Historically, the automotive industry hasn’t always been the cleanest — there have been arguments about car emissions since cars started to have emissions systems. In recent years, though, the industry has both implemented and embraced several eco-friendly changes. How is the auto industry shifting to become more eco-friendly?
Improved Fuel Efficiency
Until recently, it wasn’t uncommon to get single-digit gas mileage from large vehicles like trucks or vans — they’d have plenty of space for all your gear or your family, but you’d be refilling the tank frequently. Cars have also been notorious for their emissions — specifically, the carbon monoxide and other waste products that make their way through the vehicle’s exhaust systems.
Much of this was due to old engine technologies — overworked, inefficient engines burned fuel and created more waste. Newer cars are designed to burn fuel more efficiently, utilizing intake valves that help the car make the most of the fuel in its tank.
Hybrid and electric vehicles take that efficiency even further, either adding an electric motor to supplement the internal combustion engine or replacing the gasoline engine entirely.
Using Recycled Materials
Upwards of 2.7 million new cars are made every single year, while more than a million old ones make their way to the scrap yard. More and more car manufacturers are turning to recycled materials to build their new cars — steel, plastic, aluminum and even fabrics can be recycled and reworked into new cars. Worn-down tires can be melted down and reworked into new ones.
Electric car manufacturers are even working on the way to recycle the lithium batteries that power their electric motors. They haven’t managed it yet, but once they do, it will reduce both the number of spent batteries in landfills and the cost of new batteries.
Changes To Refrigerant
Your car’s AC system used to rely on Freon to keep the air cool — designated R-11, this chemical was used in cars until 1996, after which it was banned and replaced with R-134A. This second coolant was more eco-friendly, but still dangerous if released into the atmosphere. In spite of this, it was readily available at your neighborhood auto parts store, making it much simpler for backyard mechanics to maintain their car’s AC systems.
R-134A has since been phased out and replaced with HFO-1234yf, which is considered the most eco-friendly form of refrigerant — it’s still not safe to dump into the environment, but it poses less risk if it does happen to leak.
For the longest time, electric cars were considered unattainable — their battery packs were too heavy, and they required frequent charging, making them impossible for everyday use. Recently, though, that’s changed. Starting with Tesla, Elon Musk’s brainchild, electric cars have started to become so common there are supercharging stations in nearly every state, and more opening every year.
Tesla isn’t the only one making a foray into the electric car game — Hyundai, Volkswagen, BMW, Chevrolet, and Nissan are all releasing electric cars. Volvo recently announced plans to stop producing gas-only cars by 2019 — after that model year, all new Volvos will either be fully electric or electric hybrids. Even luxury sports car manufacturer Rimac has released a concept for a fully electric vehicle, but that one will set you back $1 million or more.
Low Rolling Resistance
Proper tire pressure is essential if you hope to get the best fuel economy out of your car, but did you know the rolling resistance of the tires themselves can affect your car’s efficiency? Tires with the lowest rolling resistance require less power to move them across the road’s surface. A Consumer Reports study found tires with low rolling resistance can improve fuel economy by nearly 6 percent — in some cars, that’s almost two miles more per gallon.
Newer cars also use tire pressure sensors to alert you when your tire pressure is too low. Losing just one psi in tire pressure can cost you 0.4 percent of your fuel economy. That adds up quickly when you let your tires get low.
Nowadays, driving a car doesn’t mean you necessarily have to contribute to pollution. The automotive industry is constantly changing and improving to reduce waste and environmental impact.