Car use

How you use your car changes how it affects the environment, and simple changes may not only reduce carbon emissions and benefit the environment, but also save you money.

The basics

These are all simple common sense. Once they become automatic habits, they’ll save you money and stress.

  • Keep your car in good condition. Tuning, tyre pressure, and regular servicing all make it more efficient. Keep an eye on fuel consumption – if it goes up suddenly, you know something’s wrong.
  • Roof racks increase drag. The reason modern cars all have the same overall smooth, bulbous look is that they’re all designed to be aerodynamic, slipping through the air with minimum friction and maximum efficiency. Roof racks have exactly the opposite effect – so don’t keep them on the car unless you’re likely to use them, especially for long, high-speed journeys.
  • Extra weight increases fuel use. Despite the hype, cars aren’t actually magic! If you ask them to do more work, they’ll need more fuel. Do you really need everything that’s lurking in the boot?
  • Air conditioning also increases fuel consumption, so only use it when you need it.
  • Onboard electrical devices increase fuel consumption as well – the engine has to work harder if it’s to produce more electricity.
  • Drive smoothly. Excessive braking and accelerating takes more energy, wears out your car faster, makes your passengers feel ill – and doesn’t say much for your driving skills, either!
  • Don’t keep your engine running while stationary – if it’s safe to do so, switch it off.
  • Drive more slowly. Higher speeds significantly increase fuel consumption.
  • Higher gears are more efficient, so move up through the gears as soon as you can.
  • Combine journeys – do several chores at once, or give someone a lift. Think of the car as a bit of a luxury, so that you’ll take maximum advantage of each trip.

The Environmental Transport Association’s website provides more green tips.

A bit more of a lifestyle change

Drive more slowly. Research shows speed reduction is the single most effective measure to cut carbon emissions from road transport now. This is basic to some people, but alien to others, which is why it deserves a second mention. It all depends why you’re wanting to drive fast:

  • In a hurry? Many experienced drivers find that extra speed – especially within the limits of what’s legal – does little to cut down journey times, as so much time is taken up by traffic lights, junctions, staying alive, etc. And hurrying creates bottlenecks – if everyone took notice of the 50 mph signs, we’d slide easily past the roadworks instead of bunching up nose to tail.
  • Wanting a buzz? Getting your kicks from excessive speed is hardly fair on other drivers – and with smooth, cocooning modern cars it isn’t much of a kick, either cycling and skating get you a whole lot more adrenaline per calorie. Or take up motorcycling: the jury’s out as to whether it’s a greener choice, but at least you’ll get more excitement for the fuel you waste than the cage drivers around you!
  • Feeling homicidal? In that case, you’ve chosen the right technology. There’s no doubt about it: speed kills.

Choose smaller cars with lower fuel consumption and environmental impact

  • Again, easier for some than others. You may actually need that extra carrying capacity, or you might be one of those people whose self-esteem really does depend on the size of their motor.
  • 4-wheel drive and automatic gearboxes also mean higher fuel consumption.
  • Information to help you choose: Government fuel consumption and emissions data and the Environmental Transport Association’s Car Buyer’s Guide.
  • Carbon dioxide emissions data for all cars registered since January 2000 is available from the Sust-it website.

Old or new?

  • Standards are rising, so newer cars generally have cleaner and more efficient engines.
  • An older car will probably use more fuel per mile during its remaining time on the road. However, manufacturing a car takes a lot of energy and materials – some estimates say this embodied energy equals 15% of the total fuel used during the life of vehicle – so many people still see an older car as the greener choice.
  • Buying a new car as a status symbol or fashion statement is never a green choice!

Don’t use a car for shorter journeys. Now we’re talking lifestyle revolution!

  • 72% of journeys are under 5 miles, 50% under 2 miles. If all short journeys were done on foot or by bicycle rather than by car, car mileage could be cut by one-sixth – with no need to sacrifice the freedom to use the car for longer journeys.
  • Very short journeys are too short to warm up the car’s engine. It’ll be running inefficiently, burning more fuel and creating more pollution – usually right in the centre of town, where we really don’t need it!
  • At these low running temperatures your catalytic converter won’t have kicked in, either, which again means more pollution.
  • Most people in the UK need more exercise anyway. Once walking and cycling become a means of transport, keeping fit becomes part of daily living.
  • Increasing childhood obesity is a shocking cost of modern lifestyles. Is there a safe route to your school?
  • More ideas on how to cut your car use.
  • Car share options are a great alternative Blablacar offers a way to find people making the same journey.

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