one hand, you don’t necessarily want to make excessive use of air conditioner refrigerants like HFC-134a (a greenhouse gas), but on the other hand, you don’t want to decrease your car’s efficiency. So what’s the answer? Generally, if you’re driving over 45 mph, it’s more efficient to run the air conditioner in order to avoid drag, but if you’re driving any slower than that, open the window and let your movement do the cooling.

You can do even more to improve your car’s efficiency by making sure it’s constantly in good repair. First, be sure to take your car in for regular maintenance, because when your car is properly tuned-up, it runs more smoothly and burns less gas. If you’re a do-it-yourself mechanic, just be sure that air filters are clean, fluids are topped-up, and everything’s running without a hitch.

One of the most important maintenance things you can do to reduce your car’s emissions is to ensure your tires are properly inflated. Driving on under-inflated tires not only wears them down more quickly, it also diminishes your fuel economy by as much as 3.3 percent (one percent for every pound drop in tire air pressure). It’s a simple, low-cost way to seriously reduce your fuel consumption.

Finally, lighten your load by ensuring you’re not carrying around a lot of dead weight. Empty out the back seat, your trunk, and the glove box of heavy items you don’t need. And while you’re at it, get rid of your rooftop rack except when it’s in use to further increase your cars ability to burn fuel less quickly.

These simple steps will certainly go a short distance to driving more greenly day-to-day. If you really want to improve your overall carbon emissions record, consider purchasing a new hybrid that uses far less fuel to begin with. You’ll be well on your way to living carbon-free!


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