Driving a ‘greener’ car

You don’t have to trade in your current car to own one that’s both more environmentally friendly and — as a bonus — saves money at the gas pump.

By Jim Gorzelany CTW Features

With gas prices continuing to bounce like a ping-pong ball between the upper and lower $3/gallon range, depending on location and the time of year, fuel economy remains paramount among new-car shoppers.

But one doesn’t necessarily have to purchase a costly new hybrid or electric-powered vehicle to own a more fuel frugal and, by default, more environmentally friendly car.

Perhaps the easiest way to greenup any car or truck is to slow down and change what are otherwise wasteful driving habits. Foot-to-thefloor starts and sudden stops reduce a vehicle’s fuel economy by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds and by five percent in the city. Driving at 75 mph uses 13 percent more fuel than cruising at 65 mpg, and 25 percent more than at 55 mph. Switch off your car’s engine while waiting at a curb or sitting at a train crossing; this can save better than a half gallon of fuel for every hour that would have been spent idling, when a vehicle obtains zero mpg. Engaging the cruise control on the highway helps maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, will save gas; keep the windows closed while at cruising speeds and remove roof racks and other add-on accessories to help preserve the car’s aerodynamics.

Consider using a trip computer that taps into a car’s onboard diagnostics port (typically located underneath the dashboard on newer-model cars) to monitor its real-time fuel consumption as a coach. Likewise, several smartphone apps are available — some at no cost — that leverage the devices’ accelerometer technology to sense acceleration and encourage smoother driving.

Keep the car’s tires properly inflated according to the manufacturer’s recommendations; running on underinflated tires can reduce a car’s mileage by as much as 3.3 percent and lead to uneven and/or premature wear. When it’s time for a change, consider switching to low rolling resistance tires. Used in most hybrids and other higher-mileage models and offered by most major brands, they use a special rubber compound that, according to tests conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, can save motorists an average of about a mile a gallon.

Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s service schedule — including the proper intervals for tune-ups, oil changes, filter changes and so on — to help reduce emissions and maintain top fuel economy. Switching to a so-called synthetic oil can help a car run more efficiently under extreme conditions, and it can last up to three times longer between changes, which can save an estimated 15 to 24 quarts of oil per year. Another alternative is to use a lubricant that’s completely petroleum free, like Green Earth Technology’s G-Oil, or conventional oil that’s been reclaimed and re-refined, like Safety-Kleen’s EcoPower.

Though it won’t necessarily affect a car’s fuel economy, cleaning a car more judiciously can help make one a greener motorist by minimizing water use and preventing chemicals from running into storm drains and eventually finding their way into rivers and streams. To this end it’s a good idea to avoid the driveway and instead wash the car while its sitting on the lawn, dirt or gravel, where microbes can help break down harmful elements in the wash water and prevent them from running off into a storm drain. An even better choice would be to use an organic car-washing product (like Eco Touch’s Waterless Car Wash) that simply sprays on and wipes off.

For those who want the full professional treatment, seek out a WaterSavers certified car wash that minimizes its water consumption per wash (to 40 gallons or less per car), and sends its runoff to a water-treatment plant.

Finally, be sure to recycle or properly dispose of motor oil, tires, batteries, fluids and other components when performing maintenance or repairs to help keep toxic elements from otherwise befouling the sewage system, groundwater or landfills.

© CTW Features