September 22, 2013

News & Features

Free Green Checkups can help drivers boost gas mileage

Special to NWautos

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(Andy Zapata)


I drive a 1991 Nissan Sentra SER that carries a few scars earned in two decades and 160,000 miles of trustworthy service. It's white ... but is it green?

To find out, I visited a local auto dealership for a Green Checkup. The vehicle-inspection program, offered by the National Automobile Dealers Association, is available at a limited number of dealerships locally. It's designed to inform consumers how they can improve their car's gas mileage and reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.

I was eager to learn how to tweak a few more miles per gallon out of my ride. My Sentra still manages 32 miles per gallon on the freeway, and maybe 27 in town, despite the fact that I'm not the most punctual guy when it comes to checking tire pressure or spark-plug wear (both of which can affect fuel economy).

Checkup checklist
    A Green Checkup may vary according to the dealer's knowledge of the vehicle, but generally includes these checks:
    - Motor oil
    - Air filters
    - Engine performance (spark plugs)
    - Brakes
    - Warning lights
    - Tire wear
    - Tire pressure
    - Unnecessary weight
    - Evaporative emission controls
    - Transmission
    For more details, visit greendrivingusa.com.

The Green Checkup — free for any make or model of vehicle — took about an hour. After the inspection, David Selby, the service manager at Klein Honda in Everett, went over a two-page document listing the mechanic's findings.

First, Selby reported that the brake fluid contained more than 4 percent water and needed to be replaced before it began destroying brake components. Also, the radiator fluid and transmission oil needed to be replaced. I'm glad he pointed out those potential problems, though they didn't factor into better fuel efficiency. 

He said I could do nothing to improve the Sentra's gas mileage: The air filter was clean, the spark plugs were fine, and the tires and brakes were not worn badly. I asked him again if there was anything I could do to improve the Sentra's green quotient; he shook his head no.

Ryan Holmes, the parts and service director at Klein Honda, says the problems encountered in the checkup had more to do with the company's vehicle-inspection protocol to look at all elements of a car's health, not just its environmental impact.
"One of the checkup's goals is to make sure everyone is up on their maintenance [and] that their car is in good shape," he says.

The environment is an important concern for the dealership, Holmes says, and that's one of the reasons it began offering Green Checkups in July.

The most common reasons for lower fuel economy are clogged air filters, low tire pressure and dragging brake calipers, Holmes says. Another green no-no: engine oil leaks. "We don't want oil getting into the water [supply]," he says.

Oops. The only disappointment from my inspection was learning that my Sentra has a bad gasket on the upper oil pan, causing engine oil to leak. Oil will inevitably travel from the engine to the roads, through storm drains and into Puget Sound. Apologies to the salmon, seals and orcas, but my leak is tiny.

Thanks to the Green Checkup, I realized that my white car was green enough for me. It made me think I should spend a little green now to keep my aging-but-still-fuel-efficient Sentra running for a few more years.

Want to find out how green your vehicle is? Visit greendrivingusa.com to locate your nearest Green Checkup dealer.

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