The Climate Crusader is in search of a green set of wheels.
Sometimes life throws you curve balls. I got one last Friday when someone turned left out of a driveway and straight into my car as I was out running errands. The good news: I am fine, and the other driver is fine. The bad news: the insurance company has written off my trusty old Honda.
Of course, at this point the greenest decision would probably be to go car-free. I will confess, though, that as a suburban mom of two school-age children I'm not there yet. Taking transit home from my son's soccer practice at 8:00pm on a school night would take a really long time. I am not ready to move out of the suburbs, and there aren't car-sharing cars in my neighbourhood. So, I am suddenly in the market for a new car, and I don't have a lot of money to spend. I would, however, like to make a choice that's as sustainable as possible.
According to the EPA, transportation accounted for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US in 2011, second only to industry which accounted for 28%. Within the transportation sector passenger cars are far and away the most emitting, creating 43% of greenhouse gases. This is almost twice as much as medium and heavy duty trucks, with 22%. So, the kind of car you opt for does matter.
What should you look for in a car? Fuel economy is important. The more miles per gallon your car gets, the lower its carbon footprint. Plus, the cheaper it is to fill up your tank. Hybrid and electric vehicles offer the highest fuel efficiency, but they're not cheap. Emissions also matter. The EPA rates vehicle emissions to help you choose a lower-polluting car. Alternative fuel vehicles (think: biodiesel) may also reduce the impact of your car, but again, there's a higher price tag, and the benefits aren't all that clear. For most North American customers, like me, the most affordable green option is an efficient gasoline car.
Once you have your car you can also reduce your impact by laying off the gas pedal, and choosing to walk, cycle or use transit when possible. It's also important to keep your vehicle maintained, including keeping an eye on tire pressure. Combining trips and car-pooling can also help you cut your carbon output.
I will most likely be looking for a used car with good emissions ratings and high fuel efficiency. However, I'm no expert, so I welcome your tips. How did you find an affordable, greener car? Please share your suggestions!