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Eight Ways to Make Your Car Greener

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author photo by Autotrader March 2011

Not three years shy of the first spike in fuel prices that sent a gallon of gas over $4 in many regions of the U.S., and here the country is again facing rising fuel costs associated with far away lands and factors that are out of the average driver's hands.

It's frustrating and worrisome, to say the least, but even though rising prices are uncontrollable, the good news is that you have a large amount of control over how much gas you use – even if you have to drive a lot every day.

For those fortunate enough to be able to afford high technology there are now plenty options for high mileage and high quality vehicles – from the all-electric Nissan Leaf, to the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt, to the luxury Infiniti M35h hybrid, to the perennial Toyota Prius. Plus, between the 2012 Ford Focus SFE, 2011 Hyundai Elantra and 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco, there are now even many low-priced high-mileage vehicles to choose from.

Beyond buying a new car, driving less is the best solution, but you can reduce your fuel consumption substantially without spending any extra money and using the same car you're driving now. To help you get on the eco-path, AutoTrader has put together a list of the top ways you can go green without spending any green.

1. Holster That Lead Foot

In the days of cheap gas it didn't seem like such a big deal to race from stoplight to stoplight, but these days all its doing is burning extra cash. These so-called "jackrabbit" starts can use as much fuel as driving for a several miles at a steady speed. Instead, when accelerating, use slow and steady foot movement to keep your engine speed down and you car in a lower gear. Use common sense; we're not talking behavior that will aggravate the drivers behind you.

2. Lose the Trunk Weight

Most of us are guilty of hauling around all that stuff we've collected in the months since we last gave the car a good cleaning. But really, it's the middle of winter, those golf clubs aren't doing anything but costing you fuel money. Carrying extra, unneeded weight around in the back of your car is one of the best ways to ensure it needs to burn more fuel to move itself forward.

3. Drive a Bit Slower

Many drivers abide by the mantra that the safest speed is the one that follows the flow of the rest of the traffic – even if it's 10 miles per hour above the speed limit. Whether this is true or not has yet to be proven, but something that is absolutely true is that driving fast is a good way to burn a lot more fuel. It's not always practical, but driving even a bit slower can improve your fuel economy substantially. Driving at 55 mph can be 15% more efficient than driving at 65 mph. If you're not in a hurry, getting there 5-10 minutes later isn't such a big deal.

If you're going to drive slower, be sure to stay in the right lane and let other traffic continue to flow – otherwise you're just contributing to them burning more fuel as they slow down and then accelerate to get around you.

4. Drive a steady speed, use cruise control

This one's a bit more complicated because it changes based on what type of terrain you're driving on. Using cruise control on flat stretches can improve your mileage by as much as 7%. Going uphill, disengaging cruise is the best bet because your car will typically shift down more aggressively than you would to maintain the same steady speed – wasting excess fuel in the process. When going downhill, placing the car in neutral or just letting it coast can be better than cruise control because the car won't use shifting and engine braking strategies to maintain a steady speed.

5. Windows at low speeds, A/C at high speeds

It's a fact that both opening windows (increasing air resistance) and turning on A/C (increasing electrical load) can reduce fuel economy. But you can't drive around with the windows up and the A/C off on hot days. The most efficient solution is to open windows at speeds below 40 mph and use A/C at speeds above 40 mph. Although you'll still use more gas than if you didn't do either, that combination will likely produce the highest fuel economy.

6. Anticipate traffic to avoid complete stops

Accelerating from even a slow rolling start will burn much less fuel than accelerating from a complete stop. But, alas, the world is full of stoplights and erratic drivers. To get around these niggling items, keep an eye on the traffic conditions ahead. Take your foot off the accelerator and start slowly coasting to a stop as early as possible to avoid having to come to a standstill.

7. Warm up on the move, cool down when parked

While your grandparents or parents might have taught you to let a car warm up before driving it because that would extend engine life by getting it nice and lubricated, the fact is that modern cars don't need a warm up period. Any unnecessary idling, especially when cold, will just burn fuel and equates to getting 0 mpg. Also, if your car is going to be parked in the sun, consider buying a window shade to help the car stay cool. The excess energy wasted blasting the A/C to cool it down right after start up is only costing you extra gas money.

8. Check for proper tire inflation

This is the topic everybody loves to hate – it was even a point of political debate during the last U.S. presidential election cycle. Regardless of political theater, the fact of the matter is that keeping your tires properly inflated is an easy thing to do and can save you as much as 3-5% in fuel costs. All it requires is a cheap tire pressure gauge from the local auto parts store and maybe a reminder programmed into your smartphone or computer. Even better, many new cars these days come with tire pressure monitors built right in.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Eight Ways to Make Your Car Greener - Autotrader