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Driving Petrol Cars in an Environmentally-friendly Way

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All cars are polluters, and are well-known to be bad for the environment. However, for many of us they are essential tools, and to others a pleasure that we simply will not give up.

Whatever the reason you drive, there are ways that you can make sure that your car isn't creating more pollution than it absolutely has to by being driven badly. An environmentally-friendly car is a fuel-efficient car – which can save up to 25% of your fuel so it will be better for your pocket, as well as for the air quality around us. Advanced driving techniques will help with this, as will making sure that your car is serviced regularly and that any defects fixed as soon as possible. Planning your journey to avoid congestion and rush-hour traffic will also help – as will not getting lost. Try to drive the shortest distance, bearing in mind that routes with lots of traffic might mean that this is a false economy. Keep tyres at the correct pressure - they need to be checked once a month. Carry out regular checks across the entire car, and get it serviced as often as the handbook recommends. Following these recommendations will also make you a safer driver.


Acceleration should be gentle and smooth, not harsh and fast. Go up through each gear as soon as possible (changing up between 1,500 and 2,500 rpm can save around 15% of fuel), reaching top gear as soon as possible. Read the road ahead carefully, keeping an eye out for anything that might potentially be a hazard, to avoid harsh braking. Rapid acceleration and sudden braking burns more fuel and is harder on vehicle parts. How much is burnt depends on how hard you accelerate or brake. Don't drive at 60mph when approaching a 30mph limit and then brake hard. Slow down gradually as you approach so that you are doing 30mph when you get to the limit. Always drive as if you have fine bone china in the boot, or a large spike sticking out of the steering wheel, aimed at your chest.

Hills should be approached with enough speed to climb it in low gear at a constant speed. Hills should be driven down in the same gear you would use to drive up them; this uses engine braking rather than the brakes to stop the car running off. Don't coast downhill in neutral or with the engine off, as the car will be out of control and the fuel saving will be negligible.

Turn the engine off in traffic jams or at traffic lights if you will be there for more than a couple of minutes, or when parked to avoid wasting fuel. Don't sit revving your engine impatiently.

Drive off immediately after you have started the car, pulling away slowly. The engine doesn't need to be 'warmed up' before you leave; it can warm up as you drive. If you have a manual choke, pull it all the way out before starting the car. Drive straight off, gradually letting in the choke as the engine warms up. This uses less petrol than sitting with the engine at idle. Short journeys waste more fuel than long journeys, so try to save going out until you can make the most of your trip. It is more fuel-efficient to reverse into parking spaces so that you can drive straight off.

On faster roads, cruising at between 50 and 60mph in top gear will be more fuel efficient than driving at higher speeds. Make sure that your speedometer is registering your speed correctly – they can be up to 10% wrong.

Use the handbrake. If you have time to think 'Have I got time to use the handbrake?' then you have time to use the handbrake and take the car out of gear, rather than keeping your foot on the brake and clutch, or worse, accelerator and clutch – burning more fuel.

Luggage Carriers

If you need to use a roof rack, take it off when not in use. Lay smaller items at the front to minimise wind resistance, and larger items flat behind them. Covering the luggage with a tarpaulin might appear to help decrease wind resistance, but it will make no difference. If you want to cover your luggage to protect it from the elements ensure that it is tied down securely. If it comes loose and flaps about it will increase resistance and fuel, and be a distraction to other drivers. If going on holiday take off the roof rack when you arrive, and don't put it back on until you need to load it up again. When there is extra weight on the car, add extra air to your tyres to avoid them being at the wrong pressure. Your car manual should give the pressure you need.

Carrying a roof box, even when empty, will create more wind resistance – causing you to burn more fuel. Remove it when not in use.

If towing a caravan or high trailer, fit an aerofoil to the roof of your car to minimise wind resistance.

Remove anything unnecessary from the car when driving to keep the weight down.

Although not strictly luggage, any body kits or extras that are added to the outside of a vehicle will also affect the aerodynamics of the car.

Stay Cool

Having windows open can cost you fuel – as can air conditioning, which can increase fuel consumption by 8-10%. Try to use the cool air vents as much as possible. Every accessory that you use, even the rear screen demister or the radio drains power from the battery, which is charged by the fuel in your engine. Try to only use accessories for the minimum amount of time that you need.

If the car has frost on the windscreen, use a de-icer or scrape it off – don't turn the engine on or use a front screen demister while you are doing it. Consider buying an insulating cover for the windscreen, or keeping the car undercover in the winter.

Car Sharing

Try to combine journeys with family, friends or neighbours. Chose a designated driver for evenings out. Join your company car-sharing scheme if they have one and you can. Use park and ride facilities where they exist.

Choosing a More Fuel-Efficient Car

Generally speaking, cars that run on natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas produce less pollutants than diesel cars, even though the diesel might be the more fuel-efficient car.

Since 2001, cars in the UK have had their tax (vehicle excise duty) based on their carbon monoxide emission figure and the type of fuel that they use. A more economical car will save the owner up to £65 in car tax each year. Driving a 4x4 can decrease your efficiency by 50%. The best things come in small parcels, and that includes small cars with small engines causing less pollution. If you do have the misfortune to own a 4x4 wear a very large hat and sunglasses to keep yourself from being recognised and always drive in two wheel drive mode.

Work out the miles per gallon that each car will do when shopping for a new (or used) car. Also, check the Vehicle Emissions Database to help chose a make and model. New cars may not be the most efficient until they have been driven for a certain number of miles – check with the dealer. Older cars that haven't been looked after well will also fall short of their stated mpg. Look for a full service history.

Alternative Ways to be Environmentally-friendly when Driving

  • Chose an alternative fuel car.

  • Join a car-sharing group, which will mean less cars on the road, less pollution, less congestion and less money. Be mindful of your personal safety.

  • As already mentioned, removing any unnecessary weight in the car can improve fuel-efficiency. Car manufacturers are now looking to improve the weight of the materials the car is made from, without compromising strength.

  • Even after we have finished with our cars we can be environmentally friendly. If your car is too old or too damaged to be sold on, the End of Life Vehicles Directive will make sure that your car does not continue to pollute the earth after it has stopped being useful.

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