Welcome to another Green Issue of Top Gear. This year marks the third time we\'ve done this theme, and it certainly won\'t be the last. We confess to doing this yearly because of a responsibility we feel toward our planet. We can\'t turn a blind eye to what\'s happening with the environment.
It\'s easy to see the signals. Notice the recent erratic weather. Rainstorms in April? Searing heat toward the end of May? And who\'s to say the swine flu pandemic isn\'t caused by our abuse of the ecological systems? Nature is simply reacting to the way it\'s being treated.
In the meantime, carmakers are racing to find greener ways to give us the mobility we want. The very existence of the car on our cover, the third-generation Toyota Prius, is proof of the commitment of the No. 1 carmaker in the world to deliver a viable alternative to traditional straightforward combustion engines.
However, not everyone can buy a Prius. The complexity that allows it to do what it does also puts it in a price range that is far from affordable. Our legislators could have done something right and given the Prius and its ilk the much-needed tax incentives, but they were too busy debating about sex videos. Still, doing your share as a more eco-minded motorist is easier than you think. Here are 10 steps you can take toward an environment-conscious car ownership to help Mother Earth.
Get rid of ‘rice\' accessories
We can\'t blame you for wanting to place a body kit and a spoiler on your car. All those car shows you attended where you saw scantily clad models posing beside aftermarket-fortified rides, forged a mental connection in your head between girls, coolness and body kits. The problem is, body kits add weight and, in most cases, ruin aerodynamics. And when your car is heavier and doesn\'t slip through the air as easily as it should, it becomes less efficient and burns more fuel. We\'re not saying you shouldn\'t accessorize your car--by all means imbue it with character. Just remember to exercise prudence when doing so. Because when you get all giddy with your body kit and you end up with something that looks like it belongs in Star Trek, there\'s another victim--your taste.
Ride electric PUVs
At the Fort Bonifacio Global City, you can ride one of 20 funky-looking, egg-shaped E3 electric tricycles for as little as P5 for a one-way trip anywhere from the Market! Market! mall in the east, to as far west as the Net One building complex. The E3 can carry up to eight passengers, has a top speed of around 30kph, and yields a range of 100-120 kilometers on a single full charge. Meanwhile, in the high-rise business district of Makati, there are two units of the electric jeep, or e-jeep, that have been plying around Salcedo and Legaspi villages since July 2008. This diminutive, flat-nosed jeepney can transport a maximum of 12 passengers up to a range of 100 kilometers when fully charged, and it can go up to 60kph. What\'s even better is that riding the e-jeep is still free of charge, but only until the LTFRB issues a fare matrix for it. By taking an electric-powered public-utility vehicle, you\'ll not only save yourself the trouble of looking for a parking slot or hailing a taxicab, you\'ll also help Mother Nature breathe a little more cleanly by using an emission-free ride.
Once regarded as crude powerplants for public-utility vehicles and trucks, diesel engines have found themselves in the engine bays of popular pickups and even high-end SUVs like the BMW X5 and the Audi Q7. Diesels use cheaper fuel and have plenty of usable torque, but they can\'t match the horsepower output of their gasoline counterparts and their emissions are still worse. One solution to the less-than-ideal emissions of diesel engines is an alcohol-injection system. When installed, a fine spray of an alcohol-water mixture is injected into the engine\'s intake. This ups the octane level of the fuel, resulting in a more efficient burn of the diesel. Power increases, the carbon buildup inside the engine is diminished, and emissions are noticeably improved. In this case, there are definitely benefits to being an alcoholic.
Choose the right tire
Motorists generally buy new tires for two reasons: when the old tires are due for replacement, and for enhancing the look and/or performance of the car. However, tires can also play an important factor in a car\'s fuel economy. Browse any fuel-saving guide and you will always see a reminder to maintain proper tire pressure. The key here is rolling resistance: A tire that is easier for the engine to rotate puts less stress on the engine and requires less fuel. Dunlop went one step further and designed a tire that improves fuel economy--they call it the Digi-Tyre ECO EC201. It uses a new type of carbon black material that decreases rolling resistance by 10 percent, thus saving more fuel.
