The Green Adventure

Monday, July 24, 2006

Driving Green Saves Lots of $$$ (Green!)

Since 1960 the percentage of dispensable personal income that has been spent on driving has remained fairly consistent (between 10 and 12%) despite the dramatic technological advances in the industry that could allow us to drive further on less fuel (read: cheaper!) (
Transportation accounts for 66% of our total refined petroleum demand in the US. And we are demanding A LOT of petroleum to power our lifestyles. In 1960, Americans drove 587,000,000,000 miles; in 2004, we drove 1,715,030,000,000 miles! That is almost 3 times as many miles per year! To drive all of those miles in 1960 required 41,171,000,000 gallons of fuel; in 2004 we needed 76,208,000,000 gallons (almost twice as much fuel required!)

To make these giant numbers useful to you and me, let’s take a look at the average number of miles per year that cars drove in 1960. That number was 9500 on 14.3mpg average fuel efficiency. Today we’re driving over 13,000 miles per year with an average car averaging just over 22 mpg. Imagine if we were all driving cars with 50-60mpg fuel efficiency (such as a Honda Civic Hybrid or a Toyota Prius), then each of us would need about 236 gallons of gas each year to drive our 13,000 miles. At today’s gas prices, about $3.00 per gallon, that would cost us about $700 per year. But, because of the cars that we’re choosing to drive instead, we’re paying an average of almost $1700 per year for fuel. If you have a long commute or drive a car that gets less than 22 mpg fuel efficiency your costs are even higher. So, by buying a hybrid car, each of us would save an average of $1000 per year in fuel costs!

Even more importantly, if each car used only 236 gallons of gas each year versus the over 550 gallons that we’re currently using we would need to import much less oil. In 1960, transportation related petroleum use accounted for 64% of our domestic petroleum production. Currently that number is over 184%. That means that we use a lot more oil than we produce in the US for our transportation needs alone (that doesn’t account for our home, business or other power needs.) In 1960, we imported a million barrels of crude oil per year; currently we import 10 million barrels of crude and 3 million barrels of other petroleum products. That’s more than 10 times the number imported in 1960. But, that is just not necessary with today’s technology. If starting today everyone were to drive a car that gets 55mpg avg fuel efficiency (even if we still drive 13,000 miles each per year and have as many cars on the road as we do today), then we will actually be consuming over 2/3 fewer gallons of fuel than we did in 1960 (driving 9500 miles per year.) So, we would need even less oil today than we needed in 1960 to meet our increased driving mileage needs. Instead, we are reaching the point where the US is running out of oil. We produced over 7 million barrels per year in 1960 and produced only 5.42 million gallons in 2004. Worldwide, we are now using over 4 times as much oil per year than we did in 1960. We must find another way to power our future because even without the threat of global warming (which is very, very serious) the Earth is simply running out of oil.

So, the bottom line is that if you’re going to buy a new car this year… consider the fuel efficiency! (Check the ratings at,, and As a planet, we MUST get this number up! For the past 6 years, the average fuel efficiency for passenger cars in the US has stayed virtually the same. That is just not acceptable. We have the technology to change that now! (I highly recommend against buying an SUV in all but a few cases… see for reasons why.)

OK, so now you’re saying, “I’m just not able to buy a new car this year, so…”

What can I do with my current car?

Keep tires adequately inflated (check monthly)
Savings: 250 lbs of carbon, $840 per year (

Check air filter monthly
Savings: 800 lbs of carbon, $130 per year (

Carpool when possible
Savings: approximately 790 lbs of carbon, and hundreds of dollars per year (

Consider public transportation, biking or even walking when possible. Join Cheryl in Houston in her strong support of functional bike trails in that city!

If you own 2 cars, drive the one that gets better mileage on weekends/ longer trips.

Have only 1 car per family.

Drive fewer miles.

Change oil regularly.

Take some of the junk out of your trunk (every 100 lbs costs an extra mile per gallon.) (

Drive the speed limit. Each 5 miles above 60 costs an additional 10 cents per gallon (think about that the next time you look at the cost of filling your tank.) (

Drive nicely. Aggressive driving can lower your gas mileage by 33% at highway speeds. (

Only use the AC when it’s REALLY HOT! (IMHO summer in Texas counts as really hot!) Operating your car’s air conditioner can increase fuel consumption 20% in city driving. ( However, it may actually be more fuel efficient for highway driving due to the increased drag on your vehicle (sorry, I don’t have a source on that one… let me know if you see one somewhere.)

Now the ball is in your court… tell me what you’re doing about your driving carbon footprint. I want to hear how it’s shrinking and how much money you’re saving!!

Stay tuned for our greener driving adventures…


  • Happy blogging, Jessica!

    I meant to e-mail you on an e-mail list we share, but got busy and forgot.

    I wanted to add a plug for reel lawn mowers. Here's some discussion and links on a local blog:

    Googling shows lots of pollution rates for lawn mowers - apparently, regulations are pretty lax for them and 1 hr. of mowing equals something like 5-10 hours of driving.

    By Blogger Sandy, at 9:33 PM  

  • Drive fewer miles! Never occurred to me. Thanks, Jess!

    By Blogger taurus, at 11:27 AM  

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