How to Use Your SUV in an Environmentally Sensitive Way

Dennis Silverman

U. C. Irvine

Physics and Astronomy


            Cars, SUVs and pickup trucks are the major contributors to greenhouse gases that the public are responsible for and can do something about.  Since the worst CO2 polluting SUVs and pickups can equal that of four houses, we concentrate here on suggestions to ameliorate their greenhouse gas emissions.

If you don’t yet have an SUV, consider an alternative.

1.      Test drive a crossover SUV which is on a car chassis and gets better gas mileage and still has a lot of room.

2.      Test drive a station wagon, which has similar properties.

3.      Test drive a hatch-back, again with similar properties.  They get over 30 mpg, and the back seats can be put down for more storage.

4.      Consider that rather then being impressed by your SUV, pickup truck or Hummer, there is a large part of the population that will silently consider you as showing total indifference to the effects of global warming on our own county and on poor third world countries.  

5.      This dislike will increase as problems from global warming become more apparent and more of a stress on poor populations.

6.      Other drivers at the gas pump will also be thinking that you are driving up the price of gas that they are paying for.

7.      The price of gas may stay high.  Even if you can afford it today, when the price stays high the total cost rises, and you will be sacrificing modern electronics, vacations, etc., or running up your credit deficit.

8.      The price of gas may even get higher if there are international problems. 

9.      The resale value of SUVs will decline if the high price of gas remains or rises.

10.  As more 45 mpg vehicles become available and plug-in hybrids with over 100 mpg equivalent come to market, the present SUVs will appear to be greater greenhouse gas culprits.

11.  Excessive gas consumption has opened the door for corn ethanol, and has doubled the price of corn and lowered exports to poor countries that need the food. 

12.  This will also increase the price of meats and corn syrup food additives.

13.  The largest SUVs get only 12 mpg average, and for a 15,000 mile driving year (30 mile each way commute to work), produce as much greenhouse gases as four average Southern California households.

14.  The first owner of an SUV or pickup truck has essentially given birth to that vehicle by buying it from a car company that otherwise would not have produced it.

15.  SUVs and pickup trucks are so tough and useful in countries without paved roads, that they will probably be used for 30 years or more somewhere around the world, spewing out enormous CO2 pollution when the future world is desperate to cut down on greenhouse gases.

16.  As President Bush has said, America is addicted to oil.  Since OPEC will soon be the majority world supplier of oil, we can expect to be continuously involved in the Middle East to maintain our access to the greatest oil reserves.

17.  There are about 34 “failed states” where factions fight over oil profits, and ignore the needs of the people.  Sudan, Iraq and Iran are just some of the examples.

18.  If you have kids, think of the sports fees or music or other lessons you could pay for with the money you are going to spend for gas in an SUV.


If you decide to buy an SUV or pickup truck, consider moderation.

1.      Look up the actual miles per gallon and yearly projected fuel cost in the realistic tests performed by Consumer Reports.  The best in each category is public and given here.  The best and worst are given here.

2.      Evaluate whether you really need the highest horsepower engine, or can settle for a more economical V6 or even four cylinder engine. 

3.      Are you really going to pull heavy loads? 

4.      If you are out to save gas, do you really need the highest acceleration?

5.      Do you really need four wheel drive?  High clearance cars work fine on good dirt roads. 

6.      Real four wheel drive roads have rock and tree hazards that can dent your SUV and cost thousands of dollars to repair.  Rent a Jeep locally instead.

7.      Do you really want to hassle parking the longest SUV or pickup.

8.      Do you really want to hassle getting out of the driver and passenger doors of a very wide SUV, and also try to get your kids out.

If you already have an SUV or pickup truck, drive it in an environmentally sensitive and safe way.

1.      If you can drive it much less than the 15,000 miles per year average, please keep the SUV, since you will do less environmental damage with it than another driver.

2.      Even if you drive the largest SUVs or pickups at an average 12 mpg, carpooling with another person is equivalent to having an average 25 mpg car being driven by both.

3.      If you carpool with three other people, it is equivalent to driving a Prius at 48 mpg for each of you.

4.      If you have one the best SUVs at 22 mpg average, carpooling with one person again equivalent to you each separately driving a Prius.

5.      SUV owners who carpool should put a sticker on their SUVs to show that they carpool, in order to deflect criticism and to put other drivers to shame.

6.      Carpoolers also get to use the carpool lanes.

7.      Carpoolers also save on gas, from ˝ to 3/4 in the examples above.

8.      If you don’t drive a work commute, but just use your SUV to safely shuffle children about, you score on both low mileage and on miles per person.

9.      If you have another better mileage vehicle in the family, use that for your longer trips.

10.  If you bought the SUV for child safety, please drive in a safe way, avoiding cell phone calls and child distractions.

11.  Also for safety, observe local speed limits to keep other children safe near residential or school streets.

12.  Obeying speed limits, especially around curves, can help manage the rollover risk.

13.  Be considerate when parking in not taking up a compact car space.  This actually compromises the use of the two adjoining spaces as far as the other parkers having room to get into and out of their cars. 

14.  You can also be ticketed for using a compact space, especially if you are over the boundary lines.

15.  Driving over the 65 miles per hour speed limit burns increasingly more gas.  Since you already are a gas guzzler, obey the speed limit.

16.  Obeying the speed limit also will save you money per trip.

17.  Since the cost per barrel of oil in the Middle East is only $1 to $2 per barrel (42 gallons), consider that your hard earned money paying $70 per barrel is going to increasingly wealthy emirates and excess oil company profits.

18.  Hills are not test courses to show off your horsepower versus those of other SUV or car owners.  Keep from having a heavy foot on the gas on hills.

19.  For the safety of other drivers, since you are driving a heavy ramrod, obey all speed limits at all times.