Three weeks ago, just after Hurricane Ike, I spent $70 to fill the tank on my old Volvo. I couldn't believe it. Of course, the station was price-gouging because Charlotte was out of gas. Almost every station in town was out, for 14 days or so. So we had to take whatever gas we could find. I hated that. I hated paying for it, and I felt guilty for using so much gas. Price can be a painful reality check sometimes.
We would like to buy a hybrid car, and we've been mulling it over for some time. But we can't bring ourselves to spend that much money on a car. We've never bought a new car and never had car payments. Our budget can't accommodate car payments. So we're looking for used. Because of the price of gas and our concerns about greenhouse gases, we're specifically looking for a used Honda Civic. The Civic is rated about as high as any car other than hybrids on various "green car" indices, such as the Green Book on www.greenercars.org. A Civic uses more gasoline and emits more CO2 than a Prius, but it will be a big improvement over the Volvo.
Meanwhile, as we're looking for a Civic, we've been trying to reduce our gas consumption and greenhouse gas emissions with the car we have at the moment.
Here are a few simple things we've learned for reducing gas consumption and emissions:
- Don’t warm up your engine before driving. Engines emit the most pollutants when cold, and heat up faster when driving than idling.
- Combine outings. Even if you have to turn the car on and off at each parking lot, using the car for many errands at once reduces the number of cold starts.
- Drive steadily. The most fuel efficient speed is between 35 and 45 mph. It’s much more efficient to chug along steadily at 45 mph than to race to a stoplight only to slow down, idle, and accelerate again. Also, high speeds result in greater emissions.
- Don’t idle. Leaving the car running for thirty seconds uses just as much gas as it would to restart the engine. Avoid drive-through windows.
- Maintain your car. A faulty or poorly serviced engine can release up to 10 times the emissions of a well-maintained one. This includes all parts of the car; old tires, for example, impede the car’s movement and decrease its fuel efficiency. Use an energy-saving grade of motor oil (labeled ECII or Energy Conserving II).
- Share rides. If it costs you, say, 25 cents a mile to drive your car (including operating costs and fuel), then carpooling to work can save you as much as $3,000 a year on gas, insurance, parking, and car maintenance.
- Drive at non-peak times. This is the best way to avoid idling, stop-and-go traffic, and non-fuel-efficient speeds on the road.
- Use public transportation. One full, 40-foot bus takes 58 cars off the road. A 10 percent nationwide increase in transit ridership would save 135 million gallons of gasoline a year.
- When buying a new or used car, check ACEEE's Green Book online and choose a low-emissions and fuel-efficient car.
- If buying used, have a mechanic check the catalytic converter and other pollution controls to be sure they are working properly.
According to the National Safety Council, the amount of gasoline and money wasted by inefficient driving in the United States is tremendous, adding up to 753 million gallons of gas per year, or $1,194 per driver in wasted fuel and time.
Sally Kneidel, PhD, and Sadie Kneidel. Going Green: A Wise Consumer's Guide to a Shrinking Planet. 2008. Fulcrum Books.
National Safety Council. “What You Can Do About Car Emissions.” www.nsc.org/ehc/mobile/mse_fs.html
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "Green Book." www.greenercars.org
Keywords:: use less gas, fuel efficiency, www.greenercars.org, National Safety Council, driving style, carpool, Civic