With green issues hitting the headlines, vast swathes of the country resembling Venice and congestion charges threatening to spread to every major city, you might be forgiven for thinking that your days of motoring will be numbered and laden with guilt. Don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to reduce your carbon footprint without surrendering your right to personal transport. Chances are it’ll help your wallet as well as the planet.
For years the choice was simple – petrol or diesel. These days however, the choice is broader and more confusing. Depending on where you live, there may be as many as seven different pumps to choose from the question is which ones are going to help you do your bit to save the planet?
The first of the ‘green’ fuels to appear on our shores, LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) is by far the cheapest available at roughly 50% less than unleaded. It’s a comparatively clean fuel, producing around 20% less CO2 than petrol although fuel consumption is increased. The biggest drawback from an eco viewpoint is that it’s derived from a non-renewable source so isn’t really a long-term answer.
• Bio fuel
Whilst the manufacturers might have pulled the plug on LPG, bio-fuelled models are now appearing on their price lists. Most bio-fuelled cars run on E85, which means that it consists of 85% bioethanol to 15% petrol. Growing the crops to produce the fuel ostensibly helps to lower CO2 levels as it’s absorbed during photosynthesis although this remains debatable when the intense farming methods required are taken into account. It’s currently an expensive fuel to produce so despite substantial tax breaks it remains a similar price to petrol.
The holy grail of fuels. It has the potential to be both fully sustainable and emissions free and is not some flight of fancy – BMW has a fleet of 7-series’ running on the stuff. The main hold-ups in bringing it to market are how to store such a volatile substance, overcoming the difficulties involved in ‘splitting’ hydrogen from water and distributing it thereafter. Expect commercial viability within the next 10 years.
Don’t discount petrol and diesel though because recent technological advances mean that they can be as clean as a whistle and take the teeniest sips of fuel.
The right fuel’s useless if you’re putting it in the wrong car. Here’s a guide to what you should be filling up.
• Toyota Prius
In urban situations hybrids such as Toyota’s Prius are able to run on their (petrol-charged) batteries for a limited time, effectively eliminating emissions. If you live in a built-up, traffic choked area then it may make sense – Ken Livingstone certainly seems to think so – but out of town, the extra weight of the batteries may effectively cancel out their worth.
• Mini Cooper D
Unlike the Prius, the diesel-powered Mini doesn’t wear its environmental credentials on its sleeve. Rather than a headline-grabbing propulsion system, it makes small gains in a number of areas such as regenerative braking and automatically stopping and starting the engine in traffic to create what’s being a dubbed a ‘mild hybrid’. It’s also designed, manufactured and built in England, eliminating polluting shipping. Just goes to show that green can be cool.
• Mitsubishi I
Going back to basics by reducing weight and size, the ‘I’ squeeze four people into an unfeasibly titchy and Tamagotchi-cute package whilst keeping its environmental impact just as tiny. The car that Smart never built.
• Sinclair C5
It’s a low slung, hybrid single-seater that’ll turn more heads than any supercar. Ok so you’ll get drenched if it rains and get a face full of truck fumes in traffic but it’s kind of cool in an ‘80s retro way.
And finally some tips to help with consumption....
It’s something that tends to be forgotten, but how you drive has as much to do with fuel consumption and exhaust emissions that what you drive. It’s all obvious stuff but it’s worth going over the basics.
• Don’t floor it away from traffic lights – hard acceleration will ruin your fuel economy and you’ll look like a chav. Ignore this advice if you’re in a Lamborghini – you’ll never resist.
• You might not realise it but heavy braking can actually increase fuel consumption. The key is smooth driving.
• Keep your car in tip-top shape by ensuring that the tyres are properly inflated and you remove roof racks when you’re not using them. Turing off your air conditioning will help too.
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