May Question of the Month

Question of the Month: How can I improve my gas mileage while driving this summer?

Answer: Whether you are taking a summer road trip or just running errands around town, there are things you can do to improve your fuel economy and save money on fuel in the summertime.

You may notice an increase in your fuel economy as the weather gets warmer. This is because vehicle engines, transmissions and other components take less time to warm up and summer gasoline blends can have slightly more energy per gallon than winter blends. However, if you use your air conditioning (AC) a lot or drive with the windows down, you might actually see your fuel economy drop.

AC is the main contributor to reduced fuel economy in the summertime. In fact, using the AC can reduce a conventional vehicle’s fuel economy by as much as 25%, or even more if you are driving a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV). Driving with the windows down can also reduce fuel economy due to greater aerodynamic drag (wind resistance) on the vehicle. Though this has a small effect on fuel economy, aerodynamic drag is more apparent when driving at the highway speeds typical for road trips.

The following tips can help you use the AC more efficiently and therefore improve fuel economy in the summer:

  • Read the owner’s manual for detailed information on how your vehicle’s AC system works and how to use it efficiently.
  • Park your vehicle in shady areas or use a sunshade to keep the interior from getting too hot.
  • Do not use the AC more than needed. If you need to use the AC, avoid using the “max” setting for extended periods.
  • If you are driving at high speeds, use the AC instead of rolling down the windows. If the vehicle is too hot, you may lower the car windows to expel hot air for the first few minutes. Once the hot air has left the vehicle, switch to using the AC.
  • Avoid excessive idling. Idling can use a quarter to half a gallon of fuel per hour, and more if the AC is on. Do not idle the vehicle to cool it down before a trip; most AC systems actually cool the vehicle faster while driving.
  • PEV owners, pre-cool your vehicle with the AC while still plugged in. Since PEVs use battery power to provide AC, it can drain the vehicle’s batteries and reduce the vehicle’s overall range. If you need to use the AC to cool down your PEV, try to do so while the vehicle is still charging.

 The following tips should be used year-round to improve fuel economy:

  • Use cruise control while driving on highways to maintain a consistent speed and conserve fuel.
  • Remove any unnecessary weight from the vehicle. Vehicles with heavier loads tend to have reduced fuel economy. An additional 100 pounds in your vehicle can reduce fuel economy by 1%.
  • Avoid transporting cargo on the rooftop of the vehicle. Traveling with cargo on the roof increases wind resistance and can significantly lower your fuel economy. Rear-mounted cargo has a much smaller effect on fuel economy than rooftop cargo.
  • Avoid aggressive driving. Aggressive driving (speeding, quick acceleration and heavy braking) can reduce fuel economy by as much as 33% at highway speeds and 5% at city speeds. This informational video shows real-world effects of aggressive driving on fuel economy:
  • Ensure your tires are properly inflated. Tires that are not inflated to the proper pressure can reduce fuel economy by 0.3% for every one pound per square inch (PSI) drop in pressure in all of the tires. Having your tires inflated to the proper pressure is also safer and can help tires last longer.
  • Pay attention to the speed limit. Not only is this a safe practice, but gas mileage tends to decrease when driving at speeds above 50 miles per hour.

For more information on how to improve your fuel economy, please refer to the following websites:

Questions? Contact:

Clean Cities Technical Response Service Team


Transition Streets

transition_streetsWant to learn simple, practical changes to your home and habits to live more sustainably? Ready to begin a journey to a lifestyle that uses less energy? Check out Transition Streets!

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Idling Revealed

Written by Billy Karis

Each year, cars, trucks, and heavy-duty vehicles in the US waste an enormous amount of fuel running their engines while their vehicles are stationary. Also known as idling, this act effectively reduces vehicle fuel efficiency to 0 mpg and nationwide, wastes 6 billion gallons of gasoline equivalent annually (Alternative Fuels Data Center). That’s enough gas to fill 9,000 Olympic sized swimming pools, or if you were to use it to fuel a 2014 Honda Civic, you could drive it to the moon and back half a million times. More pragmatically, however, 6 billion gallons of fuel can also be represented monetarily as $21 billion.

But who is to blame for wasting all that fuel? Buses and tractor-trailers certainly contribute, but of those 6 billion gallons of wasted fuel, passenger vehicles, that you and I drive, are responsible for roughly half. Collectively, owners of passenger vehicles are throwing away more than $10 billion each year, not to mention, needlessly emitting harmful NOX, particulate matter, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide that lead to air quality concerns and increased incidences of smog, respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. With regard to human health, the CO2 emissions are more benign, but in terms of global health, they have larger implications through the propagation of climate change.

