Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Conscious Shopper Challenge: Upgrade to an Energy Efficient Vehicle

Most of the challenges in the Conscious Shopper Challenge are designed so that anyone can do them, no matter where you are on your green journey. Most weeks, I focus on small, affordable steps you can take to go green. But this is not one of those weeks. This week's challenge is one of those Marathon Runner only challenges that require some extra commitment...and some extra cash. This week I'm asking you to


Photo by vestman

Please don't misinterpret this challenge to mean that I want you to run out tomorrow and buy a more efficient vehicle. It's almost always greener to stick with what you have for as long as you can before upgrading to a new model, and it definitely makes more financial sense to make do with the vehicle you have.

But when the time is right, I hope you'll make your next vehicle choice a green one. Here are some options to choose from, both now and down the road from now:

  • Pick a small car. Maybe you're not sold yet on a hybrid: you're waiting for more improvements in the technology, you don't think a Prius has been around long enough to prove its reliability, or you just can't stomach the price difference. Fine. But do you really need that SUV? Could your family get by without a minivan? How often are you really going to haul things in that truck? In general, the smaller the car, the better the gas mileage.
  • Try a Smart Car. Since we're talking small cars, you might want to consider the ultimate small car. At 36 mpg, it's the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid on the market and will only cost you about $12,000, making it a great choice for commuters, singletons, and DINKs.
  • Go for a hybrid like the Prius (50 mpg), Honda Civic Hybrid (42 mpg), or Honda Insight (41 mpg). If you're ready to upgrade to a greener vehicle right now, a hybrid is probably your best bet.
  • Try a full electric vehicle like the Nissan Leaf (available at the end of this year) or the Tesla Model S (my dream car - available in 2012). One of the main disadvantages of a full electric vehicle is that you can't drive very far before your battery needs to be recharged, but they could be fantastic cars for commuters.
  • Or try a plug-in hybrid electric, which has the advantages of a hybrid, a full electric vehicle, and a traditional combustion engine all rolled into one. Examples include the Chevy Volt (available next year) and the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid (available 2012).

My family is stuck with our minivan for at least several more years, but I'm keeping my eye on green car technology and dreaming about what we'll buy next. Oh beautiful beautiful Tesla, couldn't you drop in price about, oh, $30,000?

Do you drive an energy efficient car? What kind did you pick and why?


Kate said...

We just bought a mazda5 because I am going to be holds 6 people (admittedly it's more comfortable if they are 6 small people but that's what we wanted) but gets the same gas mileage as our last car, a Honda Accord. We've only had it 3 weeks though, so I can't say yet what we think of our decision.

Ivy said...

I guess my answer is...kind of?

I didn't choose my car, period, so I didn't really have any say in energy efficiency. I inherited it from my grandfather after he passed away, and it's an older (early 1990s) Mitsubishi.

On the one hand, I know that a hybrid or electric car could be more efficient. If I could go that route, it would have to be a hybrid, as apartment living means no reliable access to a plug to charge an electric car. (And, potentially, being prohibited to do so by a landlord since most outdoor plugs draw power from the building not my specific unit that is charged to me.)

On the other hand, it's well maintained and gets pretty decent gas mileage. It also means that the parts are not sitting in a landfill, and the energy to produce a new car isn't necessary.

I would like to get a hybrid eventually, but in the tradition of my family, I also plan on driving this car as long as it will run. Which is energy-efficient in it's own way...and good for my bank account.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Ivy - For all the reasons you said, it sounds like you have a great car. And you make an excellent point about one of the problems with electric cars.

Simply Authentic said...

We have two vehicles. I've had my Civic for about 4 years now and love the 40mpg I've been able to get on the hwy. We'd like to eventually get a hybrid to replace it further down the road when we've budgeted for it, although I just saw a news blurb that the Prius will be discontinued in 6 years? We recently did just buy a Toyota truck although compared to most trucks its gas mileage is better than some. It does get used to haul stuff for ourselves and others (furniture, camping gear, etc), including our dogs on a very regular basis, and was purchased as a long term aide for our return to Oregon--driving on mountain roads, moving big loads, and hauling a UHaul trailer (cheaper than renting a UHaul truck) an easier experience....

Simply Authentic said...

And real long term I'd LOVE an electric car, but would need it to be able to go a farther distance than currently is possible on a single charge. I'm hopeful the technology will get there and instead of the hybrid that might be the next trade-in.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Speaking of singletons and thing a lot of people would never think of is the ridiculous reality that LOTS OF BABY CAR SEATS ONLY FIT INTO MINIVANS AND SUVS. How messed up is that? I drive a little Subaru Impreza, and we literally had to bring carseats out to the car to see if they'd fit, and about half to two thirds of the ones we tried didn't. Can you imagine, "needing" a bigger car because you're expecting a baby and only the gas guzzlers fit the "safest" carseats?

That can be done. I would love a SmartForTwo, but I schlep my little people around too much...

Check out this website:
It figures out, based on where in the country you come from, whether plug-ins or plug-in hybrids will, in YOUR part of the country, be a better energy-saver...sort of interesting!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Jenn - That's totally why we bought our minivan in the first place. Before the third kid, we had a little Altima, and there was no way we could fit three carseats in the back. I think we probably could have found a small car that would have worked, but at the time, I was less green-minded and the minivan seemed like a smart choice for our growing family. I'm sure the carseat thing is one reason why a lot of people have bigger cars.


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