The price of oil and gasoline recently rose to levels not seen since the 1970s. When prices rise at the pump, people respond by looking for ways to conserve gas and save money. (As an added bonus, such efforts are good for the environment, too!) In the 1970s and 1980s, Americans made changes in their lifestyles, and for their efforts, energy consumption dropped substantially. More efficient major appliances, such as air conditioners and refrigerators, coupled with fuel-efficient cars and changes in living habits were hugely successful. In the decades since, household energy use, thanks to those revamped appliances, has remained lower. Unfortunately, American oil consumption has risen along with the lowered household energy usage. This rise can be attributed almost solely to the use of vehicles, both transport trucks and, mainly, personal vehicles. People drive more often, they drive farther distances, and about half of new car sales are gas-guzzling SUV's and light trucks.
Americans proved two decades ago that they could take measures to save on both energy and its costs. We've collected here some actions drivers can take to reduce their personal gas consumption today.
There are a number of ways to save gas and money on your commute.
- Join a carpool, taking turns driving. Find out whether there is a park-and-ride lot in your area where you can meet your group. In many areas, carpooling gives you access to faster moving high-occupancy vehicle lanes. Sometimes these lanes have lower tolls as an incentive.
- Leave the car at home. Take public transportation, walk, run, roller-blade, or ride your bike. Or try a combination of the above.
- If you are a two-car family, use the more fuel-efficient car for the longer commute. Better yet, have a family carpool and use only one car.
- If you are able to work flexible hours, commute outside of rush hour when you can drive at a faster pace and thus more efficiently.
- Work from home (telecommute) a few days a week.
Rethink the Errand Run
Do you find yourself hopping in the car several times a day to run a quick errand? There will always be those last-minute errands, but a bit of planning and organization can reduce the frequency with which you zoom off to the store.
- Set up a central errand list, such as a chalkboard in the kitchen, and have everyone in the household add their errands to it. Then choose an errand day and try to do everything at once.
- Keep a running list in the car, your purse, or your pocket, and add those errands to the central list.
- Run errands while on the way home from school or work.
- Shop online rather than driving from store to store trying to find a particular item.
- Do your errands on foot, bike, by public transit, or with a friend.
- If you have an SUV and a car, use the smaller car for driving in cities or towns, so you do not waste gas driving around looking for a space big enough to fit your large vehicle.
- Don't let the car idle. Idling uses gas, and the larger your car the more gas you waste while idling.
Sometimes just the way you drive makes your car use more gas, so learn to operate your car for maximum fuel efficiency.
- Don't pump the gas pedal when you start the car.
- Drive at a fuel-efficient 55 mph.
- Avoid driving in a stop-and-start fashion, which consumes more gas. Stop-and-start driving at high speeds (constant accelerating, passing, tailgating, and braking on the highway) can consume as much as 33 percent more fuel than steady driving.
- Remove heavy objects from the back of the car and the trunk that you don't need. The more weight in your car, the more fuel your car will use.
- When transporting large items, put them in the car or the trunk, rather than on the roof, to reduce drag, which makes your car have to work harder and thus use more fuel.
Your car is more likely to get the maximum miles per gallon if it is kept in tip-top shape and if you follow the manufacturer's recommendations for oil and other maintenance items.
- Get regular tune-ups. A well-tuned vehicle is a fuel-efficient vehicle.
- Check your tire pressure regularly to be sure they aren't low on air. Your car will use more gas if your tires are not adequately inflated.
- Replace your fuel filter annually and change or clean your air filter regularly. Cars run more efficiently and get better gas mileage when the filters are clear.
- Buy high-octane gasoline only if your car specifically requires it (check the manual).
- Use the exact grade of oil recommended by your car's manufacturer. Variations can affect your fuel economy. Look for oil that has the "Energy Conserving II" label.
- If you have a flexible fueled vehicle, buy ethanol, methanol, or gasohol whenever it is available.
Buy a Fuel-Efficient Vehicle
If you are buying a new vehicle, educate yourself about the fuel efficiency of the cars on the market. Some smaller cars don't get much better mileage than some SUV's. The best way to get a fuel-efficient car is to do the research and learn how much money you can save in gasoline costs, even within the same class of cars, by choosing an efficient vehicle. Your savings at the pump can easily run to hundreds of dollars annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
- Check out the Department of Energy's annual report on the fuel economy of the cars for each year.
- Don't buy an SUV or light truck unless you truly need one. Many are expensive-to-run gas guzzlers. Some do not meet the safety standards of cars and minivans, and because of their weight and high center of gravity, these vehicles can be more difficult to maneuver and park than cars. Studies have shown that SUV's cause and get into more accidents than cars because of their poor maneuverability.
Buy an Alternative-Fuel Vehicle
The automotive industry is slowly making alternative-fuel vehicles available on the market. More of these vehicles are in the testing stages and should become more common in the coming years. For now, you can get a federal tax credit of $500 to $4,000 if you buy a new hybrid, alternative-fuel, or electric vehicle. In some states you can use the carpool lane with your hybrid even if there is just you behind the wheel. Among the choices in the alternative market are:
- Hybrid vehicles. These cars use a combination of an electric motor and an internal combustion engine. While there are only a few models currently on the market, a dozen others are in the works, including full-size pickup trucks.
- Flexible fueled (or flex-fuel) vehicles. These run on unleaded gas combined with ethanol or methanol, both of which are alcohol based. Fuels available include E85 (85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gas) and M85 (85 percent methanol, 15 percent gas).
- Natural gas vehicles, including bifuel natural gas vehicles. These run on compressed natural gas (CNG). Bifuel vehicles have two fuel systems between which the driver can choose; one running on CNG the other on gasoline.
- Propane vehicles, including bifuel propane vehicles. These vehicles are fueled by propane (a.k.a. liquefied petroleum gas). Some have two fuel systems, as with the bifuel natural gas vehicles (above).
- Battery-electric vehicles. These essentially nonpolluting cars are limited by the range the car can go before it needs to be plugged into an outside source and recharged. This problem could be solved if there were more recharging stations and the user wasn't limited to a home-charger.
- Diesel vehicles. The old-fashioned diesel engines ran on petroleum-based fuel and, while fuel-efficient, were highly polluting. The availability of biodiesel, a fuel derived from vegetable oils or animal fats and usable in almost any unmodified diesel engine, changes that. Vehicles using biodiesel get high gas mileage and have low emissions. Learn more at biodiesel.org.
- Fuel cell vehicles.These are in the testing stage and probably will not be available until around 2010. Fuel cell vehicles run on hydrogen gas, so no oil is involved. They are nonpolluting and release no harmful greenhouse gases. Because they lack the large internal combustion engine of today's cars, fuel cell vehicles offer flexibility in car design and technology, opening the way for electronic steering (eliminating the steering wheel) and a whole new arena of design innovations. To learn more about this exciting technology, check out the section on fuel cell vehicles at fueleconomy.gov.
Learn more ways that you can live a greener lifestyle at NWF's Get Green.