Cars are some of the most absurdly fantastic and complex marvels of modern engineering that the world has ever seen. Think about. First off, they’re able to glide on four rubber circles that somehow perpetually roll downhill, convert dead organic material into fire and then fire into energy, and as a result of this process, they allow regular people to travel several times faster than the human body was ever meant to go. But despite all of the wonder and the magic brewing together in your internal combustion engine, automobiles come at a heavy cost to the world around you. Cars release an estimated total of 333 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, and even though some newer models are more fuel efficient, the total number of cars being actively driven continues to rise. The question is, what can one person do to stem the tide? Quite a bit, if you don’t mind hanging up your car keys for good. But just in case you don’t want to walk to work or buy a horse, here are nine useful tips on how to make your automobile more environmentally friendly.
1. Maintain it
Believe it or not, that “next oil change due” sticker that Jiffy Lube puts on your windshield isn’t just a clever marketing ploy. Regularly servicing your car can increase its gas mileage by quite a bit. Greater fuel economy means that you’ll be dumping fewer pollutants into the air, and that you’ll also save money at the pump. Besides, you’re better off paying $50 dollars every few months for an oil change than you are shelling out however much the mechanic thinks he can take you for when your car breaks down from neglect.
2. Properly inflate your tires
Underinflated tires can reduce your fuel economy by up to 5%. At the same time, try not to overinflate them, either. Use a pressure gauge to make sure that your tires are sitting comfortably in the Goldilocks Zone.
3. Drive intelligently
This may come as a surprise to many readers, but here it is: You don’t need to be the first person off the line, or the guy who somehow weaves his way through bumper-to-bumper traffic and manages to arrive at his destination a full 25 seconds before everyone else. Really. Aside from showing everyone just how self-centered and insecure you are, you also reduce your MPG significantly with that kind of behavior. Instead, try laying off the gas pedal and drive the speed limit.
4. Clean it out
Cars were designed so that people could easily get from point A to point B without having to put on shoes or smell like a horse. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that transportation just wasn’t enough, and that automobiles could only really fulfil their destiny if they were converted into mobile storage sheds. But with every added pound of weight, your car gets fewer miles to the gallon. Take a few minutes and clean it out, and the environment will thank you (as long as you recycle all the plastic bottles that were rolling around under the seat).
5. Stop being idle
Here’s a fun fact: Every car has the same fuel economy when it’s idling. If your engine is running but you’re not actually going anywhere, you are—by default—getting a whopping zero miles to the gallon. If you’re going to be sitting in your car for more than 30 seconds, just turn it off. Contrary to popular belief, restarting your engine doesn’t take that much fuel. Oh, and as a side note: just because you left the car running does not mean that it’s ok to park at a red curb. Don’t be that guy.
6. Cruise it
Using cruise control is like the opposite letting your car idle. And as would be expected in opposite land, while idling decreases your fuel efficiency, cruise control can actually increase it. Constantly using the gas and break peddles can kill your MPG. So if you’re driving on a long, flat stretch of highway, give your foot a rest and set a constant speed. Just don’t attempt to take a nap.
7. Dress for success
Cars are big, rechargeable batteries that run off of fossil fuel. That means that everything in your car, from the radio to the interior lights are all decreasing your fuel efficiency. Perhaps the biggest drain comes from you heater and AC. Instead of driving around in your own little climate bubble, consider just dressing more appropriately for the current temperature. If it’s hot, roll down a window. If it’s cold, wear a sweater and gloves. Besides, you’re an endothermic organism; your body knows how to regulate small temperature variations.
8. Skip the carwash
Although carwashes don’t generally fill the air with pollutants, they do have a tendency to waste a whole lot of water. Washing your car at home is even worse, as it releases contaminated water into the surrounding environment, or down storm drains that feed into rivers, streams, or wetlands. If you really feel the need to wash your car, waterless cleaning solutions are available. But seriously, it’s a car. It’s not like you were going to be eating off of it.
9. Avoid Hybrids
Believe it or not internet community, Hybrids aren’t actually the saviors of the environment that pretentious hipsters take them to be. They may burn up less fossil fuel than your average gas-guzzler, but the electrical power that they use to supplement it isn’t as clean as some people think. You see, if you live within the United States, there’s a good chance that your electricity is generated in a coal-fired power plant. And if you think that auto emissions are bad, take a look at what happens when you pump coal into the air. So unless you live near a hydroelectric dam, you should probably stay away from the hybrid.
Lee Flynn is a freelance writer for DefensiveDriving.com and an advocate of protecting the environment.