smart ways to reduce your vehicle’s carbon footprint

  • Investing in an all-electric (EV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV), or low-emission vehicle can reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Changing your driving habits can improve your car’s fuel efficiency.
  • There may be financial perks to driving a “greener” vehicle.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, vehicles account for 27% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S., making them the single largest contributor to global warming pollutants in America. Here are the smartest ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your vehicle. 

Drive an Eco-friendly Vehicle

In 2021, dealers sold 608,000 electric vehicles, both all-electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models. These numbers represent a 138% increase in PHEVs and an 85% increase in EVs from 2020. 

Meanwhile, the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule requires automakers to improve the fuel efficiency of new models by 1.5% per year between 2021 and 2026. Even without this mandate, fuel efficiency in new cars has been improving steadily since 2004. These changes make it easier than ever to get a car that will reduce your carbon output. 

Invest in a Carbon-friendly Vehicle

If you want to purchase a new vehicle, you can consider available state and federal tax credits, which could bring an EV or PHEV into your price range. A new EV or PHEV boasts the best fuel economy and lowest emissions, so it could pay to check auto loan rates. You may be able to get favorable terms and manageable monthly payments. 

Used Vehicle Considerations

If you opt for a used car, you can get something that offers good gas mileage. If you find a reliable model, you can consider a used car warranty, which can help protect the vehicle for a year or more.

If you’re considering a used electric car, remember that most of these vehicles offer battery warranties that last for eight to 10 years or 100,000 to 150,000 miles. If you can find a model that offers you time before you reach these thresholds, a pre-owned electric auto could be a great option. You might also want to check the price of alternative-fuel used cars, like those that run on biodiesel, ethanol, or power cells. 

Change Your Driving Habits

Perhaps a new vehicle is too large of an investment. Instead of opting for a more efficient set of wheels, you can improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions by changing your driving habits and taking better care of your car. For many people, these may be realistic, achievable first steps toward reducing vehicle carbon emissions.

Drive Smarter

You can reduce the amount of fuel you burn (and the emissions that creates) by changing the way you drive.

  • Cruising at the posted speed limit uses less gas than driving faster. 
  • Limit stop-and-go driving, either by planning your routes or anticipating traffic lights.  
  • Gradual acceleration requires less fuel than slamming the gas pedal down and starting quickly.

Don’t Idle

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, idling engines release one pound of carbon every 10 minutes. Depending on the size of your car, you can burn one gallon of fuel for every one to five hours of idling. 

Even in winter, you can avoid idling by driving your car to warm it up. As long as you do not rev the engine, this is a safe and effective option for getting your car up to temperature without idling.

Drive Less

Driving less may not be an option for some daily commuters, but there are ways to lower your time on the road. You can plan errands so that you complete them all on one trip instead of making multiple journeys to the store or post office. Also, you can opt for public transportation for some of your commutes or trips.

If you drive less, you can also save money. In addition to using less fuel, some of the best insurance policies have lower premiums for customers who do not use their cars often. 

Regular Maintenance

Maintenance can have a significant impact on your car’s performance, longevity, and fuel economy. According to the Department of Energy, an engine tuneup can lead to fuel economy improvements of 4% on average. However, significant issues, like a malfunctioning oxygen sensor, can increase miles-per-gallon figures by up to 40%. 

If you want to be certain that your vehicle is operating as efficiently as possible, stick to the maintenance schedule recommended by the manufacturer. Regular maintenance tasks that can have a positive effect on gas use and emissions include:

  • Ensuring proper tire inflation
  • Changing air filters
  • Adding the right variety of oil

Financial Perks of Driving an Eco-friendly Vehicle

Driving green can also help you save money. You won’t have to buy as much gas with fuel-efficient internal combustion and hybrid cars. According to Consumer Reports, electric cars are 60% cheaper to power than gas vehicles. However, there are also government incentives, tax breaks, and insurance discounts that can further lower the cost of car ownership if you opt for an eco-friendly vehicle. 

State Incentives

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 45 U.S. states offer EV and hybrid vehicle incentives. These range from reduced registration fees to tax credits and refunds. 

In addition to tax credits for new vehicle purchases similar to the federal program, some states offer rebates or tax credits for electric vehicle home charging station installation. The NCSL offers state-by-state summaries of all EV, PHEV, and charging incentives.

U.S. Tax Breaks

All PHEVs and EVs are eligible for a federal tax credit. According to the IRS, the EV tax credit is between $2,500 and $7,500. The credit starts at $2,500 for any vehicle that has a 5 kWh battery. You can get $417 added to that amount for every additional kWh. The EPA operates a site with information on the exact amount of the credit for each eligible vehicle. Keep in mind that this is a tax credit, so you will not get a check in the mail. Instead, the amount will be added to your tax refund or subtracted from the amount you owe the IRS. 

Car Insurance Benefits

Electric cars generally cost more to insure than their gas-powered counterparts. This is because there are fewer technicians to repair them and the cost of components is generally more expensive than traditional vehicles. 

However, the Insurance Information Institute highlights several ways that insurers are offering discounts to owners with greener cars. Some companies offer discounts for hybrid vehicles, while others may reduce the premiums for autos that use alternative fuels like biodiesel, ethanol, or natural gas. 

There are also pay-by-mile programs for people who drive their vehicles less often. These policies require you to have a tracking device on your car that measures the distance traveled. You then only have to pay for coverage based on miles traveled.

These incentives can make a green car a good choice for both the environment and your wallet.

Choose a green vehicle and adopt improved driving and auto maintenance habits, and you can lower your contribution to America’s greenhouse gas problem.


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