Scenic cityscape of downtown Toronto Ontario Canada during a sunny day
Author Bill Bryson recounts a tale in his book, In a Sunburned Country, about a naturalist named Gerard Krefft, who in 1857 caught two very rare pig-footed bandicoots in the Australian outback.
Conditions in the remote desert being what they were, Krefft painstakingly documented his precious find – then proceeded to eat them.
“I am sorry to say that my appetite overruled my love for science,” Krefft apologized in his journal. The pig-footed bandicoot, unfortunately, would become extinct.
Krefft’s conflicting goals – conservation and consumption – reminds us as motorists that we may be doomed to burn through our oil reserves until it’s too late, even as we adopt hybrids and other expensive technology.
Maybe it’s time we change our behaviours, not just our cars.
Here are 10 smart habits to help you become a more resourceful driver when it comes to conserving fuel, reducing harmful greenhouse gases and cutting noxious emissions.
You can start by not starting yet
Some drivers twist the ignition key before they’ve even closed their door, generating harmful fumes while they put on their seatbelt and tune the radio. Instead, make starting the engine the very last thing in your sequence: put on your belt, check your mirrors, secure your purse or briefcase and put away your phone before igniting the engine.
Block heaters: Not just for Winnipeggers anymore
You don’t have to live on the Prairies to reap the benefits of a block heater. In temperatures below 0 C, plug-in heaters can improve emissions and fuel economy by 10 per cent or more by warming the oil and coolant (use an automatic timer to switch on the heater no more than two hours before you drive off in the morning). At work, try to park your car in the sunlight during the winter. A cold start is a filthy start; your catalytic converter doesn’t function well when it’s ice cold, letting emissions pass through untreated.
Learn your air conditioner settings
Be aware that your air conditioning compressor may run in many other positions besides “on.” Defrosting the windshield even in the dead of winter usually means the air conditioner will kick in. Obviously, use the defrost when needed, but change the setting to “heat,” “floor,” or “vent” when defrosting or defogging is complete to turn off the power-robbing compressor (cracking open some windows helps wick the condensation). The AC can add 10 per cent to your fuel consu- mption, so don’t run it when it’s not needed.
Squeeze the gas pedal lovingly
Here’s an old saw that bears repeating: avoid accelerating rapidly or racing to the next light. A few seconds of pedal-to-the-metal acceleration produces more carbon monoxide than 30 minutes of normal driving. Learn to anticipate red lights by looking up ahead and coasting to them. You’ll generate fewer emissions – and save gas and brake material, too.
Hey, the Swiss do it.
Turn off your engine at every opportunity – in traffic jams, waiting at railroad crossings, even at long-cycle red lights. Those fancy hybrids do it at every single stop. Contrary to popular belief, it takes very, very little fuel to restart a warm engine. Park your car at the doughnut shop instead of using the drive-through window. Beyond the obvious waste of fuel, excessive idling contaminates engine oil quicker than normal.
Some drivers believe idling keeps the parking officers away. Not true; in fact, it’s illegal to idle in the city of Toronto for more than three minutes.
Consolidate your trips
Tack on an errand to your drive home from work rather than making a separate trip after dinner. You can get a lot of errands done more efficiently by thinking ahead and making several stops during one trip, rather than making individual trips. Short trips, with a cold engine, means the motor is operating inefficiently and producing more pollutants. If you’re going to one of those big-box outlets, park your car in one central location and walk to each of the stores you need to visit. It’s sad how many people make 100-metre drives to each store.
Mr. Bell had the right idea
Call ahead to make sure what you want is actually at the other end of your journey. There are few things more frustrating that driving to a distant store, only to learn when you get there that the item is out of stock. Also, a cellphone is a great driver’s aid when it’s used to cut unnecessary trips and update you about a sudden change of plans.
Marconi was no slouch, either
Listen to the radio for traffic slowdown warnings, and heed them. Use a GPS navigation device to find alternate routes and even provide you with traffic updates. You can plug in an FM-band receiver that can tune into Traffic Message Channel (TMC) data that feeds into your navigation display/, which can then identify problem areas and suggest ways around the mess. Now available in the GTA, TMC data gives prompt, accurate notification of accidents, road construction, and police or emergency action without waiting for a commercial radio report.
Heed the posted speed
While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed, gas mileage usually drops off precipitously at speeds greater than 100 km/h largely due to aerodynamic drag. You can roughly assume that each 10 km/h you drive over 100 km/h is equivalent to paying an additional 10 cents per litre for gas. Try slowing down on the highway; it takes up to 15 per cent more fuel to cruise at 120 km/h than to stick to 100 km/h. Tailpipe emissions are also optimized at 90 to 100 km/h.
Time shift your commute
If you can stagger your work hours to avoid peak rush hours, you’ll spend less time sitting in fuel-wasting traffic. Stop-and-go driving also increases emissions of smog-forming pollutants. Consider telecommuting (working online at home) if your employer permits it, or negotiate a four-day work week. “Working from home” is the new perk heard a lot around Canadian offices these days.