Drivers, why not make every day Earth Day?
According to officials with the non-profit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), motorists can help the environment and their own finances by changing a few habits. This may come as surprise to those who think they must wait for hybrid or alternate-fueled vehicles to become popular.
ASE recommends regular vehicle maintenance and better driving habits as two can't-fail action plans. Here are a few specific, easy-to-implement tips from ASE.
-- Keep the engine running at peak performance -- a misfiring spark plug can reduce fuel efficiency as much as 30 percent. Replace filters and fluids as recommended in your owner's manual. A well tuned engine pollutes less and uses less gasoline than a neglected vehicle. Moreover, engine performance problems only get worse if neglected.
-- If you do your own repairs, be a good citizen.
Dispose of engine fluids and batteries properly. A single quart of used motor oil can pollute thousands of gallons of water. Anti-freeze poured on the ground can poison wildlife and household pets. Some repair facilities accept used fluids and parts. Or call your local government for more information.
-- Keep tires properly inflated and aligned.
If your air pressure is just a few pounds low, you force the engine to work harder (read: burn more gasoline) just to move the vehicle. Tires that are misaligned also make your vehicle work harder. Consider, too, that poorly maintained tires wear out faster, which means more discards have to be scraped, recycled or sent to the landfill.
-- If you are not much of a do-it-yourselfer, find a good technician.
Ask friends for recommendations. Check the reputation of the repair shop with your local consumer group. Check out the technicians' credentials. ASE-certified auto technicians have passed one or more national exams in specialties such as engine performance and air conditioning.
-- Have your vehicle's air conditioner serviced only by a technician certified to handle and recycle refrigerants. Older air conditioners contain ozone-depleting chemicals, which could be released into the atmosphere through improper service.
-- Avoid speeding and sudden accelerations.
Both habits guzzle gas and put extra wear and tear on your vehicle's engine, transmission, steering and suspension system, and other components. Use cruise control and anticipate traffic patterns ahead. As a side benefit, your brakes will last longer.
-- When waiting for friends or family, shut off the engine.
Consolidate daily errands to eliminate unnecessary driving. And, yes, walk more often.
-- Remove excess items from the vehicle's truck, since less weight means better mileage. Remove that roof-top luggage carrier after vacations to reduce air drag.
If appeals to save the environment are not enough, consider this: A poll of ASE-certified auto technicians indicated that a well-maintained vehicle should last 50 percent longer than a neglected one. Good car care saves you money and helps the environment -- a win-win situation.