A couple of garages have opened in my neighbourhood claiming to be green. What does this really mean? Is this real or just a marketing ploy? - Sophie in Sidney, B.C.
Assuming these outfits are not simply touting their political allegiance, or doing something special for May, then how does their "green" service differ from the norm?
Think for a moment about the potential areas of environmental impact in a garage. Oil and tires are sold and changed; coolants, fluids and cleaners are used, and power is consumed. As you can probably imagine, there are ways in which the impact can be lessened.
"We use EcoPower re-refined oil for our green oil changes from a company called SafetyKleen. It meets all the standards for every manufacturer, and actually has higher viscosity ratings than any of the big synthetic blends," says Adam Sullivan, co-owner of Victoria Transmission and Auto Care.
Sullivan's shop received an endorsement from the Sierra Club environmental group for its sustainability efforts. Being a "dry shop" means that none of its automotive fluids go down the drain - all oils, solvents and chemicals are recycled and sent for refinement.
"If you think of how much oil the average driver uses, it's between 10 and 15 barrels in your lifetime just for your car. It takes 50 barrels of raw crude to make one barrel of motor oil. And if you think about your carbon footprint, all of a sudden just to put oil in you're over 300 barrels. The company we use takes 12 barrels of used oil and re-refines that back into 10 barrels of good-as-new-oil. When you think about the numbers like that, a little thing like using re-used oil is a big thing for the environment," says Sullivan.
Some shops also use bio-based greases, which come from renewable crops and have higher lubricity rates than petroleum-based greases. There is significant debate, however, about the negative effects of sourcing bio-fuels from renewable crops rather than waste products.
Victoria Transmission and Auto Care also offers a "green" coolant flush, using recycled antifreeze. Its windshield washer fluid is made by a company that uses rainwater runoff to produce the product. In addition, it suggests customers use long-life car batteries to cut down on waste.
"We offer a green transmission service; we recycle the filter and the transmission oil, and use the highest-grade synthetic transmission fluid, which lasts probably twice as long as a non-synthetic fluid. If you think of all the vehicles on the road, if we cut down half of the tranny fluid in all of them, it would make an immense difference," says Sullivan.
Places such as Canadian Tire are also promoting tire recycling programs to make use of your old tires.
The operations of the garage itself can be greened, such as recycling steel and plastic auto parts, oil filters, plastic fluid containers, cardboard, paper products and used batteries; using environmentally friendly car wash soap, lubricants, tank soap and hand soap.
So there are areas in which a garage can consciously lower its impact. The ads you've seen are not necessarily just green wash. Decide what's important to you, and then check out what the shop is doing before making your choice.
E-Mail Ask Joanne at firstname.lastname@example.org