To combat this wasteful action, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase energy security and sustainability, the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program has been working hard to reduce idling. In 2012, Clean Cities saved roughly 30.5 million gallons of gasoline equivalent. At $3.50/gal, that’s about $107 million and enough energy to drive a 2014 Honda Civic across the US more than 417,000 times.

While this seems like, and is in fact, an improvement, it is humbling to note that 30.5 million gallons represents only 0.5% of all the fuel wasted in the previous year. That’s a sad slice of pie.


So, what more can be done? Recent research at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, determined that idling for more than 10 seconds consumes more gasoline and emits more exhaust than turning off your engine and restarting it. Also, the DOE Clean Cities program reassures us that turning on and off your vehicle more frequently won’t wear out your starter. Many of these misconceptions are relics of older vehicles with finicky engines and carburetors that had to be warmed and were easily subject to flooding, but today’s high tech vehicles will undoubtedly restart. So, tap into that unused $10 billion and turn your vehicle off as you wait to pick up a friend or run in to grab your coffee.


What is zero waste?

Guest blogger, Tanya Anderson, is a Coalition partner through the Sustainability Series.

What is zero waste? Fifteen years ago you might not have found an answer to that question. Today, a Google search will yield more than 40 millions results. On February 21, a crowd gathered in Jackson’s Home Ranch Exhibit Hall to learn more about how to reach zero waste. Eric Lombardi, the Executive Director of Eco-Cycle since 1989, traveled from Boulder, Colorado to present.


Zero waste means that 90 percent of waste is recovered through recycling and composting. The remaining 10 percent is processed and stabilized before heading to a landfill. Lombardi was quick to point out that zero waste is not zero landfill. Waste to energy plants can greatly reduce landfill waste, but they produce emissions worse than those from coal burning power plants. Furthermore, they actually encourage production of waste, their feedstock, to justify the high cost of the facilities.

Lombardi defines zero waste as “a social issue first, and a market issue second”.

From a market standpoint, zero waste is a way to cash in on the $11 billion worth of resources that are buried annually. Zero waste is good business sense!

The social issues of waste stem from impacts to our environment, such as the leaching of toxic chemicals from landfills into water supplies and the impacts of climate change. These are externalities that are not included in the current cost of waste disposal, but that our children will have to pay for later. Lombardi believes zero waste is “an ethical and moral responsibility to our children”.

Lombardi outlined how communities can reach 50 percent waste diversion in four years, through increased access to services, organics collection (composting), pay as you throw pricing for trash, and education. Paying for the amount of trash disposed of, rather than having a set fee per month, encourages consumers to make better choices and rewards those who work to reduce their waste.

To move beyond 50 percent recovery requires policy changes such as construction and demolition recovery mandates, product fees, disposal bans, and extended producer responsibility laws.  Boulder, Colo. now charges a 10-cent fee for plastic bags in stores, and Fort Collins is looking at banning cardboard from its landfills.  In Europe, extended producer responsibility laws put the responsibility for recycling on manufacturers, not individuals.  New European Union laws require that 80 percent of the materials used in products that have a plug are recyclable.

As San Francisco recently reached 80 percent waste diversion and other communities are close behind, the dream of zero waste is becoming a reality.  With a 15 percent diversion rate in 2012, Teton Valley is still a long way from zero waste. However, Fresno, California was able to move from a 29 percent diversion rate to 57 percent in just two years ( With a little work, couldn’t we do the same in Teton Valley? To start, we need both increased participation in our current programs and a plan for the future. Contact to find out how you can help.

Tanya Anderson is the executive director of Teton Valley Community Recycling. For more information, visit Information for this article came from Eric Lombardi of ecocycle,

To Idle or Not to Idle – There’s No Question About it

In this day of high fuel costs, a tight economy, population growth, and climate change, it is imperative that we are all armed with the current facts about engine idling.

Idling is defined as running a vehicle engine when the vehicle is standing still. It sounds downright silly, really. Who would want to do that? We don’t go to work each day so that we can pay for our car to get zero miles per gallon. And we all need clean air to breathe – why would we needlessly spew exhaust into it?

Well, the majority of us in Bozeman do idle needlessly, most commonly when we’re warming up the engine, “running inside for just a minute,” using the drive-thru, staying comfortable while waiting inside a vehicle when it’s cold or hot outside, picking someone up, dropping someone off, or talking on a cell phone. While there are times when we are legally obligated to idle our vehicles, such as at a stop light, the above reasons for idling are typically unnecessary.

Many of our beliefs about idling are out of date, from the 1970s and earlier, and don’t apply to newer vehicles. Following are two of the most common myths about idling:

Myth: On a cold day, it is best for the health of a vehicle to warm up the engine by idling until the engine is warm.

