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Over the River and Through the Woods

The Challenge:
Energy is required to transport you from place to place. This year, AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association) estimates that 89.5 million people will travel over the December holidays. Are you traveling? How much will your road trip cost? What environmental impact will your traveling have?

First, you'll need to know the type of car you will drive. The company that manufactured your car is called its make, and the year and type of car is called its model. For example, if your family will use an SUV made by Ford, it could be a 2013 Ford Escape. You will also need to know the type of engine (number of cylinders) in your car, and the fuel your vehicle uses. Most vehicles on the road are gasoline only, however your vehicle could run on diesel fuel, a gasoline-electric hybrid (or just hybrid), plug-in electric, or a flex-fuel vehicle that uses gasoline or E85, a blend of ethanol and gasoline. Write the information you gather below.

Make of vehicle: _______________________________________________________________

Model of vehicle: ______________________________________________________________

Year of vehicle: ________________________________________________________________

Number of engine cylinders: _____________________________________________________

Fuel used by vehicle: ___________________________________________________________

Using your web-enabled device, navigate to the Fuel Economy webpage at and determine the information below for your vehicle. Use the Find a Car tab and the drop-down menus.

City mileage:

Combined mileage: _______________________________________________________________

Highway mileage: ________________________________________________________________

Using a map, determine the distance from your home to your final destination for the holidays. Calculate or estimate the number of miles that will be driven on a highway, and the number of miles you will drive on city or town streets (roads with traffic lights or stop signs). If you cannot accurately determine how many miles are in a city setting and how many are on highways, skip this step.

Total miles to travel: _________________________________________________________________

Number of miles on highways: _________________________________________________________

Number of miles on city streets: ________________________________________________________

You will now use your vehicle's miles per gallon and the distance you will travel to determine how many gallons of fuel will need to be purchased.

Highway miles to travel _______ / Highway mileage mpg _________ = ________ gallons required
City street miles to travel _______ / City mileage mpg ________ = __________ gallons required
Add highway gallons and city gallons to get the total number of gallons of fuel needed: ___________

If you do not have the highway and city miles separated, use the following calculation:
Total miles to travel _______ / Combined mileage _______ mpg = ________ gallons required

Use the average local fuel cost for gasoline or diesel fuel by researching prices at local fueling stations. On December 15, 2014, the national average price of gasoline was $2.55 per gallon; diesel was $3.42. Use this average price if you cannot determine the price you pay in your area for fuel.

Number of gallons required _______ x Price per gallon $________ = Total cost for fuel $__________

In December of 2013, the national average price of gasoline was $3.25 and the average price of diesel was $3.87. Use the table of values on the Energy Information Administration's website,, to determine how much fuel cost in your area a year ago. Many factors determine the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel, but the most influential factor is the cost of crude oil. How much would your trip have cost last year using the same data?

Burning gasoline, diesel, and ethanol releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and increasing levels of CO2 have been linked to changes in climate around the world. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that using one gallon of gasoline releases 19.6 pounds of CO2 and one gallon of diesel releases 22.4 pounds of CO2. Determine your environmental impact below:

Total gallons of fuel required ______ x pounds CO2 released per gallon _______ = _______ pounds CO2 released

Calculations such as these can help you make intelligent decisions about holiday travel, and ultimately about the type of vehicle you will own. Whether you go over the river and through the woods to your Grandmother's house, or over the dune and onto the beach to soak up some sunshine, we hope you have a warm, safe, pleasant holiday season.