The fastest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to get rid of your car, and use public transportation or non-motorized vehicles to get you from place to place. But with winter quickly approaching, it might not be the best time to think about braving the morning commute on your bike.
The next best thing is to make sure that you're getting the most from your vehicle while also reducing the amount of carbon emissions it sends up into the atmosphere each day.
Here are some important tips that will help you green up your auto maintenance routine and repairs, and reduce the impact of your daily driving.
1. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR TIRES
Car and truck tires should be checked frequently to make sure they are inflated to the recommended pressure. (If you're not sure how many pounds of pressure your tires need, look inside the door frame or in your owner's manual). For every 3 pounds of pressure your tires lose, gas mileage goes is reduced by about 1 percent, the car becomes harder to handle, and life expectancy of the tires goes down. You should also think about buying low-rolling-resistance (LRR) replacement tires, which can increase your fuel economy as much as 4 percent.
2. AVOID TOXIC ANTIFREEZE
Engine coolant, or antifreeze, is used to help keep your car's engine from overheating in the summer, and freezing in the winter. You've probably heard horror stories about the toxic green antifreeze (Ethylene glycol) spilling into the street or waterways where it poisons wildlife, but it's not the only option when it comes to buying engine coolant. Propylene glycol is a new kind of antifreeze that works just as well, but is biodegradable and won't harm wildlife if consumed. If you're making the switch, be sure to dispose of your old antifreeze at a local hazardous waste facility. Most repair shops will also recycle your antifreeze.
3. RECYCLE YOUR FLUIDS
Engine oil has to be replenished and changed on a regular basis in order to get the best performance from your vehicle. According to the EPA, the oil from one oil change can contaminate 1 million gallons of fresh water (a year's supply for 50 people!) To make sure that your oil doesn't end up in the local drinking water; make sure you patronize auto service providers that recycle their oil. If you perform your own oil changes, make sure to take the oil to a local recycling facility instead of letting it run out on the ground.
4. DON'T BE A CLEAN FREAK
Only wash your vehicle when it's really dirty, and avoid creating a DIY carwash in your driveway. Most commercial car washes recycle their water, and federal regulations require that their wastewater is treated before re-entering the water supply.
5. REPAIR, REFURBISH, THEN REPLACE
Repairing a broken part requires less resources and is always more economical than replacing it. Most metal body parts can be straightened or repaired through welding, and new techniques have increased the number of plastic body parts that can be repaired using flexible materials like fiberglass. Think about re-upholstering your seats or cleaning a cloudy headlight, rather than replacing them. If your mechanic doesn't have the tools to repair a part, rebuilt parts are readily available online or at auto parts stores.
6. FIND A GREEN REPAIR SHOP
If you're mechanically challenged, or just don't want to risk putting something back together incorrectly, a little research could reveal eco-minded repair shops that have both the sustainability and the expertise that you need. Start by contacting green business associations like the Eco-Logical Automotive Services Program in Oregon and asking them for a list of garages that are doing green things. If no such listing exists, call around to shops and ask about: how they dispose of their waste, whether they're using low impact products like low-VOC paint, water-based part washer, buying energy credits, or putting chemical spill prevention techniques into place. Even if it doesn't yield a green repair shop, asking these questions will demonstrate that these things are important to consumers, and might convince a garage to clean up their act.
Beth Buczynski is a freelance copy writer and environmental blogger. She holds a Master's in Public Communication and Technology with specialization in Environmental Communication from Colorado State University, and is passionate about leaving this planet in better shape than she found it.