How to use less gas and help save the air

Pumping gas. Use less gasWe should all make an effort to use less even with today’s low gas prices. It still takes money to fill up the tank.

There’s still the environmental cost of drilling for oil and refining gasoline. And exhaust fumes still come out of the tail pipe and foul the air.

The recent rupture of a gas pipeline in Alabama created gas shortages and sent prices soaring all over the southeastern US. I don’t live in an area known for dirty air, but we recently had a code yellow air quality alert. So air pollution is not just a summer-time hazard.

Obvious ways to use less gas include walking, biking, or taking public transportation instead of driving at all. Not everyone can take advantage of them, though. Sometimes we just have to drive. We might as well get better fuel economy in the process. Here are some thoughts.

Reduce idling

When the engine is running and the car isn’t moving, you get zero miles per gallon. Sometimes you have no choice. A stop sign means stop. You can’t go on until the traffic on the cross street gives you an opening.

But sometimes you do have a choice to minimize idling. The average driver spends about five minutes idling every day, which uses between half a cup and a cup of gas. At the end of a year, it adds up to a full tank of gas burned while you’re not going anywhere. There are more than 250 million cars in the US. What if we could all cut our idling in half?

  • Don’t use the drive-thru lane. Go inside instead.
  • Turn the engine off in traffic jams if you have to stay in one place longer than 10 seconds
  • Turn the engine off when you wait for a train, or while you’re waiting to pick children up at school

Combine and plan errands

Say you have to get some office supplies, some clothes, some home improvement supplies, and some groceries. It makes no sense to return home after each trip. Plan your errands to drive the shortest possible total distance and use less gas. (Although if you’re getting groceries, that should probably be your last stop.)

Avoid rush hour and traffic congestion

I wonder why we call the times of day when traffic moves the slowest “rush hour.” Lots of people drive to work in the same direction and the same time. It creates more traffic than streets can handle.

If you don’t have to be out driving at those times, plan your driving at some other time of day. You’ll get better fuel economy if you can keep moving.

Some streets become congested at predictable times. It’s easier to avoid them than accidents or construction that tie up streets that normally run smoothly. If you have traffic reports on the radio or GPS, use them to find a different route.

Pay attention to the season

car exhaust. reduce fuel consumption

In the summer, you get unwanted solar heat inside the car.

On the highway, you can use the air conditioner or roll the windows down to get fresh air. It makes no difference in gas mileage which you chose.

In town, though, you’ll reduce fuel consumption if you turn off the air conditioner and open the windows.

If you have an option to park in the shade, do. Shaded spots will probably put the car farther away from where you’re going, but unless you have a handicap, walking the extra distance is good for you. And your car will be cooler when you return.

Winter raises different issues. Park in a garage or under a carport if you can. It keeps snow and ice from accumulating on the car. Excessive snow on the roof or hood may be a traffic violation. In any case, it adds to the weight of the car. The more your car weighs, the more fuel it takes to make it move.

Drive smoothly and calmly

Rapid acceleration and sudden braking reduce gas mileage. On expressways or the open road, use cruise control. When you have to brake, do it smoothly and gently. If you slow down soon enough approaching a red light, it may turn green before you come to a complete stop. You use less gas to accelerate than to start from a complete stop.

If you get into a traffic jam on a multilane street, it rarely saves any time to keep changing lanes. Pick one and stick with it. Once traffic opens up, you’ll be less likely to drive aggressively if you have stayed calm. Besides being a menace to yourself and others, aggressive driving will use more gas.

Keep up with routine maintenance on your car

You’ll get better fuel economy if your tires are inflated properly. And if you change your oil at the right intervals. A worn gas cap will leak gas vapor while the car is parked. All kinds of little things affect gas mileage. You’ll use less gas if you follow the manufacturer’s service recommendations. And spend less on repairing what wears out too soon if you don’t.

Photo credits:
Gassing up. Some rights reserved by Eric Schmuttenmaer.
Car exhaust. Some rights reserved by eutrophication&hypoxia.

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