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Cutting Emissions: How Green Can Cars Be?

By 3p Contributor

By Giles Kirkland

The automotive industry has always been a little behind the times when it comes to sustainability. While the world is investing in green power, the typical car still runs on oil. Not everyone can afford a brand new, all-electric vehicle.

In fact, despite the strides made in green technology, major manufacturers seem more focused on cheating emissions tests, rather than the actual production of less harmful vehicles. With these latest revelations in mind, how green can any car ever be? More than just looking at the fuel source, what can be done to ensure your car is as harmless as you can make it?

Remove unnecessary items

In the future, self-driving cars will be able to micro-manage fuel efficiency across roads and highway. But right now, most of us still have to drive ourselves. The optimal driving speed for fuel consumption, in most cases, is 55 miles per hour. Anything above or below this is generally less efficient and wastes fuel, causing unnecessary emissions.

One of the most basic factors of fuel-efficient driving is weight. If you want to improve your power-to-weight ratio, remove any excess items from your vehicle. Specifically, an empty boot (trunk) will make a noticeable difference in the fuel your car consumes while driving.

The same argument can be made for head-racks or other external additions. These disrupt the aerodynamics of the vehicle, adding air resistance and requiring more power from the motor. If you drive often enough, you can make a worthwhile dent in your fuel consumption and, as a result, reduce your emissions.

Rolling resistance

Similar factors can also be analyzed in the quality of your wheels. As the only part of the vehicle that makes contact with the ground, how well your wheels perform will determine how much power is required.

Rolling resistance, for instance, represents the force working against the vehicle as it pushes against the road surface. The best way to improve this situation is to use economy or eco tyres, which are designed to offer a low resistance. This is another example of reducing the power output of the vehicle, while offering the performance and speed your vehicle needs. This is still vital if you own an electric or hybrid vehicle, as they still require traditional, conventional tyres.


Recycling represents a vital way to offset a vehicle’s carbon footprint. Even a modern electric vehicle uses various metals and unsustainable resources in its production. Most steel and aluminum in the automotive industry is already recycled, so it’s up to you to continue this cycle when your car (or one of its parts) is ready to be scrapped. In fact, a wide range of car parts, from the glass windshield to the tyre rubber, can all be recycled.

What you should pay extra attention too, however, are some of the additional eco-friendly features, such as the catalyst converters. These should always be recycled where possible, as they use rare earth metals such as rhodium, palladium and platinum.

The importance of basic maintenance

Furthermore, an ineffective component within your vehicle can disrupt how the engine works. Fortunately, a little bit of basic maintenance is enough to help keep your motor in order. For example, you should aim to change the air filter after a certain mileage -- the figure depends on your specific car -- and the same can also be said for the car’s oil, spark plugs and batteries. When these aren’t at their most efficient, your car’s engine and overall performance isn’t, either.

Aside from the engine, it also helps to pay attention to the tyre pressure. The wrong air pressure changes the way you drive on the road, as too little can reduce the contact area and the overall impact created by the vehicle. This changes the rolling resistance, mentioned previously, thus creating a greater need for fuel.


As you can tell, a lot of making a vehicle more efficient involves reducing how much fuel is required. Still, there is always the possibility of using a greener fuel source without having to buy a completely new car. If you’re looking for a more eco-friendly alternative, there are many ways to make biofuel, including in your own home.

Biofuels are legal in a number of countries, including America, and can often be used in diesel cars, yet the main problem lies in the model you may drive. While most diesel vehicles can be supplied with biofuel (and it’s always worth checking first), some may have the diesel particulate filter (DPF) in their exhaust system cylinders, rather than the pipe itself. The former causes issues with heating and can’t reliable handle pure biofuel. At the very least, however, you should be able to use some form of biofuel for your diesel car, as even many commercial forms of diesel are cut with a small percentage of biodiesel.

The bottom line

As you can see, there are a lot of ways your vehicle can reduce its emissions and become more environmentally friendly as a result. While the automotive industry certainly has a long way to go -- as most green technologies simply aren’t available at a more affordable price-point -- that doesn’t mean individual drivers don’t have the option of taking things into their own hands.

What do you think of these tips? What else can be done to help make any vehicle more environmentally friendly?

Image credit: Pixabay

Giles Kirkland is a mechanic for Oponeo with a passion for both cars and the environment. When he's not tinkering in his garage, he enjoys helping others and discussing how to make vehicles more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

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