Q: We're driving out of town. Is there any way to make the journey easier on the earth?
A: For many environmentalists, motor vehicles are the enemy, plain and simple - and with good reason: air pollution, petrochemicals, oil spills, global climate disruption. But many of your families and friends are more than a hop, skip and a bike ride away and, no matter what we say, you'll be hopping in a car to see them. How can you make the whole driving experience lighter on poor old Gaia? We're glad you asked. For one, if you're renting, 'tis the season to be jolly, because Discount Car and Truck Rentals has started using hybrids, namely the Toyota Prius and a hybrid Ford Focus ($39.95/day, www.discountcar.com). If it costs a little more, just think - you'll easily make up the difference with all the gas you save! If those cars aren't available, rent a Honda Civic or any of the fuel-efficient vehicles listed on www.greenercars.com.
Of course, all international oil companies have records of oil spills and/or exploiting countries in the developing world. But when you do have to tank up, both Greenpeace and the Sierra Club of Canada advise us to steer clear of Esso. Its gas contains the most sulphur, it's the most opposed to improving the quality of its oil to better the environment and it's actively undermining the Kyoto Protocol. Your best bet is Sunoco, which is the leader in ethanol use. And don't overfill your tank! Even small spills contribute to pollution.
There are tons of things you can do to ensure your car burns up the least amount of fuel possible, especially in winter. For one, newer computer-controlled engines don't need to warm up for more than 30 seconds. Yes, we know that contradicts what most automakers tell us, but the office of energy efficiency says the best way to warm your car is to drive it.
More cold-weather facts: engines burn 50 per cent more fuel on short trips in winter than in summer. So if you're running around doing last-minute holiday shopping or errands for your trip, try to leave the car at home. Whatever you do, don't leave your engine idling for more than 10 seconds.
Cold temps also decrease air pressure in your tires. Proper pressure can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by an eighth of a tonne a year. Note, too, that heavily treaded snow tires suck back more fuel than all-seasons. Unless you live in serious snow country, there's no need for them. If you are in the market for new tires, Michelin Energy MXV4 passenger tires are the only explicitly fuel-efficient tires we know of ($147/tire at Canadian Tire). You'll use 5 per cent less fuel and significantly reduce emissions.
Need an oil change? Canadians dump abut 275 million litres of used motor oil every year. That's seven times more than the Exxon Valdez spill. Much of that could be reused but isn't. However, you can buy re-refined oil, like Tech-2000 ($1.56/litre at Wal-Mart) or Zellers' Autoprix ($2.27/litre). If you change your own oil, bring your old goop (in a clean, leak-proof container) to one of the city's hazardous waste depots. (Call 416-392-4330 for locations.)
You should never embark on a winter journey without emergency supplies. Get yourself a Dynamo squeeze flashlight, which doesn't need batteries (you just squeeze it to get light) and fits in your glove box ($15.99 at Grassroots on Danforth or Bloor). A wind-up model is $59.99. Lifelite's beeswax survival candle can heat up a car for 12 to 24 hours ($16 each at Grassroots). You can even boil water over it.
As for cleaning products, there's absolutely no need to resort to chemicals. Make your own non-toxic car cleaners, polishes and bug removers with all-natural ingredients (see realmoney.org/articles/carcare.htm). Nature Clean upholstery cleaner will tackle any road-trip messes (from $6.75 at Noah's on Bloor or Yonge and Grassroots). Both Mabu ($3.99 at Big Carrot) and Blue Wonder (order at www.bluewondercloth.com) cleaning cloths can handle the inside and outside of your car without added products.
Want to freshen the air without subjecting your passengers to artificial vapours? Car Scenter is an essential oil diffuser you plug into your car lighter. Just add your fave oils (from $9.99 at Big Carrot and Noah's). Aura Cacia car diffuser comes with an oil for $12.89 at Noah's. The Scent Traveler kit includes an essential oil (like lavender or rosemary, to keep road rage at bay) and a wooden diffuser disc on a hemp string ($9.99 at Big Carrot).
Speaking of road rage, try to allow extra time for your trip. Rapid acceleration and aggressive driving use up to 40 per cent more fuel than following the speed limit.
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