Truth: For temperatures above 32 degrees, there is no need to warm up most vehicles. From 0 to 32 degrees, you should warm up most vehicles for 30 seconds. For temperatures under zero, you should warm up the vehicle for 1-3 minutes. In all cases, it’s best to idle for the recommended time, then drive slowly for the first minute or two. (Excessive idling can actually damage engine components.)

Myth: It uses more fuel and costs more to restart an engine than it does to let it idle for a few minutes.

Truth: If you’re going to be stopped for more than 30 seconds (except in traffic) turn off the engine. (Actually, idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel than it takes to restart the engine, but in order to offset potential incremental maintenance costs, the breakeven time is 30 seconds.)

There are important reasons to change our idling behavior, perhaps the most compelling being our health. Idling releases hazardous chemicals into the air including carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter. These idling byproducts are related to ill health effects ranging from asthma to cancer, and no one is immune when it is in the air that we breathe. Ironically, some of the most common idlers are parents running their engines and spewing these toxins outside of schools and activity venues while waiting for their children.

Environmental concerns are also paramount. Emissions from idling contribute to smog, haze, greenhouse gas emissions, and ground level ozone. Has anyone looked out the window towards the north from Bozeman on a clear day? You may have noticed that the air is not so clear.

Saving money and fuel is another reason to stop idling. The average annual fuel cost for a vehicle that idles ten minutes each day is 20 gallons/$75 for a small car, 40 gallons/$150 for an 8-cylinder engine, and 15 gallons/$67.50 for a diesel engine. Remember, these savings could be yours by doing nothing more than turning off your engine when it is unnecessarily running. A no brainer!

We’ve all become familiar with the slogan “Hang Up and Drive.” Now it’s time to consider another – “Idling Gets You Nowhere.”

Elin Hert lives in Bozeman and is a volunteer member of the City of Bozeman’s Idle Free Bozeman working group. 

This article was first published as a guest column in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and can be found HERE.

Thoughts on Car Sharing

Have you heard of ride share, car share or peer-to-peer car sharing programs? Does Zipcar ring a bell, or even our local  These types of programs are prevalent in large cities and at universities; they boast an astounding 15 million car sharing members in North America.  Though there seems to be a niche they could fill in our small town as well.  CarSharing-ReduceEmissions-ZipCarHave you ever had a job at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort while living in Victor?  If you have a weekend shift you are out of luck for public transportation, the START bus only runs Monday-Friday.  Or have you ever had a shift ending in Teton Village at 11:00pm, just missing the 10:45pm bus but still 40 minutes away from the last one?  Wouldn’t it be nice to connect with others who happen to be going over Teton Pass at the same time?

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Today’s Eco-Driving Tip: Avoid Rapid Starts and Stops

Today’s Eco-Driving Tip: Avoid Rapid Starts and Stops
Gentle acceleration and braking can save more than $1 per gallon, according to the U.S. EPA. What are some other easy eco-driving tips?

Lower your fuel consumption today by drinking a glass of water!

Lower your fuel consumption today with this simple step!

Council pledges staff, money to stop idling

By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
September 13, 2010

Jackson Town Councilors last week pledged $6,000 to help pay for an “Idle Free Jackson” marketing campaign.

Councilors approved the funding as part of a budget request from members of the campaign, which includes town and county staff, numerous volunteers and supporters from valley organizations, and family and friends of the late Willie Neal, who started the effort to limit idling in Jackson.

The total budget — about $29,000 — will be paid for by the town, the Yellowstone-Teton Clean Energy Co- alition, the Willie Neal Environmental Fund and several sponsors.

The town will help pay the $3,750 management fee for Phillip Cameron, executive director of the coalition, to oversee the program as well as to pay for advertising. The budget also includes a provision for an in-kind donation of  about $8,000 in staff time.

The total budget also sets aside $7,500 for signs, more than $6,000 for radio and print advertising, and $2,750 for design work, among other appropriations. The decision to chip in was followed by a resolution outlining the council’s support of the project.

Mary Neal, Willie’s mother, pledged $7,500 for signs, and the Yellowstone-Teton Clean Energy Coalition has pledged $2,200 in in-kind donations.

Members of the initiative plan to approach the Jackson Hole Airport Board about including “Idle Free” material in rental cars or in rental agreements and to explore the possibility of advertising in Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce publications and in town maps. The coalition also will continue to try to find additional sponsors.

In March, councilors directed staff to start working on an ordinance that would make idling a citable offence. At a meeting three months later, however, councilors voted 3-2 against implementing an ordinance and instead asked staff to focus on a marketing and educational campaign.