Every week we bring you a simple idea for reducing your carbon footprint and protecting the planet. This week: how a bit of simple vehicle maintenance can reduce your car’s environmental impact.

Let’s not beat around the bush – cars are bad news for the planet. Transport is responsible for nearly 30% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions, 72% of which comes from vehicles on the road. As such, the EU wants to reduce emissions from transport by 60% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.

It’s a doable target, especially as more and more environmentally-conscious individuals are turning to electric vehicles, or even forsaking their cars altogether in favour of much greener public transport. For some, though, a car remains a necessary evil. The good news, however, is that by keeping your vehicle in good condition you can help to reduce your its impact on the planet. Here’s how.

  1. Make sure your tyres are properly inflated

Driving on under-inflated tyres is not only dangerous, but as the engine will have to work harder to propel your vehicle it’s also pretty wasteful. According to tyre maker Michelin, some 62% of vehicles in the UK have at least one under-inflated tyre. Statistics from the Department of Transport indicate this wastes around 244 million litres of fuel every year, as well as contributing an additional 600,000 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere. Newer cars will list the correct tyre pressure on a sticker inside the driver’s door, or on the inside of the fuel flap. Alternatively, check your owner’s manual, or find your correct tyre pressure with this handy tool from Kwik Fit.

  1. Get an oil change (if you’re due one)

Engine oil is sort of like the lifeblood of a car – it lubricates, cleans, cools and prevents wear and tear. But over time it becomes viscous, making it harder for the components to move as they should, which in turn puts more strain on the engine, which leads to higher emissions. Your vehicle handbook should advise how frequently you need to get an oil change – it’s usually every 5,000 miles or so, or at least once a year if you drive fewer miles than that. Conversely, though, getting an oil change for the simple sake of it is a waste of materials, so only get one if it’s due.

If you do your own repairs and engine top-ups, be sure to dispose of engine fluids, batteries and other dangerous liquids properly – just a litre of spilt motor oil has the potential to pollute thousands of gallons of water, while a splash of antifreeze on the ground can be deadly for wildlife and pets. See what recycling provision your local council has for these types of materials, or ask local garages and repair facilities if they’ll accept used liquids and parts. For more complex fluid-related repairs and changes – such as air-conditioning systems – make sure you enlist the help of a certified technician who’s trained to handle such chemicals in an environmentally responsible manner.

  1. Check the air filter

If an air filter is clogged up it will restrict the airflow to the engine, which affects a car’s air-fuel balance. This imbalance can pollute spark plugs, increase engine deposits and directly increase your car’s exhaust emissions. Cleaning up or replacing air filters will mitigate these risks, and also help prolong your car’s engine life so your vehicle will last longer – and you won’t be hit by any nasty surprise repair bills.

  1. Take a load off

It’s easy for your car to become a dumping ground for all sorts of items, from the kids’ sports gear to last summer’s camping equipment that you haven’t gotten around to unpacking yet. But it’s definitely worth removing excess items from your car, as less weight means less engine strain. Ditto that roof box or luggage carrier – if you’re not using it, it’s just creating unnecessary air drag, which means unnecessary emissions.

  1. Drive green

The way you drive can have a big impact on your carbon footprint, too. Most cars achieve peak fuel efficiency when travelling at speeds of 30-50 miles an hour. Above 55mph, fuel consumption goes up as much as 15% for every additional 10mph, so driving on the motorway at 60mph rather than 80mph can cut emissions and fuel costs by almost a third. Avoid idling unless it’s absolutely necessary – more than 10 seconds of idling generates more pollution that stopping and starting – and go as smoothly as possible: abrupt starting and stopping puts wear and tear on your car and uses up extra fuel. Accelerate gradually and anticipate stops, braking well in advance. If you have a rev counter, aim to change gear somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 rpm.

Make sure your car is in the best condition it can be, and you can be confident it’s having as little impact on the planet as possible. But bear in mind that in the grand scheme of things – and certainly when it comes to the size of your individual carbon footprint – that’s still quite a lot of impact. Look after your car, but consider swapping it for an electric vehicle if you can – or better yet, get rid of it completely.

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