Road transport is responsible for 30 percent of particulate emissions in Europe. In London alone, emissions related directly to cars, buses and lorries contribute to 9,000 premature deaths a year.
Today, however, is National Clean Air Day, so here’s a handy guide on how to drive more efficiently. Breakdown cover provider Green Flag has come up with a few clean-driving tips, and we’ve added some of our own. They could save you money, as well as save the planet.
1. Plan your trip
Reducing polluting short trips is a big help when it comes to emissions. A warm engine is a cleaner engine, and it can’t get warm if it doesn’t get the chance. Get everything done on one drive, rather than scattering lots of short trips separately.
Do research ready for a trip – have your target parking space ready, to avoid circling around looking for a free spot. Plan when you’re going to leave, too. Avoid the polluting traffic, rather than becoming part of it.
2. Check your tyre pressures
According to Michelin, a tyre under-inflated by 20 percent can give 20 percent less fuel mileage. Over the course of 25,000 miles, that’s the equivalent of losing 5,000 miles in fuel. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
In short, low tyre pressures increase fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, so you should check your rubber at least once a month. Typically, a tyre will lose around 1 psi of pressure a month, but air might also be lost via a slow puncture, a leaking valve or old wheels.
3. Keep your car well-maintained
A happy car is a healthy car, and other such cliches. But the fact remains: a well-maintained vehicle will perform better, use less fuel and be better for the environment. Oil is the lifeblood of your car, lubricating the engine, keeping it cool and preventing wear. It should be changed at regular intervals to maintain maximum efficiency.
Similarly, changing the oil, air and fuel filters is essential for a smooth-running vehicle, so check your handbook for the recommended service intervals. Deterioration is gradual, so don’t leave it too long before visiting a garage.
4. Smooth driving
How and what we drive has a significant bearing on efficiency. While changing your driving style won’t convince the tax man that you deserve a rebate, it will extend the time between fuel stops and will save you money.
The key is smoothness: accelerate steadily, don’t come straight off the power and immediately apply the brakes when slowing down. Look ahead and anticipate: coast, engine brake and so on. It’s a good feeling – saving you money on fuel and braking components.
5. Turn off the air-conditioning
We know of a few people who have spent a hot lunchtime in their air-conditioned car, as it was cooler than in the office. But the fact remains, the air-con system makes the engine work harder, increasing fuel usage and CO2 emissions. That’s not to say that opening the windows is the answer, as this can create drag, negating any benefits associated with keeping the air-con switched off.
As a rule of thumb, opening the windows is probably the best option for urban driving, switching to air-con for A-roads and motorways.
6. Reduce idling time
Many modern vehicles are fitted with a stop-start system, which automatically shuts down the engine when idling at traffic lights or queuing in traffic. Make sure it is switched on to maintain efficiency.
If your car isn’t fitted with a stop-start system, you should turn it off if you’re likely to be waiting for longer than 10 seconds. Equally, don’t leave your car idling on the driveway before you set off.
7. Maintain your car’s aerodynamics
Car manufacturers invest millions and spend weeks in the wind tunnel perfecting your vehicle’s aerodynamics, only for you to ruin things with a roof rack. Sure, you might need it to carry that extra luggage on your summer hols, but be sure to remove it when it’s not in use.
An empty roof rack can increase fuel consumption by as much as 10 percent, and there’s also the issue of added weight to think about. The advice is simple: if you’re not using it, remove it.
8. Remove any unnecessary weight
Open the boot and you might be surprised at how much clutter you’ve been lugging around. Foldaway furniture from the summer of 2016, Christmas crackers from 2011, the gym equipment you never actually used…
Even the most innocuous of old tat can add up to a significant heft – and you’re paying to lug it around. Reduce weight, use less fuel – it’s as simple as that.
9. Buy the right car
When all of the above isn’t enough, it’s time for a change. This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how much we confuse our needs with our desires. The shift to EVs is underway, with many people beginning to realise how comfortably electric cars can fit into our everyday lives, especially if your commutes and regular journeys are short.
Alternatively, a hybrid or plug-in hybrid could deliver substantially reduced CO2 emissions, as could swapping your old banger for something a little more modern. Every drop in emissions works towards the greater good.
10. Carbon offsetting
Got all of that? Good. This one will almost certainly not save or earn you any money, but it should ease your conscience.
What do cars belch out? Carbon dioxide (CO2). And what do trees, bushes, flowers and grass consume? CO2.
The noble act of carbon offsetting is easily achievable. It can be as simple as keeping a potted plant or maintaining a lawn, or as grand as a tree planting expedition. Either way, you’re nurturing greenery – the stuff that almost literally eats the stuff you’ve been pumping into the atmosphere since you first fired up a car. It sounds far-fetched, but a lot of people making a little effort can go a long way.