Greener Road Trips

With fall foliage reaching its peak, it’s great time for a road trip. They are as American as apple pie but with growing concerns about the impact of automobiles on the environment, road trips have become harder to justify.   Thankfully, there are ways to compromise. On MSN Green Diane Vadino offers the following  tips to reduce both the cost of your gas and your environmental impact.

The Basics
Don’t even think of leaving home - for the office, much less for a 1,000-mile road trip - without ensuring that your car is primed for fuel efficiency. And that goes for Prius owners as well as for those who drive an SUV. The Automobile Association of America recommends a few basic adjustments. “There’s simple stuff you can do,” says David Weinstein, a AAA spokesman. “You might not see it gallon by gallon, but over the life of the car, it definitely adds up.” Weinstein suggests three key moves: “Watching your speed is the biggest thing you can do; the faster you go, the more gas you use,” he says. The second and third steps might require assistance from a service station attendant. “Certainly you’ll want to make sure your tires are properly inflated and your air filter’s clean. That’s something the people who are checking your oil should be looking at, as a matter of course.” Those three steps are really what matter, Weinstein says. “Anything beyond that, and you’re getting into the weeds.”

Renting Eco-friendly Cars
If you decide that renting is the best way to go, some cars make better companions than others. More and more car rental agencies are stocking fuel-saving hybrid cars, like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic, alongside their SUVs and sedans. EV Rental with seven locations in Arizona and California, bills itself as the country’s first rental car company to maintain an all-hybrid fleet; at 600 miles per tank, refueling your way up the Pacific Coast Highway should be relatively painless. (The hybrids are also available through EV’s partner, Fox Rent A Car.)

Bio-Beetle, meanwhile, rents both hybrids and cars that run on biodiesel from its locations in Hawaii and Los Angeles. Though you’ll need to refuel the car with biodiesel - something that can be a bit of a chore compared to your average fuel-up, simply because of the relative scarcity of refueling stations - you might never need to worry about that, since Bio-Beetle says its biodiesel rentals can get up to 800 miles per tank.

The Driveaway
For anyone committed to a long, one-way trip, there’s a better option than car rental - both for the environment and for your pocketbook. It does require a bit of flexibility and an open mind, but adventurous road trippers might want to try out a strategy known as an auto driveaway.

It works like this: Car owners need their vehicles to go from point A to point B but don’t want to pay a premium for having them trucked. So they need a driver to take care of the transportation, and that’s where you come in. With a program like the one offered by Auto Driveaway, a company with franchise offices located across the country, a “casual driver” going from point to point pays just a small, refundable deposit.

You can forget about car rental rates, insurance charges and extortionate one-way drop-off fees; insurance is included (if you have a spotty driving record, you might not be permitted to participate), and going a certain number of miles over the actual route is allowed. All you’re responsible for, as far as the transportation costs are concerned, is the gas. And many car owners are willing to subsidize part of that cost. “A few years ago, the driver would get the first tank of gas free, and the rest [would be] your responsibility,” says Bernie Wright, the owner of Auto Driveaway’s Washington, D.C., franchise. “Now you’ll often see a gas allowance of at least $100.”

The cars and routes available change daily, and Wright says green-friendly cars go first: “If I’ve got a Prius, it’s like I could sell tickets,” he says. “The phone will be ringing off the hook.” The other environmental bonus? You’ll be driving a car that would be making the trip anyway, which means there’ll be one fewer vehicle on the highway.

To find a regularly updated list of cars available across the nation, visit the site.

Being Selective
Anyone who has driven the length of the Pacific Coast Highway knows that even an awe-inspiring panorama can get a little repetitive after 500 miles. If only tackling the entire thing will do, so be it, but there’s a lot to be said for taking a specialist’s view. Instead of the slog from Dana Point (the PCH’s southern terminus) to Leggett, its northernmost point, in the Redwood Empire, consider focusing on its most beautiful section. For instance, a drive from San Luis Obispo to Santa Cruz could include visits to Hearst Castle, Big Sur and Monterey.

Or, a trip down Route 66 might focus on just a segment of the former Mother Road, avoiding the parts that have been overrun by Interstate 40. Instead, drive through the small gold-rush town of Oatman, Ariz., or the section through Williams, Ariz., which appears on the National Register of Historic Places. Even better? It’s the perfect jumping-off point for the nearby Grand Canyon.

All Aboard!
Why take the train cross-country? You’ll miss out on the wind in your hair and the open road - but also the gas bills, bridge tolls and general fatigue of driving for thousands of miles. You can make several spectacular trips on Amtrak, especially west of Chicago. Travel on the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland, Oregon, and you’ll be able to take in the scenery of Montana’s Glacier National Park from the train’s all-windows Sightseer Lounge. Or, hop aboard the California Zephyr, running from Chicago to San Francisco, which may be even more scenic since it crosses the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada.

Intrepid travelers might also want to take a look at a special 30-day pass Amtrak offers in conjunction with Canada’s VIA Rail service; the Canadian route, which travels from Toronto to Vancouver through the Canadian Rockies, is often hailed as one of the world’s best train trips.


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