HOW PLASTIC SAVES YOU MONEY AT THE PUMP

by Lonnie Brunson

TODAY'S VEHICLES

The cars of today are leaps and bounds beyond where they used to be. Infotainment systems, climate control, and all around efficiency have improved significantly over the past several years.

Fuel efficiency is one aspect of automobile design automakers have focused on for decades. We’ve seen the rise of smaller cars, hybrid cars, and full electric cars. Even the models known as gas guzzlers don’t guzzle as much gas as they once did.

So, what’s changed? The answer to that is simple: Plastics.

But you might be thinking, “How much of a difference does plastic trim on the dashboard really make?” Probably not much. But those aren’t the only plastic parts.

A BIT OF HISTORY

Enter CAFE or Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. These are federal regulations enacted to improve the fuel efficiency of automobiles sold in the U.S. The idea is that vehicles will be as fuel efficient as possible, thereby saving consumers money at the pump. (Google gas crises of the 1970s if you want to know why this was such a big deal.)

As those standards change over the years, so has automakers’ approach. One of the main ways automakers improve fuel efficiency is through lightweighting--basically making vehicles lighter.

And here’s a question for you: Which is lighter, metal or plastic? Exactly.

BENEFITS OF PLASTIC

In recent years metal parts have given way to lighter plastic versions. Not only are interiors almost entirely plastic, but fuel tanks, bumpers, and powertrain components are composed of plastics as well. Air intake manifolds are commonly made of plastic in today’s vehicles. The result is lighter automobiles that are just as safe and more fuel efficient.

Benefits don’t end at the fuel pump either. A lighter car is a better performing car. Lighter vehicles accelerate faster and have better maneuverability. Even trucks have greater towing capability because engines don’t have to work as hard to move the vehicle. And braking systems also become more efficient because cars are lighter.

Electric and hybrid vehicles also benefit from plastic parts. Housing for fuel cells and other parts are not only lighter, but vibrate much less and dampen noise, making these vehicles quieter and smoother.

Plastic Air Intake Manifold

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?

Vehicles are becoming more advanced and efficient and plastics are a big part of that progress. Automakers will continue to develop innovative ways to utilize plastics. In the long run, this will keep dollars in your pockets.