Be Part of the Fight Against Auto Pollution

Driving a car is the great American pastime and a symbol of mobility and freedom. It is the primary method of transportation that many people use to commute to work as well as shop and go to their favorite vacation spots. Automobiles have been around since the mid- to late 19th century and have evolved considerably since the first models appeared on streets in America and Europe. While the automobile has made instant mobility a reality for millions, it has also brought with it a serious problem in the form of increased air pollution. While many of the first automobiles were powered by electricity as far back as 1835, they were overtaken at the start of the 20th century by vehicles with internal combustion engines, which proved to be cheaper, had better performance, and drove for considerably longer distances on the road. Internal combustion engines produce pollution that is harmful for human health as well as the environment. To reduce the damage that cars do to the ecosystem, it will be necessary to develop cars that are more fuel-efficient as well as vehicles that run on alternative energy such as biodiesel, hydrogen, or electricity. In addition, developing eco-friendly driving habits and performing proper car maintenance are also important factors in reducing the pollution that is produced by automobiles.

Internal combustion engines are fueled by gasoline. As a form of heat engine, they turn thermal energy into mechanical work or output. This thermodynamic process is what provides propulsion for an automobile that runs on gasoline, biodiesel, or other forms of automobile fuel. The problem with gasoline-fueled internal combustion is that the burning of petroleum-based fuel creates toxic byproducts that contribute to air pollution, primarily through the car's exhaust. The byproducts, or waste emissions, that internal combustion engines leave behind in the air include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides. Carbon monoxide is the result of the engine's inefficient burning of gasoline. Carbon monoxide is an indirect form of greenhouse gas, as it interferes with hydroxides that reduce atmospheric methane and other more powerful greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that helps to trap the sun's heat within the Earth's atmosphere, and cars are the second biggest contributor to man-made carbon dioxide emissions, second only to power plants. Nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions from cars cause smog, which is harmful to not only humans but also plants and animals. The greenhouse gases that cars produce are called this because they contribute to global warming, which increases atmospheric temperatures and can ultimately make the Earth inhospitable for human life.

There are a variety of ways in which drivers can effectively reduce their negative impact on the environment. Upgrading to a car with higher gas mileage ratings is one of the most effective ways to cut automobile-based air pollution. Hybrid cars, for instance, use gasoline engines and electric motors to reduce their use of fossil fuels. However, consumers can also simply downgrade their large SUV to a smaller truck or car to reduce the amount of pollution they produce by driving. Vehicles that use biodiesel fuel also create less pollution than cars that run on gasoline, and some types can run entirely on vegetable oil. Electric cars, although relatively expensive, produce no emissions at all. Hydrogen fuel cell cars produce water as a byproduct of combustion and are also zero-emission vehicles.

Two of the most important factors in reducing auto pollution are also among the most overlooked, and those are proper vehicle maintenance and driving habits. Improperly inflated tires can result in the burning of more gasoline per mile, while problems like old or faulty spark plugs and oxygen sensors can also drastically reduce a car's fuel efficiency. Keeping tires inflated to their specified air pressure levels as well as replacing malfunctioning spark plugs and oxygen sensors will greatly improve a car's gas mileage and reduce its pollution footprint. In addition, driving at the speed limit saves gas, as every mile driven over 50 miles per hour reduces fuel efficiency by up to 14 percent. Cruise control on the highway is an effective means of controlling a car's speed. Reducing the weight that the vehicle has to carry is another gas-saving technique, although having additional commuters as passengers actually saves gasoline because it means fewer cars are on the road. Turning on the air conditioner on hot days is more efficient than driving with the windows down on the highway, while driving with the windows down is more fuel-efficient during street driving. This is due to the higher amount of aerodynamic drag that occurs while driving at higher speeds. Higher aerodynamic drag reduces fuel efficiency and is also the reason why drivers should not carry things on top of their vehicles, if at all possible.

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