No, you don’t need a fancy new super-high-mileage car to protect the planet for your kids and grandkids. You don’t even need a new car at all. Like I said in Part I, just accelerating very gradually and coasting when possible, especially as you approach a stop, can do a lot. There are other things you can do, too. Keep your car tuned up; use fuel efficient oil grades if allowed by the manufacturer and replace dirty air filters. Keep the tires inflated to at least the recommended pressure. Drive at a reasonable speed; above 60 or 65mph, you lose a lot of fuel just fighting the air the faster you go. Don’t keep unnecessary cargo in the vehicle. Not only can it be a flying hazard in a crash, but heavy objects cost you fuel as well. These things alone can easily save you 10% in fuel, probably more. That may not sound like a lot, but if everyone would just do these inexpensive and simple steps, we could cut oil use and emissions by staggering amounts on a national level. The EPA has more tips here.
When you are buying a car, buy the smallest and most fuel efficient model that meets your needs. Yes, that’s a big shift in how we think about cars and associate them with freedom, but it really is the biggest thing we can do to fight high fuel prices, dependence on foreign oil and to cut pollution and carbon emissions. When selecting that car, the truth is, most of us won’t ever tow. Many of those that do need to tow simply don’t need the towing capacities of 10,000 or even 7,500 pounds offered by the big, inefficient engines found in pickup trucks and large SUVs. Despite powerful marketing, most of us don’t actually need AWD or 4WD. In many urban and suburban areas without a lot of hills, people just don’t get stuck in the snow or ice, and the ones that do are usually the idiots in AWD or 4WD vehicles who forgot that their mighty truck doesn’t stop any better than anything else. I’ve never once been stuck in the 2WD cars I’ve driven around the Chicago area for 25 years. A good set of winter tires is a lot more useful for most people than AWD and they help with stopping, something AWD can’t do. Most of us also don’t need to do 0-60 in 7 seconds, or even 8 seconds. That base level trim of that new vehicle that does 0-60 in 9.5 seconds, tows 2,500 pounds and doesn’t have AWD gets 20% higher fuel economy around town than the rugged trim level you want, but don’t actually need. For many buyers who absolutely must have the room of a full-size SUV, a top-rated minivan can get almost 30% more fuel economy, has better crash test results and actually has just as much practical cargo space and seating flexibility, if not more.
That long commute you do every day? There’s a simple way you can cut your fuel use and emissions in half, at the very least. Use public transportation. Or carpool. Sure, there are excuses. It can cost you a few minutes for extra stops. You might have to make small talk. Maybe you enjoy breathing smog? But the fuel savings and ease on traffic congestion would be considerable if people actually did carpool. Instead, those of us in hybrids, clean diesels, electrics and high-fuel-economy sub-compacts give a smug shrug when we see all those gas guzzlers not even getting 15mpg, sitting in stopped traffic with everyone else. Even the Highlander Hybrid, the most fuel efficient 3-row SUV and recently top rated by a leading consumer magazine, could do better in terms of fuel economy. Why don’t they offer a less expensive version with a smaller engine and 2WD? Someday, when we start choosing to save gas as a nation, consumer preferences will start forcing auto makers to stop increasing the “power” specs each year, and start increasing fuel economy, instead.
Smaller, lighter vehicles not only tend to be more fuel efficient, but less mass on the road means less energy in crashes. Plenty of small cars are getting top crash safety ratings today, too. Combined with driving safer to maximize fuel economy and minimize harmful emissions, that leaves all of us safer. There’s one final joy. When you drive any fuel efficient vehicle, you earn something that owners of gas guzzlers only receive through hypocrisy. The right to sincerely complain about gasoline prices, air pollution, global warming and foreign policy regarding oil-rich nations. You can not only complain, but you will know that you are less a part of the problem and more a part of the solution. That alone can be worth the entry price, which for a new car, can be under 14k for a safe and efficient non-hybrid model like the slick new Ford Fiesta (29 city, 38 highway), or under 17K if you opt for one with the Super Fuel Economy package that adds a couple more mpg!