Monday, February 2, 2015

Help!: Green Car Shopping

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!


Green Bean said...

I recall hybrids and EVs being more expensive in Canada than California but I do love my Prius. We bought it used over 4 years ago and it has been very reliable. We take it everywhere - even on camping trips. It was actually pretty inexpensive - though it has no bells and whistles. I think it cost around $23k which, for a car, isn't bad. I get an average of 48 mpg.

Betsy Escandon said...

Hopefully electricity will soon be from renewable energy, but until it is, from what I've read, EV vehicles may not be lower carbon footprint anyway (b/c so much electricity comes from burning coal). Someone correct me if that's wrong.

Love the sound of that fuel efficiency though, Green Bean! We drive a mini van, so I'm really not one to preach or advise on this point :)

Does allow us to often carpool though.

lori alper said...

I feel your pain, having gone through the same thing a little over a year ago. I have a family of 5 so it was next to impossible to find an eco car that fit us and all of our stuff.

Green Bean said...

@Betsy - I went from a minivan to a Prius. Boy was that an adjustment! My understanding with EVs is that it depends on where your provider gets their electricity. PG&E (I'm assuming that's yours too?) has relatively clean sources of electricity and very little coal in our area.

Mindful Momma said...

I don't have any great advice - you have to find something that meets all your needs - including size and price - but I'm sure you'll find something! I drive a used Toyota Highlander and love it!

Carissa Bonham said...

We started shopping for new car when we realized how much money we were going to spend on commuting gas for my husband. We weren't even looking for an Electric car, but ended up signing a 3 year lease for an all-electric Ford Focus. And I love it. I love it so much, I am a total covert and never want to buy another gas car add long as I can help it. I do not live in an area that uses coal for power, but my understanding of carbon emissions from gas cars vs. Coal powered electric cars is that it ends up balancing out. Of course, if your electricity provider has any greener resources, that savings adds up. But to mention that you'll save a lot of money. Our electric car can go about 60 miles on $1 of electricity. Even if gas drops to $1/gallon, you're not going to be able to beat that!

Feel free to email me if you have any questions about electric cars!

Christy said...

As a family of 5 living in the suburbs, I shouldn't really weigh in on this issue.

However the way we have decided to deal with it is to have a mini van (for carpooling with other families, school carpooling and field trips) and a hybrid for long trips and when we can fit everyone in. My have a Toyota Camry hybrid, which I guess is like having 1.5 cars instead of two. I have to say the mileage is amazing on the hybrid, and our default car. My husband has to drive all over Metro Vancouver and I use it three times a week to drive long distances (hour plus trips) and we fill it up maybe once a month.

If you can afford it, I saw go hybrid as it offers flexibility.

Betsy Escandon said...

Glad to know if I ever get an EV or hybrid here in bay area my electricity will be mostly clean, Green Bean! Carissa, that's quite a testimonial. I do love the idea of paying less (or nothing) at the pump.

Jen said...

@Betsy - You are still way further ahead with a EV charged off of a coal grid. Think of it this way, a gas powered car not only has the impact of using the gas to drive but also the impact from drilling the oil, transporting it, making the gas, transporting it again, using electricity (from coal perhaps) all along the way to produce and transport it and then again using electricity to get it into your gas car.

Jen said...

I bought a Nissan Leaf because it was going to reduce my reliance on fossil fuels and because it was going to save me money. Keep in mind cars are significantly more money in Canada than in the US so my numbers will be more than what someone in the US would pay. My car was just under $30K after rebates and a dealer incentive. This is for the highest level Leaf. Knock another $6K off if you go for the cheapest model. That roughly works out to $410/month with the lease rate I got. Charging costs me a bit less than $50/month. I bought a L2 charger which cost $1300 including installation and got half of that back from the government. So all in monthly I am spending $460 on my car. Previous I was spending around $400 in gas alone + maintenance (car was paid for).

Becca @ The Earthlings Handbook said...

I bought a 2008 Prius, new. I highly recommend one of about that vintage, if you can find it used. Here is our real-world experience with the gas savings.

Delora said...

I'm a bit late to reply, so I'm sure you've already purchased by now. That said, we've owned both a new '04 Prius, and after that was totaled last year, replaced it with a used '10 Honda Insight. The Insight is less expensive overall (both the base cost, and basic maintenance), but we regret the purchase. The Prius was a much better car to drive, more comfortable, and fit our family of 4 more easily. The Insight's back seat is not comfortable for anyone, including our 5yo in a carseat, and the trunk space isn't as useful as the Prius.

Where I live (Washington DC), most of our power comes from coal, so an EV would not be a good choice for us, even though I have seen several of them in my neighborhood. If a person has the ability to use solar or wind power generated on-site to power their house and vehicle, that would be an amazingly green combination.


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