Drive Green This Summer!

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by Donna Mazzitelli

As the lyrics go, “it’s summertime and the living is easy.” It’s that time of year when the outdoors calls us to visit familiar and never-before-experienced places, sometimes close to home, and at other times, far away. Usually, we hop into our cars to get there. And traveling those distances can be a challenge when we’re trying our hardest to live “green.”

Yet, according to Greencars.com, there are steps to take and things to keep in mind that can help you enjoy your summertime travels free from guilt. Here are some key ideas to keep in mind.

Driving green

The first step in reducing the environmental impact of your vehicle is to buy green if you can. Although the vehicle you choose to drive is significant, how you drive and how well you maintain your car, van, or light truck will also make a big difference in your “green” efforts.

• Avoid driving your car abruptly forward or backward. The result is the screeching of your wheels (called a “jack rabbit” start) and aggressive driving. Flooring the gas pedal wastes gas and leads to drastically higher pollution rates. Did you know that one second of high-powered driving can produce nearly the same volume of carbon monoxide emissions as a half hour of normal driving?

• Think ahead. Try to anticipate stops and slowdowns (for instance when driving on winding roads). Let your vehicle coast on steep descents. Avoid the increased pollution, wasted gas, and wear on your brakes from accelerating or braking hard.

• Follow the speed limit! Did you know that driving your vehicle at 75 mph instead of 65 mph will reduce your fuel economy by about 10 percent? It can also dramatically increase tailpipe pollution in many vehicles.

• When possible, plan your trips to avoid rush-hour driving. The stop-and-go driving required during heavy commuting hours burns gas and increases emissions of smog-forming pollutants.

• Combine trips. Warmed-up engines create much less air pollution, so combining several short trips into one can make a big difference.

• Take a load off. Carrying around an extra 100 pounds reduces fuel economy by about one percent. Unload your cargo area of anything you don’t need. And, if you keep sandbags in your vehicle during the winter months, be sure to remove them in summer.

• If your vehicle has it, use overdrive gear at cruising speeds. When driving a manual transmission, shift up as soon as possible. Running in a higher gear decreases the rpm and will decrease fuel use and engine wear.

• Before you turn to your air conditioner, try using the vents and opening windows to cool off. Use of air conditioners increases fuel consumption, increases mono-nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions in some vehicles, and involves environmentally damaging fluids.

• Don’t step on the gas pedal before starting your engine or let your car run for long periods of time before you take off. Modern vehicles don't need to warm up and have automatic chokes (unlike many older vehicles).

Maintenance Tips

• Keep your tires properly inflated. Tires should be inflated to the pressure recommended for your vehicle; this information is often printed inside the door frame or in your owner's manual. Did you know that for every three pounds below recommended pressure, fuel economy goes down by about one percent? Tires can lose about one pound of pressure in a month, so check the air pressure monthly and always before setting out on a long road trip or when carrying heavy loads. Most tire service companies will provide on-the-spot, free air pressure checks and refills. Underinflated tires can also detract from handling and safety, and can impact how long your car’s tires will last.

• Check your own fuel economy. If you notice it slipping, check to see if you have a minor problem with your engine or brakes. Also check fuel filters and your fuel injection system. Taking such precautions can fix problems before you have a breakdown on the road.

• Get a tune-up. Whether you do it yourself or go to a mechanic, a tune-up can increase your fuel economy. Follow owner's manual guidelines. Be sure to check for worn spark plugs, dragging brakes, and low transmission fluid; and replace the air filter if needed.

• Rotate your tires. Have your wheels aligned and tires rotated regularly.

• Change the oil. In addition to making your car or truck last longer, replacing the oil and oil filter regularly will help fuel economy. Check your owner’s manual for specific recommendations about frequency. Ask for recycled oil as a replacement.

• Recycle all fluids. Ask the service station if they recycle used oil and other auto fluids, or if you do it yourself, take your old fluids to a place that recycles.

• Have your vehicle’s emission control system checked periodically. Take it in for service if an instrument panel warning light comes on.

Careful Fill-Ups

Gasoline fumes are toxic and carcinogenic; they cause smog; and spilled gasoline can pollute the water and poison wildlife.

• Use regular gasoline unless your owner's manual says otherwise. Unless your car requires premium, high-octane fuels improve neither fuel economy nor performance and will just waste your money.

• Don’t overfill the gas tank or try to top it off beyond where the automatic nozzle clicks off. Spilled gasoline evaporates to aggravate smog formation and can leak into groundwater.

• Patronize gas stations that have vapor-recovery nozzles (those black, accordion-looking plastic devices attached to the nozzle) whenever you can.

Prudent Parking

• Park in the shade to keep your car cool and minimize evaporation of fuel.

• If you have a garage, use it as much as possible to keep your car cool.

• If you have to park outdoors, use windshield shades to cut down on interior heat.

By greening-up your summer travel, you’re doing much more than just going along for the ride.