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Going Green - Easy and Affordable Ways to Make Your Car More Eco-Friendly

Reducing the proverbial carbon footprint is a huge topic of discussion these days and your vehicle is a big part of the conversation. You don't need to park your car to reduce your auto emissions – just drive it smarter! Monitor your driving habits, keep up with routine car maintenance, and lighten your load to reduce your carbon emissions and drive a greener car.

A well-maintained car is an environmentally conscious vehicle, so, if you have been keeping up with your recommended maintenance schedule, you are doing your part already. There are several other techniques you can use to ensure your vehicle is as environmentally friendly as possible. Most of the following tips will also save you money in gas as well as reduce your tire print on our precious Earth.

Keep Your Car Tuned

All your green intentions go down the drain if you don't take a regular look under the hood. Making sure your car is properly tuned will make it run more efficiently, reduce emissions, and save you money.

A typical tune-up improves gas mileage by about four percent but by as much as 40 percent when fixing a major maintenance problem. Having the oil changed regularly also contributes to a greener, smoother-running engine.

Your regular tune-up can include checking, cleaning, and/or replacing spark plugs and wires, fuel and air filters, the ignition system, emissions system, engine timing, and onboard computer control system.

Ensure Your Tires Are Properly Inflated

Keep your tires properly inflated. It will boost your gas mileage, increase safety, and extend the life of your tires. Under-inflated tires have a negative effect on fuel economy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, for every 1 PSI drop in pressure, gas mileage is reduced by 0.2%.

Keep in mind, the weather affects your tire pressure. Colder weather significantly lowers it, so, if you last checked the pressure during the warmth of summer or fall, make sure to check it again on the first chilly morning. Cars that sit outside all night will be more affected by the cold than cars kept in a garage.

Check your tire pressure monthly and when tires are cold. As you drive, heat from friction increases the pressure and may give a misleadingly high pressure reading. Make sure your tires are inflated to the PSI indicated in your owner's manual.

Your Car's Not a Storage Unit

Remember this simple rule: The heavier your car, the more gas it will guzzle. So, lighten up! You can improve your fuel economy by two percent for every 100 pounds.

Empty the trunk. Why haul around your golf clubs all year long when you only hit the links every few weeks? Clean out the back seats. Why are you lugging around that booster seat your child outgrew a year ago?

Ditch the Roof Rack

Ever wonder about the countless cars on the roads that have roof racks but no cargo? With or without cargo, they're wasting fuel because of the extra drag. Removing the roof rack can decrease fuel consumption by a whopping 20 percent. So, ditch the rack.

There are a few options. If you only use it in camping or cycling season, remove it during the off-season. You can keep and the rack and add a streamlined fairing—a strip of material that deflects the wind over your rack. If you have a trailer hitch, consider a platform bike carrier. Or consider purchasing one that's light and aerodynamic.

Also, remove unnecessary accessories that cause extra drag, such as brush guards, running bars, and push bars.

Lose the Lead Foot

Maintaining a steady speed and reducing the amount of braking saves on fuel. Driving 55 miles an hour in a 45-mph zone is not only illegal but can reduce your car's gas mileage by 15 percent. The optimal speed for fuel efficiency varies, from car to car, but studies have pegged it at between 35 and 50 miles an hour.

Braking and accelerating from a standstill are two major eco-unfriendly culprits. So, when accelerating, use the “pulse and glide" or "burn and coast" method—accelerate quickly, then cruise at one speed. Contrary to popular opinion, this method burns less fuel to get to cruising speed. Once at optimum speed, cruise in the highest gear possible.

Brake Properly

It's not rocket science: Braking burns gas. Fuel economy is maximized when braking is minimized. So, anticipate the road ahead to reduce the need for pointless braking. You'll also be amazed to find a smooth commute versus an erratic stop-start ride is significantly less stressful.

Choose routes that won't be clogged with traffic so you can travel at a continual pace.

Obviously, unexpected events on the road call for quick braking, but cruising at a lower speed will give you more time to let off on the accelerator and coast.

Don't Race the Red Lights

Why race to a red light and then hit the brakes? When approaching a red light, slow down and coast and avoid coming to a full stop if possible. Accelerating again, even from a few miles per hour, is more fuel-efficient than accelerating from a dead stop.

Approach busy highway driving the same way. Why race to get to that bottleneck up ahead only to slam on the brakes? Anticipate traffic slowdowns so you're not forced to brake to a full stop.

Don't Idle

We all do it. You're waiting for a food order, picking up your kids, or shivering in a cold car waiting for it to warm up on a frosty winter morning. A few seconds can turn into a few minutes before you know it, and, all the while, your car is guzzling gas and spewing noxious fumes.

