How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint from Driving

Climate change is no longer something that will affect us in the future. It’s something we’re seeing affect us today in real-time with wild and unpredictable weather patterns, rising sea levels, and melting ice caps. It can be overwhelming to think about. Unfortunately, one of the most common ways individuals add to the problem is by driving. In fact, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, the transportation sector has the highest share of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) at 29%. On top of that, the EPA states that a passenger vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. If you want to take action against car pollution and move the needle forward, here’s how to reduce your carbon footprint from your car.

How to Reduce Carbon Footprint From Your Car | Metromile

Reduce how much you drive 

The most simple solution to reducing car pollution is to drive less. Easier said than done in some cases, especially depending on where you live, but here are some things to consider for each trip:

EPA data states that, on average, passenger cars emit 404 grams of CO2 per mile. If driving less seems complicated, see if you can commit to one day a week. Not driving for one day and opting for biking or walking can cut your emissions, according to transport study data published in Science Daily. According to the data, doing this can reduce your carbon footprint by .5 tons of CO2 emissions a year. 

Drive efficiently 

How much you drive is an important factor when it comes to car pollution. But if you’re looking for more air pollution solutions, looking at how you drive — and not just how much — is also important. 

Going too fast and hitting the brakes can be dangerous, but it’s also inefficient and can waste gas and harm the environment. 

According to FuelEconomy.gov, “Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by roughly 15% to 30% at highway speeds, and 10% to 40% in stop-and-go traffic.” 

So if you want to learn how to reduce your carbon footprint, drive at the regular speed, brake on time, and ease into accelerating. 

Be a more mindful driver 

Sometimes a little mindfulness can go a long way when it comes to reducing car pollution. That means becoming a smart driver and being more mindful of your trips and how it impacts the environment. 

For example, if you don’t have to drive during rush hour, wait a bit longer. Sitting in traffic can hurt your gas mileage. 

Also, think about your trips and errands. Can you batch errands and make less frequent trips? Additionally, remove any excess weight that is weighing your car down. According to FuelEconomy.gov, “An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your MPG by about 1%.”

Keep your car in good shape 

Just like it’s essential to keep your physical health in good shape, you want to keep your car in good condition as well. That means performing regular car maintenance like oil changes, changing your air and oil filters, and more. According to FuelEconomy.gov:

  • Fixing an oxygen sensor can improve mileage by up to 40%
  • Having proper tire pressure can improve gas mileage between 0.6% up to 3%
  • Using the recommended manufacturer’s motor oil, you can improve gas mileage 1% to 2%

Maintaining your car has an impact on your gas mileage, which is measured by the term miles per gallon (MPG). According to data from the EPA, the tailpipe CO2 emissions from burning one gas gallon is 8,887 grams CO2. Keeping your car running well may improve your MPG and be a way to reduce your carbon footprint. 

Swap your car for a greener option 

If your current car is a gas guzzler and doesn’t get great mileage and you want to reduce your carbon footprint, consider swapping it out for something that’s more environmentally friendly. 

You can choose from:

Source/credit: FuelEconomy.gov

As you can see from the chart above, the higher the MPG, the lower the amount of greenhouse gases. The converse is also true, with lower MPG leading to higher amounts of greenhouse gases. 

An electric vehicle will have no tailpipe emissions, but the car may create other emissions depending on how the electricity is powered as well as in the manufacturing phase. 

Source/credit: afdc.energy.gov

Using this tool from the Alternative Fuels Data Center from the Department of Energy, you can see common electricity sources as well as emissions by type of vehicle. As you can see, all electric still wins out. 

If you’re unsure of what type of vehicle to look for and want more information, check out this Green Vehicle Guide by the EPA. 

Avoid idling 

You might think you need to “warm-up” the car in the morning or feel like you’ll just keep the car running for a bit while you make a quick stop or wait for someone. But it’s best to avoid idling completely when it comes to your car. According to FuelEconomy.gov, “Idling can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size and air conditioner (AC) use.”

Remember the scary stat earlier about how burning one gallon of gas created 8,887 grams of CO2? Idling can get you a quarter to halfway there then, so it’s definitely something you want to avoid. Just stop the car. 

The bottom line 

Car pollution is a big issue in the fight against climate change. If you want to learn how to reduce your carbon footprint, taking these steps will be a good start. For more information, you can check out the EPA’s Carbon Footprint Calculator to see where you stand. Also, if it’s possible and easier for you, simply drive less to lower your environmental impact. If that’s possible, you can benefit from pay-per-mile auto insurance coverage. You pay for gas by the gallon, so it makes sense to buy insurance by the miles you drive. Using Metromile, you pay for each mile you drive and a base rate, so you can save money and reduce your carbon footprint. Get a free quote today. 


Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.