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It’s time for the annual family camping trip! Load up the SUV. Tie the tents and sleeping bags to the roof, attach the bike rack to the rear, and pack up the trunk with clothes, hiking boots, and tackle boxes. Make sure the kids (all five of ’em) are strapped safely into the back seats with plenty of snacks for the long drive. Fill ‘er up at the gas station and you’re on your way.

Unfortunately your SUV may be averaging as low as 14 miles per gallon (depending on the make of the car, of course). Your road trip is going to be expensive. (Read more about gas mileage at

Many families with multiple children own large, gas-guzzling cars in order to be able to comfortably seat their entire family for camping trips and the like. But not every day is a camping trip. Most of the time, the car’s large size will be wholly unnecessary — used to accomplish everyday tasks that could easily be done in a car that uses half the amount of fossil fuel. Mom doesn’t need 40 cubic feet of space to go to the grocery store for some salad greens. Dad doesn’t need an eight-seater to pick up Billy from baseball practice.

Large, fuel-sucking family vehicles tend to be more prevalent in suburban and rural areas. Because things are more spread out, people living in non-urban areas end up driving farther and more frequently in order to access schools, work, food, and other necessities. The places where people drive the most fuel inefficient cars are often the places where people drive the most. (Read more about cities, driving, and gas consumption here).

How can families that need the space of an SUV every once and awhile avoid driving such an inefficient vehicle all the time? Sure, driving a Prius for everyday errands while the Suburban hibernates in the garage is a fine idea. But not everyone can purchase an SUV just for the annual camping trip.

Using a car-share is a viable solution to ownership. Car rental services, such as Zipcar, allow people to quickly and easily rent the type of car they need, saving on gas, money, and emissions. Instead of buying an SUV and shouldering the costs the initial purchase, gas, and maintenance, you can use services like Zipcar and reserve a hybrid SUV for the weekend camping trip. More money and more garage space for you and less CO2 in the atmosphere.

If there seems to be no alternative to owning a large vehicle and you are in the market for a new car, consider purchasing a cleaner, more fuel efficient model. Each year, many types of cars are getting increasingly better mileage. The 2012 Ford Escape Hybrid, for example, averages 32 mpg. A 2012 Chevrolet Suburban, in contrast, averages only 17 mpg. The base price of a Ford Escape is also significantly lower than that of the Suburban. The choice is easy.