Simple tips to reduce carbon emissions as a car owner

With the transportation sector making up the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States (27% in 2020), it’s important to find ways to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles, whether that is at the business or consumer level. While buying hybrid and electric vehicles are a great way to reduce tailpipe carbon emissions, plenty of people are still buying and using petroleum powered vehicles. One of the easiest ways to reduce carbon emissions from a petroleum powered car you already use is to improve your gas mileage and stop idling unnecessarily. The more miles you get per gallon of gasoline means the less gasoline you will need to buy, and subsequently burn, reducing the car’s overall carbon emissions.

Idling your car has terrible gas mileage: you are using gas to go zero miles. The U.S. Department of Energy claims that idling for over ten seconds uses more gas and produces more emissions than stopping and restarting your engine does. Additionally, they found that idling from personal vehicles produces an estimated 30 million tons of carbon dioxide annually and wastes around three billion gallons of gas. It’s hard to avoid idling in traffic unless you have a newer car that automatically turns itself off after a few seconds of inactivity and easily starts up again. However, you can reduce idling time when picking people up by simply shutting off your car (as long as temperatures are reasonable) and instead of waiting in a drive through line you could try parking and going inside instead. In fact, there are several states, along with New York City, where unnecessary idling can incur a fine. 

The American Automobile Association (AAA) has some great tips on improving gas mileage in your current vehicle. While driving, try to avoid rapid acceleration and hard braking, along with excessive speeding as a car’s gas mileage tends to peak around 50 miles per hour. Cruise control can also help by minimizing speed fluctuations on the highway. Try and avoid rush hour if possible, as this will likely result in more idling. 

AAA also has some tips on car maintenance to improve efficiency. If you have a large amount of unnecessary items in your car, remove them as extra weight can decrease gas mileage. They also recommend keeping an eye on tire inflation as underinflated tires have an increased rolling resistance which decreases gas mileage. Buying the proper gasoline grade and oil for your car is also important for keeping up efficiency. 

Keep these tips in mind next time you hit the road. You’ll save money on gas and help the environment!


Written by Sarah Woodams ‘24(T5)


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