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Green Motoring

Maintenance matters


Perhaps you're not currently interested in a new car. If that's the case, some simple tips and advice will help keep your older model from using excessive fuel and emitting excessive pollution.

The average family sedan can put 8 tons or more of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Such heavy emissions have environmentally conscious drivers thinking harder than ever about how to reduce their transportation-related impact on the environment.

With hybrid cars boasting an almost compromise-free reduction in fuel consumption and emissions, a partial answer seems readily available. Hybrids employ an electric drive system to augment a conventional gas engine. This burns less fuel—especially in city driving conditions.

 Lower fuel consumption and the resulting decrease in emissions mean lower carbon debt for hybrid owners—in the neighbourhood of 15 to 30 percent.

Price check

Trouble is, hybrid technology isn’t cheap, and the vehicles that use it often command price premiums of thousands of dollars. From a strictly carbon standpoint, switching a family sedan or minivan to a comparable hybrid model would reduce one’s carbon debt right away—but at a hefty cost.

Rating check

Drivers needn’t switch to a hybrid to do their part in reducing greenhouse gases, though. For instance, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s list of “SmartWay” designated models ( helps shoppers choose a vehicle that is recognized as an exceptional environmental performer, hybrid or otherwise. Even in the Canadian market, asking about and understanding the EPA’s emissions rating system can guide shoppers toward a more atmospherically friendly vehicle.

Perhaps you’re not currently interested in a new car. If that’s the case, some simple tips and advice will help keep your older model from using excessive fuel and emitting excessive pollution.

Tire pressure check

According to Car Care Canada, maintenance is key. Something as easily overlooked as improper tire pressure can cause your vehicle to burn up to 15 percent more gasoline than it needs to. About 75 percent of the cars on the road have underinflated tires.

Invest in a tire gauge and consult your owner’s manual to determine the proper pressure for your vehicle’s tires. Regular pressure checks can not only reduce fuel usage but also make your tires last longer.

Air filter check

With your tires properly inflated, it’s time to check the condition of your air filter. Your engine requires a clean supply of outside air to run efficiently. Its filter will become clogged over time, starving the engine and causing it to work harder and burn more fuel.

Check and replace the air filter according to the instructions in your owner’s manual. An air filter change generally takes about five minutes and requires few, if any, tools.

Spark plug check

Spark plugs need to be changed periodically. If they’re not working properly, your car will consume as much as 30 percent more fuel than needed. Spark plugs can be tricky to change, so if in doubt ask your mechanic to replace them as part of a full tune-up. You’ll save fuel, reduce pollution, and prolong the life of your vehicle at the same time.

Driving habits check

A few simple changes to lifestyle and driving habits will help your tank of fuel last even longer than with maintenance alone. For instance, removing roof or tailgate-mounted carrying racks when not needed reduces aerodynamic drag and fuel consumption.

Combining several errands into a single trip can help save fuel as well, as can leaving a few minutes early rather than speeding on the way.

Proper and timely maintenance combined with a few common-sense changes to your driving habits can cut your fuel usage and carbon output by 30 percent or more. Incidentally, that’s right in the same ballpark as the savings offered by a hybrid vehicle—but for far less money.

Green driving tips

  • Ensure the fuel cap is tightened properly.
  • Avoid products that promise increased fuel mileage; they’re a waste of money.
  • Have the air conditioning system regularly checked for leaks.
  • Fill up in the morning or evening when it’s cool, thus reducing evaporative emissions.
  • Use a block heater in winter.
  • Avoid hard acceleration; aim for gentle passing and merging.
  • Measure and record fuel mileage so you can guage how much your new driving habits are saving you in fuel costs.


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Leah PayneLeah Payne