  • According to EcoWatch, if you idle for 12 minutes—say, five minutes picking up your morning latte, three minutes at the bank drive-thru, and four minutes listening to the end of a song—you've burned or wasted enough gas to drive 24 miles.
  • For every 10 minutes of idling, you release a pound of carbon dioxide into the air. Idling has been linked to increases in asthma, heart disease, and cancer, among other diseases.
  • Idling can ruin your car. It builds up fuel residue that can damage engine parts and, in turn, increase fuel consumption.
  • Restarting your car doesn't waste fuel.

Don't Misuse the AC

Air conditioning is a major contributor to global warming and uses a massive amount of energy to operate. It can increase fuel consumption by up to 20 percent because of the extra load on the engine.

Decide if you truly need to crank up the AC. How about letting nature cool you off? Keep the windows rolled down and the sunroof open to cool your car. Driving on the highway with the windows down, though, creates drag, so consider turning on the AC every half an hour or so instead. Choose the re-circulating button. Re-circulating cools only the air that's already circulating inside your car, rather than having to cool the sweltering summer air from outside as well.

Don't over-use air conditioning. If you must use the AC, adjust your temperature setting as you would at home. Aim for comfortable, not freezing.

Park in the shade, or, if there's no shade to be found, use a reflective windshield shade to help keep the car cool. Don't turn on the AC as soon as you turn the ignition. Roll down the windows to let the hot interior air escape first.

Heating your car in the winter uses the warmth of the engine, but, if you're defrosting the windows as well, you're using AC. So, as soon as the windows are defrosted, turn off the defrost function and leave only the heat on.

Clean Green

Think eco-friendly when you clean your car. A few changes can make a big difference.

Use a waterless car wash: You'll save on gallons of wasted water. Think of how much water is wasted every time you put down the hose while leaving it gushing water. Waterless products clean your car and leave a protective finish. Just spray, finish, and buff.

Stay off the driveway: Everyone does it, but it's possibly the worst way to wash your car. You'll waste gallons of water, and the water that runs off your car carries nasty chemicals, oil, gas, and residue from exhaust fumes straight into the storm drains and into your neighborhood river.

If you must wash at home, park on the grass, dirt, or gravel. The natural surfaces will help filter the water.

Do it yourself: If you don't have an environment-friendly space in which to wash at home, go to a do-it-yourself car wash where the captured water is funneled to a water treatment plant.

Choose eco-friendly cleaning products: Instead of using harsh cleaners with nasty chemicals, choose natural, biodegradable cleaning products.

Raid your kitchen: Plenty of cleaning products already reside in your kitchen. Vinegar is great for polishing glass, while baking soda can be made into a cleaning product. Mix a quarter cup each of baking soda and dishwashing liquid. Mix that into a large pail of water.

Be efficient: Clean your car from the top down. Towel dry with chamois cloths or cloth diapers rather than disposable paper towels.

Pool Your Efforts

While most of us can't curb our car for good, we can reduce the number of cars on the road. Fewer cars mean reduced carbon emissions, traffic congestion on the roads, and the fight for parking spaces, making it a far more environmentally friendly and sustainable way to travel.

Studies have shown that every carpool of four passengers can reduce gases by 12,000 pounds a year.

There are other bonuses as well. Carpooling means less wear and tear on your car, so, less need for maintenance You can have a few more minutes of shut-eye if you're not the one behind the wheel. Perhaps you'll make a couple of new friends. Most big cities encourage carpooling with HOV lanes.

Carpooling is cool; it's not just for soccer moms anymore. It's never been easier, with several ridesharing apps available.

The End of the Road

When your car has traveled its last mile, do something great for the planet and donate it to charity. It's a win-win. You'll be helping a charitable cause and getting a tax break in the process.

There are numerous environmentally friendly auto recyclers that participate in charitable donation programs. They provide pick-up, and then break down your car in an eco-friendly manner.

Green disposal includes draining and properly disposing of hazardous fluids so they won't drain into the ground and our eco-system. The vehicles are dismantled, and any still usable parts are sold. The vehicle shells are shipped to steel mills, and the metal is recycled.

Getting your old, polluting car off the road improves the air we breathe.

Buy Green

When it finally does come time to buy a new car, think environmentally friendly. The range of green cars—whether it's gasoline-only, gasoline-electric hybrid, all-electric, or clean diesel—is more extensive than ever before.

There are dozens of different vehicles with built-in technologies to deliver better fuel economy and produce fewer emissions, and they're stylish, comfortable, and fun to drive.

All-electric and plug-in cars may also be eligible for a federal income tax credit.

Some Final Thoughts

There are serious environmental issues around automobile usage but most of us jump in our cars without a second thought. Even the most eco-conscious individual must drive sometimes, but all it takes are a few small changes—keeping your car in top shape, lightening your load, and following some green driving techniques can really make a difference.

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