My minivan is on its last legs. What I wouldn’t give to be able to buy a new or used hybrid. The thought of reducing my gas costs and my carbon footprint is a win/win if I’ve ever seen one.
“Hybrid”—a pretty trendy term—is much like “organic” and “natural.” But what does it really mean? Generally speaking, any vehicle that combines two or more sources of power to provide propulsion power is a hybrid. The two sources of power being leveraged by most hybrid cars on the market now are gas and electricity. The gasoline engine in a hybrid can be much smaller than the one in a conventional car, made of smaller parts, reducing the number of cylinders needing powering and operating the engine closer to its maximum load. The smaller engine uses less gas, with extra power being provided from the electric motor and battery. This is the key to its efficiency.
Related: Driver’s Ed on Hybrid Cars
A number of automakers are naming new models “hybrid” but the actual increased fuel economy of these vehicles is only around 1 to 2 miles per gallon. In other words, they’re getting big money exploiting the term “hybrid”, without providing the very tangible benefits of the real McCoy, which dramatically reduces the environmental (and pocketbook) toll by increasing the fuel economy of your car by 40-70 percent. While a small increase in fuel economy is an improvement, it is not the brand new world offered by vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and the Ford Escape Hybrid.
Related: What Your Car Says About You
If you’re unlike me and have plenty of cash to buy an authentic hybrid, I’m envious but happy for you and the planet. Before making your purchase, really get informed. Learn more about purchasing hybrids by checking out comparison charts and inputting your needs and driving habits at hybridcenter.org. My results showed that over five years, I would save $9,849 at the gas pump.
If you are like me and aren’t in the hybrid buying market yet, follow these tips from The Green Parent by Jenn Savedge (Kedzie Press LLC, 2008) to green your ride.
Next: 8 tips to green your ride
1. Plan ahead: A cold engine pollutes up to five times more than a warmed up one. Combine several short trips into one, saving energy, money and polluting less.
2. Lighten up: Are you carting around excess baggage–a stroller or bike that’s rarely used, that box of books you’ve been meaning to drop off at the library? While carrying a few extra light items isn’t harmful, carrying an extra 100 pounds decreases your fuel economy by one percent.
3. No American “Idles”: Newer cars don’t need to warm up like older models, so there’s no need to idle in your driveway anymore. Turn off your ignition anytime you are stopped or parked more than a few minutes. Use a reflective windshield shade in winter to help reduce frost in winter.
4. Cruise: At highway speeds, using cruise control can reduce your fuel consumption up to 7 percent.
5. Park it right: In the summer, park your car in the shade or use a reflective windshield shade to keep your car cool and reduce fuel evaporation. A garage can help keep your car cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
6. Maintenance: Regular maintenance, tune-ups, oil changes and checking of tire inflation extend the life of your car, reduce the incidence of break-downs, and improve gas mileage.
7. Change your oil: Changing your car’s oil and oil filter improves its fuel efficiency. If you do it yourself, be sure to recycle the oil properly and fill up your engine with clean recycled motor oil. Go to earth911.com to find a used motor oil drop-off location near you. If you go to a service station, make sure they do the same.
8. At the pump: Avoid “topping-off” your gas tank when filling up at the pump. Overfilling your tank by even a little bit can lead to pollution caused by gasoline spills. When possible, get fuel in cooler weather to minimize evaporation and prevent gas fumes form heating up and creating ozone. Also, seek out gas stations that use those accordion-looking plastic devices covering the gas nozzle known as pollution-reducing vapor-recovery nozzles.