How to Green Your SUV


Stuck with an impossible-to-sell SUV? Getting killed at the pump? Here’s how to green that machine.

There’s a whole lot of information online about which hybrid is the best. But there’s not a lot of help for the one in eight Americans who have purchased an SUV and may be stuck with it. What’s needed is a practical guide for the rest of us. And by us, I really mean us – I own an SUV myself. (Shhh!)

Yes, trading in the SUV for that eco-friendly hybrid would be great. But many of us are not in this position for a variety of reasons: budget, credit, a lease we can’t get out of, work, or lifestyle commitments.

-Stanch the Bleeding

The obvious first step is to cut down on fuel consumption. Aside from being good for the planet, this can help save you a lot of money, which is probably why you most want to “green” your beast in the first place. With gas prices closing in on $5 per gallon in some parts of the country, driving an SUV these days is painful. Tips to save on fuel:

1. Drive a little less. Part of a couple? According to Planet Green, if one of you can take public transport (or even carpool with a coworker) while the other still uses the SUV, you will save up to $6,200 a year. If you’re thinking, “So why not keep the second car and sell the SUV?” skip down a few paragraphs to learn why that may not be a wise decision. More tips: if you can walk or bike to errands, do so. If you can telecommute one day a week, even better.

2. Road rules. Driving aggressively sucks up a lot of gas. If you can drive at an even speed and brake and accelerate slowly, you’ll save between 31-37% of the gas in your tank! Don’t drive competitively, constantly switching lanes and trying to get the space ahead.

3. Geriatric style. Driving slower will save you 12-14% on gas. I used to be an impatient speed demon until I narrowly missed a horrific multi-car accident one night in Santa Monica. I decided right then that driving like my grandma wasn’t such a bad idea. Sure, sometimes people get annoyed with me, but in addition to saving on gas I just feel a lot calmer and safer on the road. It’s their loss.

4. Fueling debate. Hey, low rider: keep your tires properly inflated to save 3% on gas. Well, maybe – studies differ. As for the buzz about filling your tires with nitrogen, it’s probably not worth the extra cost, but it doesn’t hurt to try. And you’ll have to decide if turning off the A/C to save gas is a myth.

5. The devil’s time. Idling really is bad for fuel efficiency. 5 minutes a day of idling means a gallon lost a month, so look for ways to reduce idling time.

-Make the Most of It

Should you trade it in? Kelley Blue Book doesn’t think so and neither do most guides; SUV prices have dropped nearly 10% since the end of 2007. It will only get worse until winter, when prices are expected to creep back up to break-even. If you’ve still got a substantial amount on the loan to pay back, you could be facing a significant financial loss if you try to sell or trade in. Make the most of your Toyotasaurus Rex instead.

1. Think long-term.
First, realize that as much as the sign at the gas station stings, the loss you’ll take on getting rid of your SUV is going to sting more than what you’re shelling out for gas over the life of your loan. On average, it’s actually cheaper to keep your SUV than to get a newer fuel-efficient car.

2. My treehugger friends are going to cringe, but I say enjoy your SUV while you’ve got it. I’m not talking about gas guzzling road trips, but just the fact that you own this car. You chose it, right? Americans originally fell for SUVs because they feel powerful and sexy to drive. So enjoy these reptilian instincts until you “evolve”. Nothing is more draining than fruitless, wishy-washy mental limbo. You bought it, it’s yours. Own it.

3. The lesser of two evils. Lend out your SUV to your kids’ school, your church, or to anyone in the community who is moving, working on a big project, or making a big purchase. While your Suburban may get lousy gas mileage on your daily commute, it may not be as bad as the crusty bus or fuming delivery truck.

4. Make your trips efficient. Simply thinking about the various stops you’ll have to make, and planning out your route ahead of time, will save you a lot of gas and reduce your SUV’s impact substantially. If you can, group your errands into weekly or biweekly batches, too.

5. Take good care of it. Eventually you will be able to sell, either because you luck out with the right buyer or you pay down the loan enough to get right-side-up. Keep your brute in optimal condition inside and out to get the most return on your investment and cut down on fuel loss and repairs.

-Damage Control

To help reduce your car’s carbon tireprint, look to other areas of your life where you can painlessly green up. (I admit it’s a little personal, but it really grills me when I see people get self-righteous with SUV owners. Maybe they have a unique situation; maybe they happen to be so green on balance that they’re doing better than a lot of hybrid drivers. You never know.)

1. Your house: use a compost, replace burned out bulbs with CFLs, buy a timed thermostat, switch off the lights, plant trees around your house, adjust your thermostat setting by 2 degrees, and buy vintage or eco-friendly decor and furnishings. And switch off the water when you brush!

2. Your diet: eat a salad as one of your daily meals, shop the farmers’ market or sign up for a CSA, and try to use all the food you buy.

3. Your budget: see 25 easy ways to save.

4. Your lifestyle: reduce, reuse, recycle. Everything. Donate all the old clothes, electronics and gadgets you no longer want to charity. Nearly everything you use can go in a recycling bin or the compost.
It also helps to use the real things and avoid disposables like paper plates, paper towels and paper napkins. When it comes to travel, take one less trip a year, and avoid flying. (Purchase carbon offsets for the flights you do make.)

5. Your chores: use a push-powered lawnmower, use eco-friendly or home-made cleaning products, use a wind-powered gadget charger, and carry your sundries and groceries in a stylish reusable sack.

If you’re thinking about unloading the SUV anyway, use this worksheet to see if you can make it work.

What tips did I leave out?