10 Ways to Reduce (Or Reverse) Your Car's Carbon Skidmark

Public Domain. Old Fiat

From the archives: Updated September 20, 2019

Cars are one of the great mixed bags of our time. They are at once wonders of engineering and a threat to life on Earth. They create convenience and comfort and also snarled traffic and sprawling suburbs.

In the U.S., about 29 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from cars and light trucks like SUVs, contributing to climate change, air pollution, and disease. If you are truly trying to lighten your environmental footprint, the first thing to do is ask if you do in fact need a car. If the answer is yes, there are many things you can do to make your driving life greener.

Top Green Car Tips

  1. Drive a green car
    There are now hybrids to match almost any need: two-door, four-door, SUV, luxury sedan. They get better mileage than their conventional counterparts, have cleaner emissions, and save money on gas. If a hybrid isn't in your future, try for a car with the best MPG you can find; and remember that hybrids aren't always the most efficient option, either. Also, affordable, practical electric cars and plug-in hybrids are practical for many. If that doesn't work for you, then get the most efficient regular gas car that meets your needs. But whether or not you drive a hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicle, there's lots you can do to make your car cleaner right now.
  2. Use green driving best practices
    Driving technique has a lot to do with your fuel economy. Avoid sudden starts and stops and go the speed limit. Not only does speeding and herky-jerky driving kill your MPG, it's dangerous. And even if no one gets hurt in a fender bender, how green is it to get a new bumper or have your car re-painted? Also, drive wise and minimize unnecessary miles by doing errands in one trip, getting good directions, and calling ahead. A lot of these techniques are known as "hypermiling" and help you maximise your fuel efficiency.
  3. Stay in tune
    Getting regular tune-ups, maintenance, and having clean air filters will help you burn less gas, pollute less, and prevent car trouble down the line. Pump up: if every American's tires were properly inflated we could save around 2 billion gallons of gas each year! (Check your manual for optimal pressure). Lastly, get the junk out of the trunk! All that extra weight is sapping your fuel economy.
  4. Offset your car's carbon
    There are many services out there now that can help you calculate your yearly emissions from driving and offset those greenhouse gasses through various means.
  5. Look into car sharing and car pooling
    Of course. Find coworkers, neighbors, and fellow students headed the same direction. Start with one shared trip per week. Also look into car sharing programs like ZipCar.
  6. Leave the car at home
    For shorter adventures, walk, take public transit, ride your bike (regular, electric-assisted, or something fancier, skateboard, rollerblades, or even look into an electric scooter. Carrying groceries or other bulky stuff can still be done on a bike with a backpack or some slick modifications. Check out the Xtracycle, for example. Need to transport several bodies? How about a cargo bike?
  7. Drive part of the way
    If getting where you're going by bike or public transit alone isn't going to happen, consider driving part of the way and then jumping on public transit or your bike (a folding bike would be perfect). A great way to beat traffic!
  8. Take it easy on the AC
    Use the windows to help keep the car cool. Or try an electric or solar fan. Parking in the shade and using a reflective windshield shade can keep your car cooler when parked, meaning it takes less to cool it off when you get back in. If you car is new, however, let it air out. That new car smell is not friendly stuff.
  9. Telecommute
    Drive less with the wonders of working from home (or internet café, treehouse, Mojave desert, etc.) With instant messaging, video chat, teleconferencing, and other world-flattening technologies, making the rush-hour trek to work and back might not be that necessary. Ask your boss or offer your employees a teleconferencing day once a week. Hey, it works for TreeHuggers and 4.7 million Americans.
  10. Aspire to living car-free
    Not everyone is going to be able to do it, at least not cold carkey. It will probably entail a shift in thinking and some time, but living carfree might be more within reach than you think. Living closer to work and school is a big part of it. Walking, biking, public transport, car sharing, car borrowing, and teleconferencing are an arsenal of tools to help reduce the need for a car. Give it some thought.
car with smog

Simone Ramella/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Interesting Facts about Green Cars

  • 25 percent: The percentage increase in MPG you can create by keeping up on your cars' maintenance by doing things like: regular oil changes, air-filter changes, and spark plug replacements.
  • 4 tons: The amount of carbon released into the atmosphere when producing a single car, in addition to 700 pounds of other pollutants.
  • 93 million gallons: The amount of biodiesel produced in the US in April 2014.
  • 24.6 MPG:The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute estimates that 2014 average fuel economy, despite two decades of improvements in automobile technology, is 24.6 mpg.
  • 62 hours: The amount of time the average rush-hour commuters spent in traffic in the most traffic intensive cities in the United States.
  • 11 percent: The percentage increase each year in the amount of traffic congestion in small urban and rural areas, a growth rate twice as fast as in urban areas.
  • 30: of childhood asthma caused by environmental factors like high smog pollution.
Car at night traffic

Jonathan Kos-Read/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Green Car Definitions: Veggie Oil & Plug-in Hybrids

What's veggie oil?
Diesel engines can also run on straight vegetable oil (SVO), but modifications are most often required. Since vegetable oil has a higher viscosity (is thicker), it needs to be heated before it can flow properly. A veggie oil conversion is a system that, in one of several ways, heats the vegetable oil to the appropriate temperature before burning it in the engine.

What is a plug-in hybrid car?
A plug-in hybrid (PHEV) resembles a typical hybrid car but has additional battery capacity that allows it to travel significant distances on electric power alone. A PHEV functions like an electric vehicle for local driving, but has a gasoline motor which can kick in if the car's charge is depleted. Plug-ins can get 100 miles per gallon or more but, unlike EVs, can always be refueled with gasoline if need be.

Reporting by Jacob Gordon.