The EarthSmart Life

You may be planning a road trip with your family or friends this summer to visit part of North America. Most of us fondly remember childhood family trips to Yellowstone or Glacier National Park. Packing the kids, the family pet and all your gear can be an exciting way to see the country and spend quality time with the ones you love.

Road vacations are another excellent way to practice being more planet friendly. There are many ways to save energy and money if you travel Earthsmart. In fact, you can improve your gas mileage by several percent if you practice just a few simple things. Here’s a checklist you can use to help you make sure your family and vehicle are ready to go:

A Check-Up for Your Vehicle — First, make sure your vehicle and its parts are properly maintained. Properly inflated tires are a big factor in gas mileage and can also help your tires last longer. Knowing your tires’ PSI (pounds per square inch) is critical. Some vehicles PSI will vary between front and back tires. I have a pair of old gloves and a tire gauge that I store in my car so I remember once a month to check my pressure.

Of course it’s also very important to keep your car tuned up. This means checking and replacing air filters on a regular basis, and making sure you’re using the recommended motor oil in your car. Some studies have found that replacing a clogged air filter can improve your mileage by as much as 10 percent! Be sure to use the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil. And if you select a motor oil with “Energy Conserving” on the API performance symbol, you’ll be sure that it contains friction-reducing additives for even better mileage.

Eco-Driving Tips — Once your vehicle is ready to go, it’s time to think about becoming an eco-driver on the road. Remember that you’re taking a road vacation to enjoy the scenery along the way. So observe the speed limits. Some EPA estimates have shown up to 10 percent better gas mileage at 55 mph rather than 65 mph. According to the Department of Energy, you will pay an extra 10 cents per gallon for every mile per hour you drive over 60 mph.

But, if you’re like me, you might find yourself doing 70 in a 70 mph zone. So another way to save mileage is to make sure you’re accelerating and decelerating smoothly. No jack-rabbit starts. Slamming on the brakes or speeding up quickly can be dangerous, and it’s harder on your car. Driving erratically also uses a lot of extra fuel and produces more emissions. So try to maintain a steady speed, and use cruise control whenever you can.

Use the air conditioning selectively. It causes greater engine effort during acceleration, so if you’re passing another vehicle, try turning it off. And open your windows to keep a nice breeze flowing.

Keep the Load Down — The extra bulk of suitcases or wind-surfing boards on the roof of your car can make your car less aerodynamic and drastically reduce your gas mileage. Also, added weight in the trunk can increase gas intake. Try to pack light and avoid putting items on the roof of the car.

Don’t forget to use the cruise control when you’re loaded down with gear and people. This will help you maintain a steady driving speed, cutting down on your gas burned. Select your vehicle’s overdrive gear whenever you’re cruising down the highway to reduce your engine speed.

Tread Lightly — If you’re driving a camper or some other low-mileage vehicle, bring along a bicycle or scooter for quick errands to the store or the beach. Leaving the gas hog in the campground or a parking lot will save you money and fuel for more fun in the sun.

Don’t forget to get out of your vehicle and walk or hike. It’s good for your circulation when you’ve been riding in a sitting position for long distances. And human-powered transportation produces no emissions that contribute to air pollution and global warming.

Make your summer camping or car trip a learning experience for your family by keeping track of your mileage and fuel used at every fuel stop. Turn it into a math problem for the kids and a discussion of how to improve the mileage before the next stop. Experiment with speed and driving technique until you find that sweet spot at the pump.

The less you spend at the pump, the more you can spend at the water park or buying organic corn chips for the ride. Happy trails!

Kim Carlson, the EarthSmart Consumer, shares fun and practical ways to live a more planet friendly and human healthy lifestyle. From natural beauty and green gifts, to providing eco-makeovers for entire homes, Kim blends responsible consumerism with her own brand of "eco-chic." Kim regularly promotes EarthSmart tips on local and national television. She is also a frequent guest on talk radio programs, and is a contributing editor to several major magazines. Kim can be reached at kim@earthsmartconsumer.com. Copyright © 2005 Kim Carlson. All rights reserved.

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