Keep your car in tiptop shape
We don\'t have to tell you this, but keeping your car in optimal running condition does more than just preventive maintenance; it also minimizes carbon emissions and fuel consumption. The first step is to replace your car\'s consumables once they\'ve reached the end of their service life. These are the fuel filter, air filter and the spark plugs. One more vital component that should be monitored is the oxygen or lambda sensor. Invented by Robert Bosch GmbH in the 1960s, the lambda sensor helps establish a car\'s air-fuel ratio in modern fuel-injected cars. When this fails--normally after 40,000 kilometers of usage--the fuel economy worsens, engine performance suffers, and emissions get worse.
Buy and drive 2WD instead of 4WD
Pinoys are generally fond of SUVs and pickups--to the point where many of us use 4x4 versions even if we only mostly drive in the city. The trouble here is that 4WD vehicles consume more fuel than their 2WD counterparts: The drivetrain sends power and torque to four wheels instead of just two, and 4WD vehicles are burdened by an extra set of differential gears, resulting in more weight and thus poorer fuel economy. If you\'re a city dweller who regularly drives on pavement, just get yourself a rear-wheel-drive SUV. On a recent drive to Clark in Pampanga using the 2,650kg, 2WD variant of the very popular Mitsubishi Montero Sport, we were able to eke out 14 kilometers from every liter of diesel. Its 4WD version might have managed two kilometers less. That\'s a lot, not only from an ecological standpoint but also from a financial perspective.
Plant a tree
To be a motorist and not have a carbon footprint (this is the amount of carbon dioxide your motoring lifestyle produces) is next to impossible. For argument\'s sake, even if you buy an electric-powered golf kart and use it as your daily driver, the electricity you use will still come from power sources that aren\'t \"clean\"--like coal, crude oil and diesel. If we can\'t reduce our carbon footprint to zero, the next best thing is to compensate by finding ways to reduce the CO2 our vehicles produce. This is also known as carbon offsetting. In more developed countries, people invest in companies that give carbon-offset \"credits\". These companies invest in eco-friendly endeavors like renewable power generation, reforestation and alternative fuels. But since carbon-offsetting investments haven\'t caught on here, you can personally do your share by simply planting trees. The crucial idea here is direct involvement. If you\'re a farmer by trade, that doesn\'t count. The carbon offset has to be something you do with the intention of making up for your carbon footprint, not a by-product of your business.
Use your car less
We all love our cars, but all internal-combustion engines have harmful emissions--even hybrids. Sometimes, it\'s best to just leave the car in the house when it\'s not really needed. One solution is carpooling so that each car\'s passenger capacity is maximized. But this should be differentiated from overloading. Keep it to a maximum of four people per car so you\'ll all remain friends after the ride. If you\'re really antisocial and you live near major streets, consider using public transport every now and then. So even if your car is number-coded, you won\'t have to be sleeping on your desk or in the office clinic at 7am. Or you can try biking, like our associate editor Paulo does. By using your car less, you will also learn to appreciate it more when you do get to drive it.
Choose a fuel-efficient small car
How many times have you seen a rather spacious sedan or minivan or sport-ute cruising along EDSA with only the driver riding it? We Filipinos love having our own personal rides, even if we mostly travel without company. The concept of carpooling is almost lost on us. Why wait for and share cabin space with others when you can have the entire vehicle all to yourself, right? Wrong. If every single person drove a car, we\'d quickly run out of roads and deplete our natural resources. But if you really must drive solo, at least have the decency to get yourself a small car. This is an important lesson Honda drilled into our heads last year when we drove a 1.5-liter Jazz all the way to Ilocos Norte, some 450 kilometers away from Metro Manila. Not only did we have an easy time getting through traffic with such compact dimensions, we also burned less fuel and presumably released fewer pollutants into the air. Now, not all diminutive vehicles are easy on the gas. If the engine is too small for the overall vehicle weight, it is forced to work doubly hard and therefore drink more fuel than is necessary. The right formula then is: Small car plus right engine displacement equals good fuel-efficiency.
Let your top down
Don\'t get too obsessed with saving the planet. Every now and then, escape from the city and soak in some fresh air and green scenery. Remind yourself of the very reason for all these eco-friendly measures--that it\'s just not about making us feel better. The best way to do this is in a convertible, like the BMW 335i. With the top down and the clear sky as your ceiling, it compels you to do something to preserve this experience. You don\'t have to own a droptop to realize this, though. Just opening the sunroof or rolling down the windows when you\'re driving out of town will suffice. Your lungs will also thank you for it.