Good car care and maintenance go beyond simply changing your oil and oil filter every 3,000 miles. It means following the manufacturer's recommended maintenance program to ensure that the entire automobile, including its emission control system, is functioning properly.

Good car care also includes being environmentally responsible in properly disposing the waste created by your car, your truck, or motorized recreational vehicles. Most of us drive an automobile every day, meaning each of us can help our environment by taking care of our cars and trucks responsibly.

Consider these one dozen ways you can maintain and use your car in an environmentally responsible manner.

  1. Antifreeze is deadly to animals and children and especially dangerous because of its sweet taste. It contains ethylene glycol and picks up toxics in the engine, such as benzene and lead. Keep containers of spent antifreeze tightly covered. Do not pour used antifreeze in the garbage, down a drain, into a sewer, or on the ground. To recycle used antifreeze, call your solid waste district for antifreeze collection sites, check with local service stations and auto dealers to see if they take used antifreeze, or bring used antifreeze to household hazardous waste depots and collection events. A less-toxic alternative to the commonly used ethylene glycol-based antifreeze is propylene glycol-based antifreeze.
  2. Pay attention to your vehicle's on-board diagnostic (OBD) system. All cars and trucks built since 1996 are equipped with OBD systems that identify any malfunctions which could cause emissions to increase. Using a dashboard warning light, these systems alert drivers to the need for servicing before more serious and expensive complications develop.
  3. Windshield washer fluid usually contains methyl alcohol, a poison, and thus should not be thrown in the garbage, poured down the drain, or spilled onto the ground. Buy only what you need and use it all up. You can make your own non-toxic windshield wiper fluid for summer use by combining three parts white vinegar to one part water.
  4. The generation of waste motor oil can be difficult to prevent. However, in the waste management hierarchy, reuse comes next. When purchasing motor oil, look for re-refined oil which, testing has shown, offers lubrication identical to virgin oil.
  5. Puncture and drain used oil filters thoroughly — drain for at least 12 hours if possible. Check with your solid waste district to see if there is an oil filter recycling program. If not, dispose of the drained filter by wrapping it in either foil or plastic and putting it in the trash.
  6. Brake and transmission fluids are similar to antifreeze and should never be mixed together or with antifreeze or gasoline. Drain these fluids into sturdy, sealable containers or bring these fluids to a service station, hazardous waste depot, or collection event.
  7. If you’re in the market for a new car, purchase a fuel-efficient vehicle (rated at 32 miles per gallon or more) to replace your most frequently used automobile. For most families, this will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 6,000 pounds per year.
  8. Used oil is toxic because of the products of incomplete fuel combustion. If improperly disposed of, oil can contaminate drinking water supplies and food chains. A single quart of motor oil dumped on the ground can seep into groundwater and pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water. Do not pour oil or other chemicals down storm drains, where they often flush directly into surface waters. As with spent antifreeze, to recycle waste oil call your solid waste district for collection sites, check with local service stations and auto dealers to see if they take waste oil for energy reclamation, or bring waste oil to household hazardous waste depots and collection events. Waste oil is banned from Vermont landfills.
  9. The average lead acid battery contains 17 pounds of lead and nearly 1 gallon of sulfuric acid, which can threaten human health and the environment. Auto batteries are prohibited from being disposed of in Vermont’s landfills and should be recycled or reclaimed. To recycle old batteries, trade in your old battery where you purchase its replacement; bring your battery to a local auto parts store; call your local service station for collection information; call your local scrap metal dealer for collection information; or bring your battery to a local salvage yard.
  10. Tires are problematic in landfills because they are not easily compacted. Stockpiles of tires breed mosquitos, spread disease, and are fire hazards. Tires are banned from Vermont landfills. Recycle your tires, support tire dealers who use recycled rubber, and buy retreaded tires. Recycled tire rubber can be used for making new tires, pipe insulation, brake linings, carpet padding, roofing, and sporting goods. Alternative uses for tires include shredding them and adding them to asphalt for road surfacing.
  11. Car waxes and car paints may contain hazardous ingredients such as petroleum distillates and corrosive acids, and should be used carefully. Follow instructions carefully and bring leftovers to a hazardous waste depot or collection event. When possible, buy alternative products that do not threaten the environment or human health.
  12. Make your car last longer by driving it less. Consider alternative ways of getting around, such as car pooling, taking a bus, riding a bike, or walking. Not only will you extend the life of your automobile, you’ll be putting fewer pollutants into the air we all breathe. For the typical commuter, leaving the car at home two days a week reduces the volume of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere by 1,590 pounds per year.