If you are in the market for a new car, there are an increasing number of green options for you to consider.
Switch to a Hybrid
Three gas and electric hybrid cars take the top three spots on two charts helpful to eco-conscious car-buyers recently published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At the top of the list for both fuel-efficiency and low emissions, the Honda Insight, Toyota Prius, and Honda Civic Hybrid all out-perform all conventional gas-powered cars to date both in terms of conserving fuel and lowering the emission of pollutants.
All three hybrids average more than 45 miles per gallon overall (including city and highway driving), with the Insight topping out with a 66 miles per gallon rating on highway driving. Also, over the summer of 2004, Ford launched a hybrid version of its Escape SUV, which, while not as fuel-efficient as the smaller cars, can achieve an average of about 35 miles per gallon, more than double the miles per gallon (16) of the average gas-only SUV.
Lighter than gas-powered cars and propelled by a smaller engine, a hybrid car recovers the energy used in braking and uses it to charge the car’s battery. After braking, while the car is idling, a hybrid’s gasoline motor will shut off, and the car will run completely on electricity.
That technology results in a cleaner car that’s just as convenient to drive as a conventional automobile. The nonprofit Environmental Defense calculated the difference in annual emissions between a standard Honda Civic and a hybrid Honda Civic and found that the hybrid prevented more than 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and 55 pounds of carbon monoxide (both greenhouse gases tied to global warming) from entering the atmosphere.
Furthermore, both Hondas, the Prius, and the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV have all been certified as super-low-emissions vehicles (SULEVs), the top rating by the California Air Resources Board, which began assigning ratings to cars in the early 1990s in an attempt to clean up California’s air. (Look for stickers designating vehicles as low-emissions [LEVs], ultra-low-emissions [ULEVs], or SULEVs when you go car shopping.)
While for now the sticker price of a hybrid vehicle remains somewhat higher than its conventional counterpart, with the price of gasoline rising, hybrids are becoming more economical than ever. The Insight, Prius, and Civic additionally offer at least an eight-year or 80,000-mile warranty on their hybrid parts, like the more expensive hybrid battery, reassuring customers who might worry about becoming an early adopter of new technology. In any case, the hybrid battery is designed to last for the life of the car, and Toyota says that in the four years since the introduction of the Prius, no Prius batteries have been replaced due to wear and tear.
While hybrid cars significantly reduce a driver’s fossil fuel dependence, there are cars on the market right now that can free you from fossil fuel use forever—diesel vehicles. Several models of Volkswagen, Mercedes, and Jeep can use biodiesel—fuel made exclusively from renewable vegetable sources—with no engine modification whatsoever, reducing emissions at the same time. According to the EPA, a switch to 100 percent biodiesel eliminates all of the sulfur emissions associated with petro-diesel, reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 47 percent, and reduces total hydrocarbons by 67 percent.
Believe it or not, such a switch is actually more appropriately described as a return to the original spirit of diesel. As unveiled by inventor Rudolph Diesel at the 1898 Exhibition Fair in Paris, the first diesel engine ran on 100 percent peanut oil. Diesel believed that such renewable vegetable sources were the fuel of the future, so until the 1920s, diesel versions of automobiles, trucks, and marine craft all used vegetable oil in their engines. However, after Diesel’s death in 1913, engine manufacturers began altering his design to burn cheaper, lower viscosity fossil fuel residues. Over the next 50 years, biodiesel fell out of favor, until the oil crisis of the 1970s resurrected interest. Even then, biodiesel production was mostly limited to individuals who were willing to make their own diesel fuel from supplies of used vegetable oil gathered from restaurants, which kept the biodiesel alternative from achieving mainstream appeal.
Today, however, biodiesel is making a comeback. Industrial biodiesel production began to catch on in the late 1990s with the agricultural community leading the way, purchasing locally produced veggie-based fuel for their diesel-powered tractors and trucks. In the last ten years, dozens of production facilities have sprung up across the country to meet that increased demand, and since 1997, the number of public fueling stations offering biodiesel to the average driver has risen from zero to nearly three hundred.
To find a biodiesel pump near you, or to locate a distributor willing to ship biodiesel directly to your home, visit the Web site of the National Biodiesel Board at www.biodiesel.org. Alternately, you can find recipes for making your own biodiesel at www.veggiepower.org.uk or by purchasing Joshua Tickell’s book, From Fryer to Fuel Tank (Tickell Energy Consultants, 2000) at your local bookstore or at www.veggievan.com. Tickell, who tours the country in his biodiesel-powered Veggie Van to spread the word about this sustainable fuel, encourages people to follow his example and simply ask fast food outlets in their hometowns for their used french fry oil, which is easily converted to biodiesel.
If you have access to an electrical outlet powered by a renewable source, did you know that you can eliminate all of your transportation-related emissions through use of an electric car?
While electric cars can’t be driven as far as other cars (they have a range of about 60 miles between charges), electric cars make excellent commuter vehicles, recharging during the workday and at night. They also make handy second cars.
Furthermore, contrary to popular misconception, electric cars can be plugged into any standard electrical outlet for recharging, and they feature a number of advantages beyond their initial zero-emissions draw. For example, electric motors have only one moving part, compared to conventional cars’ 150 to 250 moving parts, cutting down significantly on maintenance. There’s no oil to change, no noise pollution from their quiet engines, and operating costs are much cheaper than conventional cars, since you never have to buy fuel.
And even if your plug-in power initially comes from a non-renewable energy source like coal, coal-fired electric power plants operate at efficiencies three times greater than that of cars with gasoline engines, and coal is produced domestically, according to the California Energy Commission. And, you can choose green energy with your local electricity company, or purchase green tags to offset the carbon dioxide generated by the electricity you use.
Learn how to drive less and live "Car Lite" >
Learn more about green energy >