Toxic byproducts released from cars' tailpipes irritate our lungs and slow the flow of oxygen in our bloodstream, causing respiratory disease and some cancers. Children are especially vulnerable because their organs and tissues are still developing and because they're active outdoors.
Tailpipe emissions also thin the ozone layer around the Earth, making it easier for the sun's ultraviolet rays to damage our skin and compromise our immune systems. The good news is there's a lot you can do right now to reduce your car's impact on the environment and your family's health.
Identify your "dirty" driving style and take steps towards cleaner air and lower fuel costs.
The slow starter
How long do you let your car warm up? If it's any longer than 30 seconds, even in winter, you're wasting fuel. So, why do many of us think 30 seconds is nowhere near long enough? Christine McDowell, a media production technician at a college in Coquitlam, B.C., has an answer. "My dad taught me about warming up a car. In the wintertime in Toronto he'd go outside, start the car up and leave it running in the driveway! Later he'd go out and drive away."
TIP: In temperatures of 0 C and below, use an engine-block heater timed to start two hours before you leave home. A warmed engine starts more easily and works less hard than a cold one, reducing fuel consumption and toxic emissions by 10 to 20 per cent.
Do you have a racing stripe down your back? "Move over Mario Andretti!" is how Joanne Bates describes her old driving style. An ESL instructor for the Toronto District School Board, Joanne does a lot of driving. "The highway was my speedway because I had a tendency to cram too much into the time just before I needed to leave home or the office to get to a meeting. My new year's resolution was to start leaving myself more time."
TIP: Calculate how much time you need to get where you're going without rushing and avoid the temptation to do "just one more thing" before you leave the house.
FACT: A car cruising the highway at a speed of 120 km/h uses 20 per cent more fuel and produces more emissions than a vehicle maintaining 100 km/h.
In summer Canadians idle their cars an average of about two to four minutes a day. In the winter this goes up to five to 10 minutes a day. Unnecessary idling wastes fuel and damages the environment. The high cost of gas is an incentive to reduce idling, too, says Susan MacRae, a writer in Vernon, B.C., except in one special circumstance. "Recently I left my car running during a make-out session," says Susan. "Being 'intimate' in Canada sometimes requires idling."
FACT: If every driver of a light-duty vehicle in Canada avoided idling for just five minutes a day, every day of the year, collectively, we would save more than 680 million litres of fuel, worth more than $612 million (at 90 cents per litre). We would also keep more than 1.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
FACT: Idling your car for more than 10 seconds emits more pollution than if you turned the engine off and restarted it. Idling also leaves a residue of soot on spark plugs, which increases fuel consumption by four to five per cent.
Page 1 of 3The jackrabbit
Quick off the mark, race to the stop sign, heavy on the brake? "I'm a jackrabbit and I suspect this is an inherited trait," jokes Karen Rockwell, of Windsor, Ont. A counsellor and mother of three, Karen has vivid memories of driving with her mother before the seatbelt laws. "At every stop sign Mom would stretch her arm out across the chests of whoever was in the front seat to keep us from falling forward. Now when I drive, even with seatbelts, I often do the same. Newcomers to my ride make comments like 'Whoa Nelly!' I'm making a serious effort to change my ways."
FACT: In one study the jackrabbit driver saved only 2.5 minutes out of an hour, but consumed 39 per cent more fuel and produced five times more toxic emissions through hard acceleration and braking.
In and out of the car all day running errands? Chuck Fowler, an optician in Vancouver, and his wife, Cheryl Cook, recently decided to change their driving habits because of gas prices and concerns about the environment. "I mostly bike to work now or take transit," says Chuck, "and instead of shopping on three separate days, we plan a single trip. We also get most of our groceries from a local organics delivery business."
TIP: Combine errands on a single trip. An engine that has been warmed up by driving to a series of stops uses less fuel than if turned off for a longer period.
TIP: During summer holiday driving, choose routes that avoid congested urban areas where frequent stops and starts will eat up fuel and spike emission levels.
The cool one
Windows closed, air conditioning blasting? "I'm just awful when it comes to using the air conditioning in my car," admits Shelley Balanko, an Edmonton native and market research analyst who recently moved to the United States. "I hate traffic noise so I'm inclined to keep my windows up. I know I could run the AC for a while to cool down and then turn it off, but I keep it on. I'm definitely not the poster-girl for green driving!"
FACT: In city driving, air conditioning can increase fuel consumption by more than 20 per cent.
TIP: If you are using the AC system in a pre-1995 car, keep it properly maintained. This will reduce the amount of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that deplete the Earth's ozone layer. (From 1995 on, car manufacturers stopped using CFCs.)
TIP: If you own a pre-1995 vehicle, you can eliminate CFCs with an inexpensive retrofit of your AC system.
The take it all with you
Sandbags and snow shovels in the trunk...in August? Extra weight takes more fuel to carry. Rob Stotesbury-Leeson of Vancouver confesses, "I love going to flea markets. Usually furniture and boxes of books stay in the backseat and the trunk for weeks at a time until I empty my car and begin the process all over again."
TIP: Roof racks create aerodynamic drag, so this summer try to fit all of your holiday gear into the trunk.
TIP: Remove ski racks in summer to reduce drag.
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Check out these fuel efficient options for your car.
The new diesel
Diesel produces 20 per cent less carbon dioxide (CO2), or greenhouse gas, than regular gasoline and it gets better mileage than gasoline so you use less of it. Next month diesel will clean up even more as new federal regulations enforce a lower sulphur content in the fuel. Sulphur impairs emission control systems in vehicles, and the soot, or particulate, emissions from diesel vehicles have been particularly harmful to children's respiration. The new regulations will reduce these particulates by 90 per cent in Canada and the United States.
Ethanol is an alcohol made from corn or wheat that is blended with gasoline and can be purchased at more than 1,000 gas stations in Canada. Any car engine can use a 10 per cent ethanol blend, and many car engines can be converted to use up to 85 per cent. (You need to use some gasoline in the blend because ethanol doesn't ignite well in cold weather.)
Biodiesel is a term used to describe inexpensive fuels made from vegetable oils, even from leftover cooking oil.
Some consumers self-supply (see www.biodiesel.org) and some companies provide the fuel to limited areas (www.ecofuels.ca). Some cars can use pure biodiesel, and others need a blend of diesel fuel and biodiesel, but in either case CO2 emissions are very low and the fuel is cheaper than regular gasoline.
Cars called hybrids combine a gasoline engine with a high-powered battery or batteries and electric motors. They use less gas and produce dramatically lower levels of toxic emissions than gasoline cars. Hybrids also generate energy: whenever the driver brakes or coasts, electric motors on the rear wheels capture the forward-moving energy of the car and use it to recharge the battery.
Hybrids cost more initially, but fuel savings over time and resale value should be considered. Some provincial governments give rebates.
Battery-powered (electric) vehicles produce zero emissions and require no gasoline, but they aren't yet widely available due to limited speed and range. One manufacturer, FGC (Feel Good Cars), makes a compact, three-door hatchback called ZENN. The two-seater reaches a maximum of 40 km/h and can run for up to 64.4 kilometres before it needs recharging. To recharge, you plug it into a 120-volt outlet for eight to nine hours. Retail: $9,995 to $15,000 US. See www.feelgoodcars.com.
Earn good "car-ma" by walking, biking, and car pooling or buying an annual membership in a car share network and reserving a car when you need one. See www.autoshare.com or www.cooperativeauto.net.
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