When there's no alternative to using a car
To avoid carbon emissions completely walking or cycling are the most environmentally friendly travel choices by a “country mile”. Sadly, a “country mile” is shorter than many of us would have to travel to get to local amenities. Even if you are well served with local shops and other essentials, motorised transport is unavoidable at times! There are some positive steps you can take however to lower the impact of car use; here are a few ideas.
Alternatives to driving
By sharing car journeys or using public transport, the CO2 emitted is shared between the number of people travelling and is drastically reduced based on a “per passenger journey” calculation. Joining a local car sharing scheme like Liftshare can help you share the cost of your regular and occasional journeys and having a travelling companion to share a journey can help cut the tedium, particularly of longer journeys.
Drive a low carbon vehicle
Whether you drive a petrol or diesel engine vehicle, both emit CO2, however the better your car’s fuel economy, the less CO2 it will be producing.
Whilst it might be reassuring to think that simply switching to driving an electric car will solve all of our environmental problems, it’s important to see the whole picture. Electric vehicles don’t emit CO2 directly, but you need to factor in how the electricity powering the car is produced; only cars charged with clean electricity such as solar or wind power are truly “emission free”. New and used electric cars can be more expensive to purchase when compared to their fossil fuel equivalent, however when you factor in savings on road tax, fuel and in some cases lower insurance premiums, the switch to an electric car can represent a significant saving to your household budget.
Small is beautiful
Why drive a car that is bigger than it needs to be for the majority of your journeys? Why drive a “people carrier”, SUV or 4x4 or other large vehicle if you will only need the extra space occasionally. Instead, consider the addition of hitch-mounted cargo rack or roof box (although a roof box increases drag and reduces your car’s fuel efficiency) for the occasions when you need to carry extra “stuff”. Don’t forget to remove the extra “stuff” when it’s no longer needed; using your car as a cargo container wastes fuel.
Where you can, drive at your car’s optimum speed, but read the road ahead to avoid unnecessary braking and acceleration, which can reduce fuel economy by up to 33%, wasting money and increasing your carbon footprint.
Tyre inflation and other tuning
Correctly adjusted tyre pressure can improve your car’s fuel economy by up to 3% and turning off your car’s air conditioning can reduce fuel use by 5%. It also helps to use the correct grade of motor oil and even occasional use of a higher grade of fuel can improve your engine’s performance significantly. Having your car professionally serviced can detect and fix problems such as faulty oxygen sensors, which can increase fuel efficiency by up to 40%.
If you can, make your journeys at times of the day (or night) when there are fewer cars on the road; being stuck in traffic wastes not only your time but also fuel, unnecessarily emitting CO2. Use traffic websites and apps to plan your journey, they can sometimes show you alternative, less congested routes.
Drive less often
Think about your week ahead; can you combine journeys such doing the weekly grocery shop on the way home from work rather than making a separate trip? Make a list so that you can combine errands into a single journey and are less likely to forget something that you then have to make another journey to get. Shop locally for daily essentials; if you can't carry everything you need, use an old-fashioned shopping trolley, pannier carrier or cargo bike would make it easy and help you make fewer trips in the car.
If all of us made small changes to the way we use cars, the impact on our environment would be immediately measurable.