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Buying a Greener Car


Though today�s cars leave much to be desired in terms of how environmentally friendly they are, there are still things we can keep in mind when purchasing our next vehicle.

Though today’s cars leave much to be desired in terms of how environmentally friendly they are, there are still things we can keep in mind when purchasing our next vehicle.

Downgrading to a Smaller Size Vehicle

Could a station wagon replace your SUV? If you need three rows of seats, a minivan, may give you a lot better fuel economy and much better access to the third row of seats than an SUV. Trucks and SUVs pollute more than passenger cars, which are relegated to a higher standard of safety, pollution control, and fuel economy. Front engine, front-wheel drive offers the best fuel economy and tends to pollute less. Four-wheel drive or all-wheel-drive eats up about one to two miles per gallon, even if it's disengaged.

The Environmental Protection Agency states that 20lbs of carbon dioxide comes out of the tailpipe for every gallon of gasoline burned. A lighter vehicle uses less petroleum in being manufactured and during its lifespan. (Your safest and most economical weight is about 2,500 to 3,000 lbs.) Over the next decade cars will become lighter as we expect automakers to improve fuel economy by using aluminum and plastics, which are great for recycling, and carbon fiber.

Considering an Electric Car

In the new economy, there is a substantial government financial stimulus dedicated to electric cars and batteries. There are even special benefits for electric cars that will sell below $49,400. General Motors has already built the EV1 electric car and Ford also already sells the electric Ranger pickup. Both have met all government safety standards and ran great at highway speed.

The Natural Gas Option

For years Honda has been selling a natural gas powered Civic, which seems to be the cleanest burning production engine selling. Though the Civic GX is not a hybrid and doesn't get the highest mileage, it does have some other advantages. There is a refueling station you can buy that sets up in your own garage using the natural gas from your home. This means no more going to filling stations except if you're going on a long trip! Also, there is no highway tax on the GX fuel.

Hybrids Abound

Hybrids help us stretch our petroleum resources. Today's hybrids have gasoline engines that power the car batteries which then power an electric motor. (The hybrids of the future will be electric to electric, in other words, a fuel cell powering batteries powering an electric motor.) Gasoline electric hybrids are outstanding petroleum helpers offering forty miles per gallon in around town driving for a family sedan.

Hybrids are available from Honda, Ford, Toyota, BMW, Lexus, General Motors and Chrysler. Each automaker explains on their website how each one of their systems drives and feels.

Considering Diesel

Automakers producing hybrids usually give them cleaner engines than comparable non-hybrid models. If a hybrid is not right or inconvenient for you, your next best clean-air choice is probably a four-cylinder gasoline engine. Diesel engines are dirty by nature, but over the last year substantially cleaner diesel fuel has become available nationwide. All passenger car diesel engines have been recently redesigned to take advantage of the improved fuel. Some diesel engines now appear to pollute near on par with gasoline engines and return 15% or more fuel economy.

Direct Injection, Variable Timing & Turbo Charging

When buying an internal combustion engine you should look for certain features that indicate high-efficiency. Direct injection is new to gasoline automobiles. It puts the fuel directly into the combustion chamber. Direct injection produces quicker, more thorough fuel burning and thus uses less fuel.

Variable valve timing has also become popular over the last few years. It's a better way to control how an engine breathes. The variable valve timing also encourages a more thorough burning of the fuel, no matter what the RPM. This is particularly helpful in low RPM situations driving around town. If you drove two identical cars, one with variable valve timing, and one without, you'd notice the difference within a minute of driving.

Turbo charging and supercharging are ways of pressurizing the air going into the combustion chamber. Turbo, or supercharging, is found on the more exciting cars to drive. They change the complete character of the driveline. You usually notice the difference during your first acceleration.

Transmission Choice

Automatic transmissions now offer the best all-around fuel economy. There are many different types of automatic transmissions. The highest mileage hybrids all seem to agree by offering only a Constantly Variable Transmission. CVT's are notoriously smooth because they have no gears and allow the engine to work in its’ most efficient RPM range.

Manual transmission is still available on many high mileage cars, but as a rule, you'll notice the automatic transmission gets better fuel economy. An automatic transmission will shift up every chance it gets to the highest gear so that the engine turns the slowest. Most drivers would not put their manual transmission in fourth or fifth gear driving around town. Most drivers with automatic will automatically go to fourth or fifth gear or higher whenever possible. It would be difficult for an individual to remain as vigilant as the robotics in the transmission.

Think Green Interiors

Interior and exterior car options can have an effect on fuel efficiency as well. On sunny days a dark car will have greater interior heat build-up than a white car, making the automatic air conditioner cycle more wasting fuel. Optional deep tint glass saves gas and helps preserve the interior.

When you turn on cruise control you’re saving one to two miles per gallon, which is standard on most cars. A trip computer, when set to the instant fuel economy screen, offers feedback on how or when to adjust your foot on the accelerator pedal for better fuel economy.

Do Your Green Work

Visit these sites for some more green car purchasing tips. - learn which vehicles earned the coveted green leaf - compare vehicle reliability and safety

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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