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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Green(er) Machine logo

Buy small quantities of these automotive products. When possible, use biodegradable, low-phosphorus products packaged in recyclable containers. Share what you don't use with neighbors, community groups or school auto classes. don't dump leftovers down the drain, on the ground or in a storm sewer. If you must throw these items in the trash, contact your local fire department, county government, or the Wisconsin DNR for safe hazardous materials handling and disposal procedures.

The Green(er) Machine

Here in the northern climes, winter presides over an annual conflict between slippery roads, driver safety and environmental degradation. Road salt pollutes surface and groundwater, kills trees and grass, corrodes auto bodies and metal bridges, rots underground cables and causes pavement to disintegrate. But road salt also makes car travel possible from October to March.

An insurmountable dilemma? Not quite. Use sand on your own driveway, if you need it after shoveling, and encourage your city and county highway departments to use less salt. The war against sodium chloride is not a stale one: the Wisconsin Department of Transportation regularly tests new deicing compounds, and hurries to apply treatments to highways before storms so that snow has less chance of bonding to the road in the first place. These efforts all reduce the amount of salt dumped on Wisconsin highways. The search continues for a safe, inexpensive, environmentally friendly deicing compound to replace salt.

Until then, wash your car in winter to remove encrusted salt and prevent corrosion. Better yet, hire a sled-dog team and keep the coupe in the garage until April Fool's Day.

Old cars never die; they just rust away. So follow a regular maintenance schedule to keep your heap off the scrap heap. Ask for rebuilt or used parts when the time comes for repairs. And when you're buying a new car, why not write the automakers to demand that the auto industry use more recycled and recyclable materials in new car construction? The average 3,080-pound car contains about 2,310 pounds of recyclable metals (aluminum, iron and steel, copper, zinc, etc.), and 770 pounds of plastic, very little of which can be recycled. When it's time to park the car for good, take it to a salvage yard that reuses and recycles as much of the entire vehicle as possible, rather than just plucking off the major parts and grinding up the rest. Think of it as an auto "organ donation" program.

For short hops, try walking or biking. (See "BICYCLES," "FEET") If you must drive, combine errands into one trip. This reduces your total miles traveled and the fuel consumed.

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Inflation. It's a dirty word to economists, a necessity to green motorists. Americans waste two million gallons of gas each day because our car tires are underinflated. Gas mileage drops about one percent for every pound of tire pressure below the recommended level.

The solution: Regular check-ups. Keep a hand gauge in the glove box and check tire pressure twice a month when the tires are cold. Add air if necessary. (Look in the owner's manual for the proper psi, or pounds of air per square inch.) Check the pressure more frequently in winter – for every 10-degree drop in temperature, tire pressure decreases by one pound.

Besides increasing fuel economy and safety, properly inflated tires last longer, so there are fewer to add to the waste stream. If you rotate your tires as advised in your owner's manual, you can keep them even longer. Maintaining proper wheel alignment and chassis repair according to your owner's manual will also increase the life of your tires. And while you're at it, buy low rolling resistance radial tires – they'll give you better mileage. When it's time to buy new tires, make sure the dealer will recycle your old ones!

No ifs, anvils, or buttresses: You get four percent less gas mileage for every 100 pounds of excess weight carried in your car. Clean out that trunk today.

Illustration © Rich Malone

A car in tune consumes 20 percent less fuel and spews less heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Tune-up as recommended by your owner's manual to keep your machine green. And always respond promptly to your "service engine soon" light. These key emission control parts should be inspected during a tune-up:

  • Charcoal canister: absorbs gasoline fumes from fuel system and routes them into the engine.

  • Positive crankcase ventilation valve: The PCV system recycles gases into the engine for combustion.

  • Exhaust gas recirculation: The EGR system cuts down on the formation of nitrogen oxides, which sunlight transforms into smog.

  • Fuel injectors: Deliver the right amount of fuel to the cylinders.

  • Catalytic converter: Turns carbon monoxide and unburned gas into carbon dioxide and water. Newer converters also break down nitrogen oxides.

Other items to check during a tune-up: Dirty air filters cause the air/fuel ratio to be too rich. Clogged fuel injectors produce a mix too lean or too rich, which hurts your engine, your fuel economy and the atmosphere. Worn spark plugs misfire, causing fuel to pass through the exhaust system unburned. A thermostat that lets the engine run too cool or too hot wastes gas. Change or adjust these parts according to the schedule in your owner's manual to keep emissions down.

Avoid using quick-start aerosol sprays to start your car – many contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are released into the air the moment you press down on the nozzle. Keep the engine tuned up and use a block heater to guarantee winter starts. If you keep the gas tank full, you won't need to pour in fuel additives to dry up the water that condenses in a half-empty tank. Instead of using petroleum-based solvents to loosen frozen locks, try an electric hair dryer.

For more information about making your car a Greener Machine, visit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

To order printed copies of the Green(er) Machine, send an email message to Elisabeth Olson requesting publication number CE-053-00. Include your name, address and number of copies desired.

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Produced by: DNR Bureau of Communication and Education
Written by: Maureen Mecozzi
Illustrations by: Rich Malone
Revised by: Mittsy Voiles with contributions from Lance Green, Jerry Medinger, Eric Mosher, and Josie Pradella of the Wisconsin DNR; and Brian Buckta of Braun R&D.
Reviewed by: Anne Bogar, Sara Burr, Eva Larson, Maureen Mecozzi, Kelly Mella, Al Stenstrup, Greg Swanson and Anne Urbanski of the Wisconsin DNR; David Biegel, Peter Jensen, and Don Schinker of Madison Area Technical College; and Mike Shucha of Waunakee High School.