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Greening Your Drive: Tips for Cutting Down on Gas Guzzling This Summer

BP gas signby Green Mama

I frequently come across articles with great tips for improving gas mileage and thereby driving a little greener. While there is often a lot of overlap of information, I have yet to see one concise checklist of what you can do to reduce your environmental impact while traveling on the road. So I have tried to pull everything together here–tips for long trips, everyday commuting, and errands alike. When you can’t carpool, use public transportation, walk, bike, or buy a more fuel efficient car, try . . .

**12 Simple Tips to Improve Gas Mileage**

  1. Fill ‘Er Up
    Unused gas in your tank evaporates more quickly the more oxygen is available to it, so try to keep your tank at least half full.
  2. Tune Up
    Keeping your engine in shape will ensure it works at peak efficiency, using as little gas as possible.
  3. Lighten Your Load
    Additional weight in your car decreases your fuel efficiency, so make sure you are not driving around with heavy things you don’t need in the car. Taking out 100 unnecessary pounds can increase fuel efficiency by 1–2%. Removing a roof rack between long trips is a great suggestion because it is both heavy and wind resistant.
  4. Inflate Your Tires
    Weak tire pressure decreases fuel efficiency, so be sure to hit the air pump regularly and especially before a long trip.
    Tire Pressue Check
  5. Slow Down
    Because of wind resistance, the optimal driving speed for gas mileage is around 50-60 mph, depending on the car, and then decreases rapidly at higher speeds. So when on the highway, drive in the right lane and try out your cruise control — it might be a safer trip, too!
  6. Easy on the Pedals
    Every time you hit the brakes, you’re wasting the momentum your car has built up; then you have to accelerate again. So try to keep a steady pace and anticipate stops. Coast to stop signs and red lights instead of rushing to them only to brake at the last moment and try to roll through slow downs (safely!) so you don’t have to get going from zero again.
  7. Don’t Accelerate on a Hill
    The guys at Car Talk say that “accelerating uphill is a fabulous way to burn up enormous amounts of gas.” So,  just maintain the same speed, or even allow the car to slow down a bit until you get to the top.
  8. (If you drive stick) Don’t linger in Low Gears also says “Getting into the highest gear you can, at the lowest possible speed, will save you plenty of gas . . . Because you use less gas when the engine is turning slowly.” The website advises, “As long as the engine doesn’t buck, shudder, or ping, you’re fine. You’ll sacrifice the ability to accelerate quickly — but you can always downshift if you need to accelerate.”
  9. Know Your Oil
    To maximize fuel efficiency, be sure to use the grade of motor oil recommended by your car’s manufacturer. Also, look for motor oil rated as  “Energy Conserving,” like Eco Power brand (which I have not used).
  10. Don’t Idle
    Did you know that idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel than it takes to shut off and restart your engine? So while you should not turn off your car at a red light, it does make sense to cut the engine while dropping someone off, picking someone up, or running back into the house for something. And make sure you are all ready to go (seatbelt and sunglasses on,  mirrors and seat adjusted, etc.) before you turn on the car.
  11. Don’t Warm Up
    Driving gently is the best warm up there is, so unless it’s below freezing (hard to imagine this July!), just head on your way. (Per, if it’s 25 degrees, you can warm it up for 30 seconds and twice as long if it’s 10 degrees out.)
  12. Use AC Wisely
    If you are driving over 40 mph on a hot day, it’s actually better to close your windows and use the AC. The impact on your gas mileage caused by the drag from your open windows is higher than the impact of the air conditioner. Below 40 mph, open windows don’t have as much of an impact, so this is the better option. Of course, driving with closed windows and just the flow-through vent fans is best, but if that will cook your family we realize that it’s not an option!

Sun reflector

Plus . . .  4 Ways to Reduce Your AC Use:

  • Parking in the shade will keep the car cooler, making it easier on the AC when it’s time to go.
  • Cracking each of the windows just a touch (presuming you feel it’s safe where you are parking) will have the same effect, as will . . .
  • Using one of those dashboard reflectors.
  • Turn off your AC when you are close to home; your car will stay cool for the few more minutes it takes you to arrive and unload.

And . . . 3 Ways to Reduce Your Drive Time:

  • Make sure you know where you are going and stop to ask if you need directions. Driving around in circles only adds to pollution!
  • It’s a great idea to plan driving around rush hour and check the traffic report before you go. Idling in traffic is a huge waste of gasoline and your time. This goes double for road trips. For instance, consider whether your path takes you next to a major sports stadium right when a big game lets out.
  • A little planning goes a long way in reducing the number of times you need to drive to that strip mall in a week. So get organized and combine your trips.


Anything else? Let me know and I will add them!



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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Steve #

    Kind of an obvious one: Drive less! Attach a kid trailer to the back of your bike, take the bus, or walk. (Duh.)

    July 16, 2012
  2. Great advice thanks for the tips. Planning ahead can really make a great difference and safe you a lot of money in the end.

    July 26, 2012
  3. JP #

    Drive less is the best way. We have to get over using cars for these 1-3 mile trips on a whim. Also, driving 50 in a 75mph zone would probably make your trip less safe, not more safe.

    August 29, 2012
  4. greenHaven #

    Thanks so much for your comment, JP. I definitely agree that driving must be drastically reduced, especially for short trips. (Alternate forms of transportation will be covered in the future, starting with cycling.) But I also believe that more people will become engaged if they feel that they can make some kind of difference, even by starting with small changes. And for the record, I do not advocate driving 50 mph in a 75 mph zone, rather trying 55 or 60 mph in a 55 or 60 mph zone, and in the right lane. You won’t be alone!

    September 4, 2012

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