Driving Green and Staying Cheap

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Almost half of the average American's carbon footprint (44.3 percent) comes from driving or flying.

We Can All Live Green (St. Lynn’s, 2008), by Jennifer Noonan presents examples of your daily lives that puts stress on the environment, and offers green solutions to ensure that the environment and our wallets re being treated better. In this excerpt, Noonan addresses the expensive and harmful effects of driving frequently, combating the problem with suggestions to keep your costs lower and your carbon footprint smaller.

Getting Where You Need To Go

A set of wheels and personal freedom are synonymous images in American culture. We learn to love our “wheels” at an early age. Whether it’s a pair of roller skates, a skateboard or a bike as a child, or our city transportation system or the oh-so-memorable first vehicle as a teenager – we have all learned to love the ability to get where we need to go. And who can blame us? A set of wheels not only represents individual freedom, it represents good times, the promise of adventure.

So, the fact that we now hear that our adult wheels are playing a major role in the pain we feel in our wallets, as well as harming the environment, well…it’s downright upsetting. Our cars are our links to our independence. And our jobs. And now you tell me I’m destroying the planet because of the type of car I drive? Can my car’s carbon footprint really be that big?

Sorry, but the bad news is Yes. The good news is there are no carbon footprint police coming to get you. But that is also bad news, because that means you can ignore – for just a while longer – the fact that your car is the single largest contributing factor to your carbon footprint.

Some average U.S. carbon footprints per person:

• Driving and Flying 44.3 percent
• Home Energy 36.2 percent
• Food and Diet 15.1 percent
• Recycling and Waste 4.4 percent
(Nature Conservancy)

Record-setting increases in gasoline prices are forcing most of us to reevaluate our current transportation options. This affects every aspect of our lives, from transportation to food to any other consumer good we buy. Because of the huge strain on our pocketbooks, we are all looking for answers – now!

When there’s no more oil – One way or another, we’re going to have to change the way we get around, simply because oil is a non-renewable resource. Once there’s no oil left, there is really no more oil. Some reports state that the global oil supply will peak in the coming decades, others argue that peak oil occurred in 2005. Regardless, no one thinks the price of oil is going down very much any time soon, if ever. Even if we had a never-ending supply of oil on the planet, global demand has increased significantly due to industrialization of developing countries.

What can we do? The best strategies for your budget, your health and, yes, the planet, will involve two things: Short-term strategies (increasing your fuel efficiency, and other quick fixes for your transportation budget). That’s what this chapter is all about: what you can do right now to give yourself some relief. And Long-term strategies (exploring your options and planning for your next vehicle). The next chapter will analyze the fuels available today and the ones that are on the horizon, to help you prepare for your next purchase.

Short-term Strategies (While Keeping Your Present Car)

The tricky thing about purchasing a new, greener vehicle is that while it can greatly benefit your pocketbook in the long run (and the environment immediately), many of us simply do not have the available cash to make the big change right now. So, if you’re stuck with the vehicle you’re driving today, how can you save on fuel costs and help it run as efficiently as possible?

Organize your car excursions. (You may already be doing this already, but just in case…) Bundle your errands. Grocery, cleaners, dog groomer. Going way across town? See if you can do several longer errands on one specific day of the week.

Start a school/work carpool. Offer to give kids/coworkers in the neighborhood rides to school/work and split the cost. Or alternate days with other parents/coworkers in the neighborhood so that everyone shares the responsibility and the savings. Check out NuRide.com and eRideShare.com, for carpools in your neighborhood.

Negotiate an “off -peak hours” work schedule with your employer. You’ll save gas and carbon emissions by not idling so long in congested traffic.

Say goodbye to the 2 to 4 car family habit. It may create a few more minutes of coordination among housemates, but getting rid of even one of your household vehicles stacks up to big savings.

Get a credit card with gas rebates.

Treat your car like the finely-tuned machine that it is. This will add up to much better gas mileage for you and it will help the environment (a poorly maintained car can release as much as 10 times more emissions than a car that is well maintained and in good working condition). (www.nsc.org)

Go electric! – If you live in a suburb where errands, schools and other commitments are close to your home (and in 45 mph zones or lower), consider an electric vehicle – with zero emissions, no gasoline costs (ever!). Costing about 12,000 dollars, there are several great models out there and some really exciting options coming in 2009 and 2010 that reach highway speeds of 60 mph-plus!

Try a motorized bike. Drive a small motorcycle or scooter and pay less at the pump, and pay less often! But be aware that motorcycles are heavy polluters (10 times more polluting per mile than a passenger vehicle, according to the California Air Resources Board). As an alternative, check out some of the nifty electric bicycles out there.

Shift gears! Consider a manual transmission, which typically gets better mileage than an automatic. Manual transmission is usually cheaper too, so you save money twice! Also, with a manual you can coast to stoplights in neutral and save gas.

