Energy-Efficient Driving Techniques That’ll Help the Planet
Here’s an inconvenient truth: As we recently wrote, driving isn’t exactly good for the planet. In fact, passenger cars are the highest source of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions—and biking, walking, or commuting via public transportation are all greener options than getting behind the wheel.
But for the times when hopping in the car is necessary (see: heading out of town to visit your folks, epic IKEA hauls, or times when the subway just isn’t playing nice), there are tips and tricks you can adopt for maximum eco-friendliness. With these energy-efficient driving techniques in mind, you won’t just zip around more smoothly and safely—you’ll be doing the whole world a favor.
Slow and Steady
Sorry, speed demons: The first rule of energy-efficient driving is keeping your revs in check. Tempting as it is to zoom down the left lane, if you’re thinking of the planet, you’ll want to consistently stick to the speed limit as much as possible (without holding up fellow drivers, of course).
When you do have to speed up, accelerate gently; likewise, when you’re approaching a red light or stop sign, go easy on the brakes—and be mindful that every time you brake, you waste energy. Your rule of thumb: Anticipation is the key to fuel economy, and keeping your focus on what’s going on ahead of you will keep your driving in control (and, by extension, keep Mother Nature happy).
Manage Your Settings
Beyond your speed, you also have control over a number of settings and modes within your vehicle that’ll help keep your driving fuel-efficient.
For starters: If your car’s a manual, driving in a higher gear is almost always more efficient. If you find yourself in an automatic car, avoid sport mode. While it improves acceleration, it also keeps your car in lower gears longer and revs the engine higher, so it’ll noticeably increase your fuel consumption.
Then there’s the rather surprising fact about air conditioning. It’s true that if you’re driving at lower speeds, rolling down the windows will help you save on fuel. But if you’re hitting the highway on a sultry summer’s day, opt for the A/C. Any fuel you’d save by not using it is actually offset by the extra aerodynamic drag from your open windows.
One more tip: If you’ve found yourself sitting in a traffic jam, that’s a) your excuse to bust out some excellent road trip entertainment, and b) the right time to turn off your engine for a spell.
Safe driving and green driving usually work in tandem—and you should be wary of any supposedly eco-friendly driving techniques that put your well-being at risk.
For instance: Have you heard the old chestnut about your headlights wasting fuel? In fact, the fuel savings you’ll get from driving without headlights, or delaying to turn them on, are miniscule—and certainly don’t merit the risk of driving in the dark.
Likewise, while some drivers choose to closely follow large trucks and use them as windbreaks to save fuel, that’s also a very dangerous technique. The truck driver can’t see that you’re there, and you can’t see the road ahead. That’s what we call a no-win scenario.
A couple other don’ts: Don’t be a hyper-miler and turn off the engine when going downhill. You could inadvertently lock the steering wheel or lose power assistance to the brakes and steering, or even damage your transmission. And don’t put the car in neutral to coast down hills, thinking that’ll save fuel. Coasting actually keeps the engine running, and the fuel flowing.
Choose Your Ride Carefully
Beyond these tips and techniques, the car you choose also has a profound impact on your carbon footprint.
When possible, hybrid or electric cars are always a good bet (good news: we’ve got both in our fleet); conversely, diesel has recently shown to be worse for the environment than regular ol’ gas, so is best avoided.
And we’d be remiss not to big up the benefits of car sharing and carpooling. Fact is, driving is best when done communally, sparingly, and with the planet in mind.