Summer 2011

Close To Home | Save at the Pump, Help the Planet

Summertime, and the living is easy—at least until you have to fuel up for your big road trip. Gasoline prices are especially painful right now, but if you aren’t able to take a bus or train to your destination (both of which are less polluting than driving for trips of 500 miles or less), don’t despair. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of each gallon of gas.

Before You Hit the Road

If you are planning a long trip or have a car with lackluster fuel economy, consider renting a fuel-efficient vehicle. Even with the daily or weekly fees, this strategy could be less expensive overall, and saves your personal car from wear and tear.

If you do take your own car, get the oil, spark plugs, and air filter checked, as a properly tuned car will maximize your engine’s efficiency. Check your tires too—proper inflation ensures safety and reduces friction between the tire and road, allowing the engine to propel the car forward more easily. Replace worn tires with those labeled as “low rolling resistance,” which also reduces friction and can increase your fuel economy by one to two miles per gallon (mpg).

When you’re packing up the car, be weight conscious. For every 100 pounds in your car, fuel economy decreases by 1 to 2 percent. Heavy items should be placed in the trunk instead of on a roof rack, which creates drag.

A Winning Pace

We often want to get to our destination as quickly as possible, but driving fast is neither safe nor cost-effective: fuel economy drops about 10 percent between 55 miles per hour (mph) and 65 mph, and another 7 percent between 65 mph and 70 mph. “Jackrabbit” starts and hard braking can decrease gas mileage even more. Cruise control can help keep a lead foot in check.

On the flip side, stop-and-go traffic also decreases mileage—while increasing frustration—so plan your drive during off-peak times if possible. Some GPS systems offer real-time traffic updates that you can use to shape your travel plans, including finding alternate routes. And once at your destination, park in the shade to minimize fuel evaporation and keep your car cooler (since air conditioning reduces fuel economy).

Driving a Clean Car Revolution

Although these tips will help reduce your fuel costs and emissions, they represent a drop in the tank compared with the savings higher federal fuel economy standards would bring. As part of our efforts to cut projected U.S. oil use in half by 2030, UCS is calling for a fleetwide average of 60 mpg by 2025—an achievable goal if automakers utilize the technologies available to them.

Write President Obama and tell him that Americans deserve cleaner, affordable vehicle options. Note your car’s make, model, and fill-up cost, and emphasize the fact that higher fuel economy is the best way to reduce pain at the pump—and our nation’s oil dependence. Mail your letter to The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500; or, send an email through the UCS Action Center.


Also in this issue of Earthwise:


Are there risks associated with the production and consumption of genetically engineered (GE) salmon?