Use your mass transit systems. Think you can’t make a difference? One person using mass transit for a year, instead of driving to work, will keep 9.1 pounds of hydrocarbons, 62.5 pounds of carbon monoxide, and 4.9 pounds of nitrogen oxides out of the air we all breathe. (www.nsc.org).

And the obvious conclusion: If you want to save money on gasoline and help the planet, don’t drive! You can walk, ride a scooter or skateboard or bike, use mass transit…it’s your call!

Finding The Cheapest Gas

• Plan to fill up your tank on a midweek morning. Most gas stations increase their rates for the weekend and prices typically stabilize by midweek.

• Consider joining a wholesale club – gas is usually cheaper here. However, you will have to pay a membership fee, so do the math before you commit a membership to the club.

• Gas stations in wealthier neighborhoods, with auto repair shops or car washes, and next to major highways typically have more expensive gasoline.

• Before starting a road trip, consider comparing gas prices county-by-county and state-by-state to find the best deals. Plan your pit stops accordingly.

• Learn to use (and love) websites such as GasPriceWatch.com and gasbuddy.com to check out the cheapest gas stations in your area and across the country.

• Fill up three days before a holiday to avoid holiday price increases.

10 Mileage Boosters

1. Don’t drive with a heavy foot – obey the speed limits! And cut out the quick stops and starts from lights and stop signs.

2. Check and maintain appropriate tire pressure. Use tire recommendations on the tire wall, not the doorframe or fuel filler flap.

3. Use tires with good tread. “Low resistance tires” are reported to be the best for gas mileage.

4. Check and change the air filter often. Consider spending a bit extra for a more efficient filter.

5. Perform regular maintenance – including oil changes every 3,000 miles and tune-ups twice a year.

6. Use cruise control and overdrive to assist in maximizing mileage.

7. Use the right octane – it’s essential for proper engine function.

8. Use the A/C sparingly. Doing errands around town? Consider rolling down the windows. Drag created by rolled down windows should not be an issue for in-town driving.

9. Check and maintain your braking system – a poorly functioning brake system negatively affects mileage.

10. Remove unnecessary weight in your car, like ski and luggage racks – the more weight (and drag), the more gas you will use.

Myths & Facts

Myth:It takes more gasoline to turn the car on and off than to idle.

Fact: Idling for longer than 20 seconds uses more fuel (and creates more pollution) than simply restarting the car.

Myth: Idling the car doesn’t burn a significant amount of gas.

Fact: Every 15 minutes of idling burns a quarter of a gallon of gasoline (that’s dollars worth of gasoline we’re talking about here!).

Myth: The car has to “warm up” before I drive it.

Fact: Most cars are now computer-controlled with fuel-injected engines. Manufacturers claim that these engines warm up within 30 seconds – so no “warm-up” period is necessary.

2 Useful Gadgets

An OBDII reader device – This will provide you with real-time information on your mileage and fuel efficiency. The cost: 150 – 350 dollars, depending on the brand (such as ScanGauge or Equus 3130) and cables needed.

GPS – A global positioning system can help you navigate through traffic and find the shortest route to anywhere you are traveling. Saves gas, time and temper. The cost: 250 – 699 dollars, depending on the brand (such as Garmin’s Nuvi or Magellan’s Maestro)

Facts & Figures For Your Consideration

• Ridesharing stat: By ridesharing to work every day, The National Safety Council calculates that you can save over 3,000 dollars a year on gas, insurance, parking, and wear and tear on your car. Also, if a commuter designates an automobile for pleasure use only, the insurance premiums on that car can go down as much as 20 percent. (www.nsc.org)

• AAA estimates the cost of operating a car at roughly 70 cents per mile – and going up!

• Follow that UPS truck! UPS has figured out how to decrease fuel costs and their carbon footprint. In 2007, by simply programming more right turns than left turns into their routes. UPS cut 30 million miles off its deliveries, saved 3 million gallons of gas, while lowering CO2 emissions by 32,000 metric tons…equal to the emissions of 5300 passenger cars. The moral? Small changes in everyday habits can reap big financial benefits and help the environment!

• Three harmful chemicals your car releases: Hydrocarbons (cause eye irritation, coughing, shortness of breath and leads to permanent lung damage); Nitrogen Oxides (contribute to the formation of ozone and contribute to acid rain and water quality issues); Carbon monoxide (a deadly gas that reduces the flow of oxygen to the brain and can impair mental functioning). Motor vehicles in our cities are responsible for up to 90 percent of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. (www.nsc.org)

Preparing for the Long-term

We’re looking ahead to the coming developments in fuels, as well as the vehicles they will power. Change is in the air. It’s an exciting time, between a past that didn’t serve us well and future transportation options that we hope will be kinder to our planet, our health and our pocketbooks. The next chapter is all about fuels, including gasoline: what’s good, what’s not so good, what’s available now and what’s on the horizon. And some strategies for the years ahead.

More from: We Can All Live Green

Creating an Eco-Friendly Wardrobe

Reprinted with permission from We Can All Live Green, by Jennifer Noonan and published by St. Lynn’s, 2008.