Sustainable Living | 21st Jun, 2009

Drive Smarter

Driving isn’t great for the planet. But we know that some people don’t have much choice.

Luckily, you can use less petrol to go the same distance, just by making a few simple changes to the way you drive. Less petrol means less greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s good for the planet and your hip pocket.

A major study of ‘eco-driving’ in Europe found that the simple techniques listed below could reduce your fuel consumption by 10-20 percent (and sometimes by up to 50 percent!).

We can back this evidence up. Environment Victoria got students from RMIT to do a study that found that drivers using these techniques could reduce their fuel consumption by up to 33 percent.

So here they are. Your tips for driving for a greener planet.

1. Drive smoothly

When taking off from a stationary position, (e.g. when lights turn green at an intersection), instead of ‘flooring’ your foot on the accelerator, increase your speed more gently, as this reduces fuel consumption by not putting such a strain on the engine. When driving along, try to keep your speed steady. When coming to red lights, or the brake lights of cars in front of you, instead of accelerating then braking suddenly, just take your foot off the accelerator and brake only when necessary.

2. Keep your tyres at the right pressure

Too low and you consume more fuel, too high and it can be dangerous. The right pressure for your car should be written on the tyres, in the manual or on a label in the car. Make sure you check the pressure when the tyres are ‘cold’ (i.e. before driving far).

3. Remove roof racks and unnecessary weight

If you’re carrying around heavy objects you don’t need in your boot or back sear, you’re burning fuel you don’t need to burn. Roof racks also increase fuel consumption because of the drag on the car, so if you don’t use them much, it’s worth taking them off.

4. Don’t warm up the engine

Modern cars don’t need to be “warmed up” before moving – they warm better through gentle driving. However they do need 30 seconds of warming up in cold climates, and older cars still need warming up.

5. Use your air conditioning only when you need it

Air conditioners use a lot of fuel – try to avoid using them as much as possible. However if you are driving at more than 80 km/h, it is better to have the air conditioner on a little than it is to have the windows open, because of the wind resistance.

6. Plan the trip

If driving to an unknown location, look up directions before hitting the road, to make sure you go by the most direct route.

7. Don’t idle your engine

If you’re going to be stopped for a little while, turn your engine off.

8. Use higher gears. where practical

Driving with less revs is more efficient. Aim to drive at 1500-2500 RPM (and lower for diesel cars), and change to a higher gear if you are near 2500 RPM.

9. If you’re getting a new car, get an efficient one

The Green Vehicle Guide ranks both new and old car models by their greenhouse and air pollution emissions and their fuel efficiency. Choose the most efficient car in your price range.

10. Stick to your smart driving habits!

Often people who take on these techniques slip back into old habits. Remind yourself to stick to the good habits, with a reminder on your dashboard, in your diary or in your phone – whatever works for you. And if you are ever teaching someone else to drive, get them driving smoothly from the start.

Of course, the best way to reduce your emissions is simply to drive less. Bikes and walking are great for short journeys, like heading down to the shops or getting the kids to school. They also mean more exercise without having to go to the gym.

Public transport can be less stressful than traffic. And if there’s none near you, tell your local politician to do something about it. Car pooling is another good way to reduce your impact and costs.

But if you have to drive, these simple tips can help you reduce your impact.

Download the fact sheet