Green Driving Tips

By Catherine McNulty

March 30, 2012 5 min read

Americans love their cars, and for most of us, our lives are designed so that we can't give them up cold turkey. But with the price of gas rising and environmental awareness en vogue, it is time to start driving more efficiently and effectively. What does it mean to "green" your car?

Greening has become a catchall term signifying that something has been made more environmentally friendly. One of the best ways to green your car is to make sure it is fuel-efficient. The less greenhouse gases from exhaust your car puts into the atmosphere the better for the environment. It will not only help the environment but also end up saving you money at the pump.

First, consider your basic car maintenance. Are your air filters dirty? While most car owners are good at keeping up on oil changes, air filters tend to be ignored. Dirty air filters are one of the leading causes of fuel inefficiency in automobiles. Imagine trying to run a marathon while eating mashed potatoes; that's what it's like to drive a car with dirty air filters. Check your owners manual or consult your mechanic to see how often you should be changing your filters.

Another easy fix that's criminally overlooked is making sure your tires are inflated correctly. Both underinflating and overinflating the tires can cause your vehicle to use more gas and run inefficiently. Defer to your owners manual for the correct level of inflation -- measured in pounds per square inch, or psi.

Staying up-to-date on basic maintenance will keep your car more environmentally friendly and act as a preventive measure. If your mechanic is regularly seeing your car, he'll be able to catch any potential problems looming on the horizon.

Once you've gotten your car's maintenance up to code, it's time to focus on your driving. Driving slowly and smoothly is the best way to conserve gas and cut your car's emissions. That means avoiding fast starts or sudden stops, and obeying the speed limit. If you're able to, using cruise control for highway driving helps, as well.

Do you use your car's trunk for storage? Bad idea. Hauling unnecessary weight just burns more gas. Keep your car clean, and don't treat your trunk like an extra closet.

Start planning your errands so that you can run multiple errands on the same car trip. It will save you time and money, and it's better for the environment. Be cautious about idling. If you're in a long line -- for example, at a drive-thru or a tollbooth -- it might be better to turn your car off and on than to sit idling. Restarting your car actually produces fewer emissions than an idling engine.

You also can carpool to save gas. Do you have co-workers who live near you? Think creatively; carpooling doesn't have to be just for work. Do your neighbors shop at the same grocery? Are your kids on the same soccer team?

If you want to go even further, you can upgrade your vehicle. If you have a vehicle that runs on diesel, then your vehicle can be converted to biodiesel, which is cheaper than petroleum fuel and better for the environment. Gas-electric hybrids are by far the most fuel-efficient cars on the market, and as they get more and more commonplace, the prices keep coming down. All-electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, are also beginning to muscle in on the green vehicle market.

Do you have an RV or a boat? Consider installing solar panels. By harnessing the power of the sun, you will not need to depend on fossil fuels to power your electrical system. That opens up a whole new world of possibilities as to where you can go and for how long!

Finally, consider other modes of transportation. Many of us automatically default to our cars; it's habit. With environmental awareness being raised, many towns and cities are putting more money into public transit, bike lanes and walking paths. Have an adventure and experiment with a new way of getting around.

Whether you merely adjust your driving or completely upgrade your ride, going green can save you green in the long run.

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