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April 23, 2008

Green Tips for Your Summer Road Trip

Brook with her Nissan GT-R
Wilkinson in California with a
pre-production Nissan GT-R

by Brook Wilkinson

Do you really love a good road trip but feel overwhelmed by green guilt? Stop worrying and get in the car. That's right, I said it: Go ahead and drive. Why? Driving to a nearby domestic destination is far more ecological than flying across the ocean (not to mention you'll be better off spending dollars than euros).

I was thrilled to learn this tidbit in You Can Prevent Global Warming (and Save Money!), which was updated and reissued yesterday, in honor of Earth Day. Co-authors Jeffrey Langholz and Kelly Turner write, "You'll emit less carbon dioxide [driving] than you would by flying, no matter how long or short your flight is."

Now that you can start planning that summer road trip, read on for a few more tips that will help lower your gas budget, courtesy of Langholz and Turner.


Slow and steady wins the race. You'll lower your car's fuel consumption 15 percent just by driving 55 mph instead of 65. The whole point of the trip is to see the scenery anyway, right? Go easy on the brakes, too (safely, of course). Every time you brake, you use more gas to get back up to speed, so stay a good distance back from the car ahead of you and brake gently if you start to see traffic ahead. (For these reasons, cruise control is very efficient too.)

Don't idle.
If you're stopping for more than 20 seconds, turn off the car. That'll use less gas than idling.

Drive under pressure. Keep your tires properly inflated--you'll find the optimum range listed on your doorjamb, in the glovebox, or by the gas cap. Check your tires at least once a month, while you're filling up. This can reduce your gas consumption by 6 percent.

A/C or fresh air? It depends. If you're driving around town under 40 mph, put down the windows to cool off the car. At highway speeds, however, this will reduce the vehicle's aerodynamics, so use the air conditioner.


Having long been an "involved driver" who foreswore the use of cruise control as a crutch for idiots who couldn't bother to use the gas pedal, I was stunned to find how fuel-efficient cruise control is, in a few informal tests that I ran myself. Even over a 50-mile stretch--cruise control one way, goofy foot the other--the difference in the mpg readout on our Audi's trip computer was a substantial two or three mpg.

Oh, and let me add to the above advice that the tire-pressure recommendations you'll find listed on your car's gas-cap door (or wherever) are a major compromise between efficiency and comfort. If you don't care about balloon-y comfort and want the ultimate efficiency, inflate your tires to whatever you choose up to the maximum listed on the tire sidewall, which could be 40 or 50 psi. It's why Tour de France bike racers ride on tires inflated to as much as 200 psi: the harder the tire, the more efficient the vehicle.

Also, as for braking, the rule for efficiency is do _not_ brake. Doesn't matter if you're braking gently or hard, you're still "spending"--i.e. burning off, literally--speed that you have burned gasoline to achieve. Look ahead: did that light a quarter-mile up the road just go yellow? Back off the gas; don't stay on the throttle until you're 50 feet behind the stopped cars and then brake. If you do, you've done the equivalent of spilling perhaps a quarter-pint of gasoline onto the road out your window.

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The editors at Conde Nast Traveler answer questions and share travel secrets, tips, and dispatches

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