Reducing Car Pollution & Your Transportation Footprint
Motor vehicles are the number one source of air pollution in the United States. Cars and trucks emit pollutants into the air, which harm the environment and contribute to health issues like asthma and heart disease.
While pollution may seem too significant a problem for one person to fix, there are things that individuals can do to make a difference. Review how changing driving habits, selecting a different car, and using alternative transportation can reduce pollution for everyone.
5 Ways Drive More Efficiently
Adjusting how you drive can go a long way in reducing air pollution your car deposits into the environment. A side benefit is savings at the pump.
1. Avoid Erratic Driving
In simple terms, quick acceleration and sudden braking waste fuel and result in greater tailpipe emissions. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), these less-than-ideal driving habits consume 15% to 30% more gas on the highway and 10% to 20% more in city traffic.
2. Use Technology
Adding a driver feedback system, like a smartphone monitoring app, can remind those behind the wheel to practice sensible driving skills and reduce gas consumption by 3% to 10%, according to DOE. Cruise control is another bit of technology to maintain fuel-saving steady speeds on the highway. And cars with adaptive cruise control benefit from braking support and gentle acceleration during stop-and-go traffic.
3. Watch the Speed Limit
Staying within the posted speed limit is a key principle of safer driving, but this approach has another benefit, lower fuel use. Cars are engineered to achieve the best fuel economy at a specific maximum speed (usually around 50 mph). So, traveling above this rate decreases fuel economy with every additional mile per hour above the optimal speed.
4. Limit Rooftop Cargo
With more and more people driving SUVs, it’s tempting to use the expansive roofs of these vehicles for cargo storage. But bulky boxes (including roof-mounted cargo containers) negatively impact aerodynamics and fuel economy.
5. Limit Needless Weight
Using a car’s trunk or cargo area as ongoing storage space is easy, but excess weight zaps fuel economy. DOE estimates that every 100 extra pounds reduce miles per gallon by 1%.
Drive a Green Vehicle
There is an abundance of new “green” vehicles that offer zero or low greenhouse emissions and excellent fuel economy. All new cars sold in the U.S. are required to have a window sticker (also called a Monroney sticker) with rankings for fuel economy and tailpipe emissions.
In particular, look for 1 to 10 scores for the “Fuel Economy & Greenhouse Gas Rating” and “Smog Rating,” with 10 indicating the lowest (zero) carbon footprint. This information is also available at FuelEconomy.gov, the official U.S. Government source for fuel economy information.
Different vehicle options include:
- Electric vehicles: With zero tailpipe emissions, an electric car offers an ideal alternative to a traditional gas-powered automobile.
- Plug-in hybrid vehicles: Plug-in hybrids combine a conventional internal combustion engine with a battery for periodic electric-only operation. The gasless range is limited (typically 25–50 miles) but is ideal for local errands and moderate commuting.
- Hybrid vehicles: Hybrids still rely on a gasoline engine, but the added hybrid-electric module increases fuel economy (and reduces car pollution).
- Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles: Hydrogen-powered cars are found only in California and Hawaii due to a limited refueling infrastructure, but they just produce water from the tailpipe.
- Clean burning gas cars: Newer conventional gas-powered cars still pollute, but at a much-reduced rate than older cars. So switching to a more efficient vehicle, even if you still have to stop at the pump, can mean better fuel efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Each year, personal vehicle idling uses three billion gallons of fuel and generates about 30 million tons of carbon dioxide, according to DOE. At one point, warming up a car was necessary to properly condition the engine for winter driving, but modern vehicles are ready to go at start-up.
In addition, today’s starter motors and other engine components are more robust. So, frequent engine starts and shut-downs won’t wear down a powerplant like in the decades past. That’s something to keep in mind if you’re waiting in your car, especially around schools and children.
Give Carpooling a Try
Heading to work or school creates an opportunity to share a ride with fellow commuters. In addition to reducing emissions and fuel consumption, a daily commute via carpool saves money on vehicle maintenance.
For those reluctant to dive into full-time carpooling, take it slow and try things out once or twice a week for a while. Anytime you can leave the car at home, it means less pollution and fuel use.
Consider Alternate Transportation
Going out doesn’t always mean getting behind the wheel. Instead, make a plan to try a different form of transportation. Depending on where you live, a public transit bus or rail system might be the ideal alternative. There is always biking or walking, which are zero-emission options with the side benefit of exercise.
And bypassing the car doesn’t have to be complete. Start with a simple trip to test the waters, and expand to longer journeys later. You may never completely ditch your vehicle, but even one outing a week via public transportation or self-power can be meaningful.
Save the Planet, Save Money
Having a car is expensive. According to AAA, the average annual cost to own and operate a new vehicle is $10,728, about $894 per month. So, taking advantage of opportunities to reduce these expenses while lessening pollution is a win-win.
For example, we mentioned that keeping a car’s speed in check cuts down on fuel consumption. Here’s what that means in practical terms when using a four-cylinder 2018 Toyota Camry as a sample vehicle and gas at $3.25 per gallon.
Driving at 55 mph is the equivalent of paying $3.49 per gallon, or about 8% higher, because of the decrease in fuel efficiency. Meanwhile, traveling at 70 mph is like paying $4.46 per gallon, or about 37% more.
There are other ways to cut costs. For every 100 pounds of extra weight removed from a car, the average car owner enjoys an equivalent savings of $0.03 per gallon (based on gas at $3.25 per gallon). And turning off the car instead of idling provides an equivalent cost reduction of $0.01 to $0.03 per gallon. These small amounts can add up.
Another way to keep costs in check is an auto protection plan (also called an extended warranty). There’s no better way to protect against breakdowns and surprise repair bills. Coverage options include primary systems like the engine and transmission or plans similar to a new car warranty.
Be Ready With Endurance
Keeping your car in top condition is another way to limit pollution. An Endurance auto protection plan, starting at $79 per month, can offer a way to keep your car in top shape and ultimately help you save money.
Endurance plans come with flexible payment options, a 30-day money-back guarantee, and the choice of any ASE Certified mechanic for repairs. Other benefits include 24/7 roadside assistance, rental car coverage, and trip interruption protection. Endurance customers can also add one year of free Elite Benefits. A small activation fee provides access to up to $2,000 in services like tire repairs and replacements, key fob replacement, and other valuable extras.
Read more on the Endurance blog for expert-written articles about car care, automotive history, vehicle reviews, repair advice, and more.
More like this
Expert Auto Tips
Retired professional racecar driver Danica Patrick is a pioneer in the world of motorsports. Her breakthroughs include being the first woman to lead an Indianapolis 500 race (the 89th running..
Expert Auto Tips
Buying a new car can be incredibly exciting and can open up a whole new world of possibilities. There are so many vehicles on the market, and no matter what..
Expert Auto Tips
Changing your oil and keeping your tires at the correct PSI are two great ways to keep your car running smoothly and driving safely as the seasons change. Your vehicle’s..