Let’s face it: If you drive a gasoline-powered car or truck, you’re not doing the environment any favors. Even as auto manufacturers design modern engines to run cleaner and with greater fuel efficiency, more cars on the road still means more pollution. However, the good news is there are still plenty of ways to reduce your carbon footprint behind the wheel. To tread further upon this topic, we spoke to Larry Moore of Larry’s AutoWorks, who gave five tips for being a more eco-conscious vehicle owner.
1. Choose recycled fluids. One way to lower your vehicle’s environmental impact is by using recycled fluids for oil changes and similar engine maintenance. Re-refined oil, for example, is previously used oil that has undergone a refining process, so when you choose this product for your oil change, no fresh oil needs to come out of the ground. For those who balk at the idea of putting a used product into their engines, Mr. Moore sets the record straight: “Actually, re-refined oil is superior to new oil. Every time you refine oil, you improve it—that’s what the refining process is all about. It’s actually so good that it’s rated as a semi-synthetic product.”
Another recycled fluid to consider using is reprocessed coolant, which is used coolant that has been cleaned, infused with additives and balanced for proper pH level. “Most cars use the same basic coolant, in which case a reprocessed product will work great,” says Mr. Moore.
While recycled oil and coolant products will work for most cars, if yours has certain manufacturer specifications (such as synthetic oil), these may not be the right choice. Your auto repair technician will be able to provide guidance in this regard.
2. Ask for copper-free brakes. Since replacing asbestos in the early 1990s as a primary component in brake pad lining, copper has since been found to have its own negative effect on the environment. “Copper in brake pads has been linked to high levels of toxicity in aquatic life,” explains Mr. Moore. “Every time a car brakes, minute amounts of copper material come off the pads and onto the road, which eventually end up in the bay after it rains. As it dissolves, plankton and other sea animals get this copper in their systems and pass it on to the bigger animals that feed on them. At one point, there were parts of the San Francisco Bay where you couldn’t eat the fish because they had such a high copper content.”
While California legislators moved to ban copper brakes in 2010, the phase-out has been gradual, with the aim to eliminate copper content by the year 2025. However, vehicle owners can get ahead of the game by choosing copper-free brakes now. “Since this legislation passed, we’ve been seeing more copper-free brakes on the market,” says Mr. Moore. “However, there are still a lot of brakes that aren’t, so vehicle owners need to specifically ask for copper-free.”
3. Stop changing your oil every 3,000 miles. Many drivers still have their oil changed every 3,000 miles, but according to Mr. Moore, this indicates a fundamental misunderstanding. “The oil itself is not the problem—regular oil can go 7,500 miles or more and continue to do its job,” he asserts. “The problems start when oil gets dirty, which occurs when sludge and particulate matter isn’t being properly filtered out. That’s why it’s important to have a high-quality oil filter. If you install a cheap filter, the oil will get dirty a lot faster than if you install a high-quality one.”
Provided a quality filter is used, Mr. Moore recommends an oil change interval of 6,000 miles for vehicles that use non-synthetic oil. For cars that use synthetic oil, he recommends the same but with one caveat: only change the filter. “With today’s synthetic products, high-end manufacturers like BMW are recommending oil change intervals of 12,000 to 15,000 miles,” he explains. “There’s no question the oil can go this far, but again, the filter is the issue. As sludge builds up over time, it can cause engine problems, particularly with the valve train. Changing the oil filter at 6,000-mile intervals keeps the oil clean and free of sludge, which improves performance and keeps the car healthy.”
4. Promptly repair oil leaks. According to Mr. Moore, another thing eco-conscious vehicle owners need to be aware of is the impact of seemingly minor issues such as oil leaks. “An oil leak can damage your engine and deplete your oil reservoir, but beyond that, it’s an environmental hazard,” he says. “When it rains, oil that leaks onto the ground gets washed into the bay, which causes pollution. Even a small amount of oil can go a long way toward contaminating water, so if you notice oil leaking from your vehicle, don’t procrastinate—have it repaired right away.”
5. Take your car to an eco-friendly shop. As an eco-conscious vehicle owner, it only makes sense to use an auto repair shop that shares your convictions. One hallmark of an eco-conscious shop is its commitment to responsible waste disposal and recycling. “We recycle all of our cardboard and packing materials, as well as oil containers,” says Mr. Moore. “A lot of shops just throw plastic oil bottles in the trash, but we have a special fixture that drains them so they can be recycled. Little steps like that can make a big impact when you add them all up.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that products like re-refined oil and reprocessed coolant can only be purchased at shops that offer them. “Re-refined oil is primarily used by fleets because they consume such large quantities,” says Mr. Moore. “Unfortunately, since it has to be purchased in bulk, the only way consumers can get it is through an auto shop that provides it. There aren’t many shops that do, but if more people start asking for it, it will become more widely available.”
To find a Diamond Certified auto repair shop near you, visit www.diamondcertified.org.