How can drivers reduce their carbon footprint?

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With climate change increasingly making headlines, more and more drivers are suffering from ‘climate guilt.’ In fact, recent research by ethical car recycling company Scrap Car Network found that rising climate guilt is causing many drivers to actually lie about their driving habits, with 73% saying they lie about the number of journeys they take.

The research found that the prominence of climate activism from the likes of the Extinction Rebellion has caused more motorists to be aware of their potential impact on the environment, but without offering much of a solution, other than ‘stop driving right now.’

As well as climate activism, the researchers identified other causes for climate guilt. Those included high profile media coverage of specific climate events, such as floods and fires; conversations with friends about climate change; and statistics in the media that draw attention to climate issues.

The problem for these motorists is clear; some need their cars and would struggle to manage without them. So, as a climate-conscious driver, what can you do to reduce your carbon footprint?

Avoid idling

Many people underestimate how many emissions are produced simply by running the engine, such as when you’re waiting just outside the school gates. Lots of new models will cut your engine if your car is stationary for too long, but experts say if you’re waiting in one location for longer than a minute, you should consider doing it yourself. However, you’ll need to use your judgment – turning it off and on again too often may even actually increase your emissions!

One of the big myths around idling is that it takes more fuel to restart the engine after turning it off than it does to keep the engine ticking over for a short period of time. This has been debunked numerous times. In fact, if it were even close to being true, car manufacturers would not be including automatic ‘stop-start’ technology in new cars.

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Drive carefully, and be mindful of speed

Maintaining the appropriate speed is always a careful balance, but especially so when trying to limit your emissions. If you regularly drive at more than 70mph, you create more harmful emissions than you would if you were driving more slowly. However, just to complicate things, driving unnecessarily slowly can equally raise your emissions – research says most pollution is emitted at speeds of between 15mph and 60mph.

On a related note, sudden acceleration and braking can cause you to burn up to a third more fuel, increasing your emissions. (It’s not great for your car, either.) Most experts recommend taking your foot off the pedal and naturally decelerating where you can, rather than suddenly using the brake.

Use cleaning agents and better fuel

Over time, harmful deposits build up in your car’s engine, reducing its efficiency while increasing its emissions. Using a cleaning agent can help to negate this, as they contain additives that remove the deposits and make your engine run cleaner. It’s recommended to do this once every three months. Also, at the pumps, you might have seen some more expensive fuels with names like Super or Ultimate. These also contain these active cleaning agents, so you can count on them not only to improve your emissions but sometimes even your car’s performance.

Take care of your car

The simple fact is that a badly maintained car typically produces higher emissions. Even something as simple as removing the roof rack or bike carrier on yours can improve its aerodynamics, decreasing its emissions. Similarly, properly inflated tires decrease your fuel consumption and can improve fuel economy by as much as 20%. Meanwhile, the air filter on your engine needs to be maintained for it to stay optimally efficient, and fixing faulty oxygen sensors can boost your fuel efficiency by as much as 40%.

Another simple maintenance hack that will reduce is emissions – and one that many people overlook – is to keep an eye on tire pressure. Under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance, which then demands more effort from the engine.

car, electric, tesla

Change your car

Most newer cars are far more efficient (and thus environmentally friendly) than older models, especially with manufacturers contending with increasingly strict international standards. The Euro 6 regulations, set by the European Commission, put the onus on manufacturers to lower emissions, so switching your car for a newer model is generally a reliable way to lower your carbon footprint. Hybrid cars are becoming an increasingly viable alternative, and all-electric cars are completely carbon neutral.

Simply drive less

Unfortunately, however stringent you are about following all the advice above, there’s no getting around the fact that you’re still only marginally offsetting your carbon footprint. Even hybrid cars still produce emissions, and for all-electric models, the manufacture and disposal of their batteries still pose a challenge for climate scientists, so they’re not quite a panacea. When it comes right down to it, limiting your driving is the only surefire way to have the most meaningful impact.

That doesn’t mean you have to scrap your car, but you can always give it a break every now and then if you don’t absolutely need it. Can you combine errands to make fewer trips? Is it easier to walk to your destination or cycle?

Scrap Car Network’s research shows that climate guilt is certainly having an impact on drivers. But we have to ask, is it the right type of impact and the ultimate question is: will it be enough?