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Going Green

Going Green: Ways to Make a Difference With Your Vehicle Choices

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Looking to be more eco-friendly with your driving habits and next automobile purchase? Trying to decide if you might be ready for an electric vehicle or hybrid vehicle? AAA has tips to help reduce your carbon footprint and find a ride that’s right for you.

Electric engines, several hybrid options and even traditional internal combustion engines have become more efficient and emit fewer greenhouse gasses. Here’s some information on a variety of vehicle technology options.



2012 has been an exciting year for full-electric vehicles (EV), which do not use gasoline and rely solely on battery power. With the average cost for a kilowatt hour of electric energy at approximately 12 cents, to fully charge an EV with a 24KWh battery pack would cost around $2.88. That works out to between 3.0 cents and 4.4 cents per mile for fuel. With an EV, there is no need for oil changes, ignition system maintenance, fuel system service or exhaust pipe and muffler replacements. A stand-out in this category is the Nissan Leaf.

Fuel economy similar to that of electric vehicles can be realized in plug-in hybrid powertrains. These vehicles use a rechargeable battery pack that allows the car to travel up to 35 miles before the onboard gasoline engine starts. In some cars, this engine will provide power to the drive wheels. In others, the engine powers a generator that delivers power to the motor driving the vehicle, while also recharging the batteries. Unlike fully electric vehicles, a plug-in hybrid is limited only by the range of its gas tank. The Toyota Prius PHEV and 2013 Ford Fusion are great examples of plug-ins in the marketplace today.

Gasoline-electric hybrids like the Nissan Altima Hybrid and Honda Civic Hybrid use a gasoline engine and an electric motor. A full or parallel hybrid can run on either the gasoline or electric motor, or use both for maximum performance. A mild hybrid uses the electric motor to aid the gasoline engine, which must always be running when the car is moving. Full hybrids can travel on electric power alone. Hybrids never need to be plugged into a wall outlet or external charging station to keep the batteries at full power. The gasoline engine that powers the car also handles the task of recharging the batteries.

Vehicles running on compressed natural gas (CNG) marry efficiency with markedly reduced tailpipe emissions. While many gasoline-powered vehicles have been converted to run on compressed natural gas, which is relatively abundant and produced in the United States, the Honda Civic GX is the only sedan that comes from the factory with this ability. CNG vehicles use a standard piston engine.

Diesels are not often thought of as being green, but the latest generation of diesel vehicles produce fewer tailpipe emissions and significantly reduce carbon dioxide output. Today’s diesels are so clean they meet environmental standards in all states, including the more stringent California emissions rules. Among diesel powered cars, the Audi A3 is a standout.

Manufacturers are updating or planning to update their current models to be environmentally friendly. Ford has launched its EcoBoost engines, which use turbocharging technology, making it possible to use smaller, more fuel-efficient engines that can provide the levels of acceleration needed for safe merging and passing. The Chevrolet Cruze and new Dodge Dart will also offer turbocharged four-cylinder engines in place of larger and less economical engines.

For motorists not in the market for a new car, but who want to decrease their carbon footprint, AAA suggests the following simple changes to lessen the impact of transportation on the environment:

  • Slow down. Decreasing vehicle speed by 10 mph can significantly increase fuel efficiency and decrease the associated carbon dioxide output.
  • Drive at a steady pace and anticipate traffic patterns. Accelerating rapidly then having to brake wastes fuel and causes brakes to wear more quickly.
  • Plan your route in advance. Consolidate trips whenever possible and plan to travel during lighter traffic times.
  • Remove unneeded items from the trunk and avoid using the roof rack. Added weight and air resistance causes more fuel to burn.
  • If your car has an “ECO” setting, use it. It will smooth out your gas pedal inputs, optimize transmission shift points and decrease air conditioners’ impact on the engine.

2013 Your Driving Costs

How much are you really paying to drive? Download »

2013 AAA's Gas Watcher's Guide

Tips for conserving fuel, saving money and protecting the environment. Download »

2012 Your Driving Costs

How Much Are You Really Paying to Drive? Download »

2012 AAA's Gas Watcher's Guide

Tips for conserving fuel, saving money and protecting the environment. Download »