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Eleven tips for driving greener this spring

Going green doesn’t mean having to buy a hybrid or electric car, but it does take a little extra effort.

Experts at the Car Care Council recommend following a few simple preventive maintenance steps to help protect the environment and improve gas mileage, which also saves money at the pump.

Stay tuned – Regular engine performance maintenance is essential to burning less gas, emitting fewer pollutants and preventing car trouble down the line. Routinely, check the spark plugs, replace fuel and air filters, and, when needed, replace ignition system and/or emission system parts.

Drive smart – Avoid sudden starts and stops and go the speed limit. Minimize unnecessary miles by consolidating errands, getting good directions and avoiding excessive idling. Other guidelines to follow include:

• Using your vehicle’s cruise control feature.

• Using air conditioning only when needed. Parking in the shade and using a reflective windshield shade can help your car stay cooler when parked, meaning it takes less to cool it off when you get back in. The A/C system should be inspected annually, during which a technician checks pressures to test operation, refrigerant charge and outlet temperatures.

• Avoiding speeding and aggressive driving. Most cars lose fuel efficiency over 50 miles per hour at a rate of about $0.24 per gallon for every 5 mph over 50. Aggressive driving [speeding, rapid acceleration and braking] also can reduce gas mileage – as much as 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent on city streets.

Lighten the load – Get the junk out of the trunk, with the exception of emergency items, of course. Extra items weigh the vehicle down and cause an increase in gas usage.

Run clean – An air filter clogged with dirt, dust and bugs chokes off the air and creates a “rich” mixture that causes the engine to lose power. Replacing a clogged air filter will improve your car’s performance and acceleration, but not miles per gallon. The air filter should be inspected at each oil change, and replaced annually or when restricted, torn or water or oil-soaked.

Check your spark – A vehicle can have four, six or eight spark plugs, which fire as many as three million times every 1,000 miles. This results in a lot of heat, electrical and chemical erosion. A dirty spark plug also can cause misfiring, which wastes fuel.

Stay cool, but not cold – A cooling system thermostat that causes the engine to run too cold will lower the fuel efficiency of a car by as much as one or two mpg. Improved radiator caps also allow the cooling system to operate at a higher temperature before boiling over, increasing the system’s efficiency and reducing emissions.

Check your tires – Proper tire pressure can improve gas mileage by 3.3 percent or 10 cents per gallon. Tire pressure should be checked at least monthly, including the spare. Tires that are not properly inflated add rolling resistance that makes the engine work harder to move the vehicle. Remember, tires can lose pressure due to seasonal temperature changes. According to the Rubber Manufacturer’s Association, a tire can lose up to half of its inflation pressure and not appear to be flat. Optimal tire pressure for your vehicle is listed in the owner’s manual or on the car door sidewall.

Check your cap – A loose, cracked or damaged gas cap allows gas to escape from your tank as a vapor, wasting fuel and increasing vehicle emissions.

Don’t overfill – When filling up your car, remember to stop when the nozzle shuts off. Topping off the gas tank can release harmful vapors into the environment and waste money. Remember, your tank needs some extra room to allow the gasoline to expand.

Maintain your fuel system – Replacing your car’s fuel filter every two years or 24,000 miles and having your fuel injectors flushed out every 30,000 miles will result in a cleaner, greener car and save money at the pump.

Control your vehicle’s emissions – Emission systems substantially reduce harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen, and prevent harmful gasoline vapors from escaping at the fuel tank. Fixing a faulty oxygen sensor can improve gas mileage by 40 percent.

Learn more about care maintenance at the Car Care Council’s consumer education website, carcare.org.

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