Sustainable Living: Cutting carbon with fuel efficiency

‘March 04, 2007’

We Americans drive an average of 10,000 miles per year, per person (passengers included). Unfortunately, most of our cars are not very efficient.

The U.S. has the worst fuel efficiency of any country producing cars. Most of our cars get around 20 miles per gallon, which means that each mile driven produces one pound of carbon that’s pumped into the atmosphere.

That will add up to 10,000 pounds of carbon per year. So for every 5 mpg better fuel efficiency your car gets, you cut your carbon output by 300 pounds.

Clearly, reducing the number of miles you drive every year greatly increases your fuel efficiency.

Planning is the key to reducing your car trips.

Here are some tips:

Plan your week in advance so that you can combine errands.

Ask everyone in your household to participate, and combine trips.


Leave off doing an errand until you have another errand in the same area.

Never make a special trip if you can avoid it.

Starting with a cold engine uses more fuel than starting with a warm engine. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, several short trips all begun with a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a single, longer trip that covers the same distance. So, combining errands can improve your gas mileage because your engine will be warm for more of the trip.

It might also mean you travel fewer total miles. This one simple habit change can save about 20 percent of your fuel and mileage; it also keeps 1,650 pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere, and will add up to about $260 per year if you drive the average 10,000 miles.


Did you know that driving more safely actually reduces carbon and saves you gas? “Easy Does It” means driving slower, and accelerating and braking less frequently.

If you keep it at a steady 55 mph instead of 70 mph or more on the highway, you save up to 20 percent of your fuel costs.

The most fuel-efficient range is between 45 mph and 55 mph for most vehicles.

Accelerating quickly burns twice as much gas as keeping a slow, steady speed. So does braking quickly — you lose all that momentum your car just worked so hard to generate. Try decelerating slowly up to the stop sign instead.

When stuck in traffic, turn off the engine. We can burn up to one-third of our fuel by idling.
You save 1,200 pounds of carbon or the equivalent of 55 gallons of gas by implementing safer driving. That’s also $130 per year that you could keep in your pocket!

Keeping your car in top condition will save you up to 30 percent in fuel efficiency.

Dirty spark plugs, or dirty air or fuel filters will all affect your fuel economy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, replacing a clogged air filter can increase your mileage by 10 percent, while replacing an oxygen sensor could result in an improvement as high as 40 percent.
Keeping the proper amount of air in your tires will save you up to 3.3 mpg. You can find the proper pressure amount listed on the jamb of the driver’s side door.

One last thing: remove any excess weight from your car and save up to a mile per gallon.
A tune-up usually pays for itself considering you save about $150 in gas costs.

Special thanks to David Gershon, author of “Low Carbon Diet” for the carbon statistics.

Shawn Dell Joyce is a sustainable artist and activist from Montgomery. She is the founder of the Wallkill River School combining plein air painting with environmental activism. Her work can be seen at the Wallkill River Art Gallery, or, or E-mail her at

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