I’m a car guy, so automotive related stuff always catches me eye. New Times "man in the street" question last week was "If you could purchase a new car today, what would your number one priority be?" Two out of five said "Power, definitely power". One said style, one economy, and one (if I recall correctly) was happy if it just started every time. This gives us a pretty good idea why many of the car ads feature bigger engines and more horsepower and only a few promote their economy. We also get a quick lesson as to why fuel efficiency has been such a hard sell and why many of the new hybrids are actually more powerful than the cars they are meant to replace. Despite the huge jump in fuel prices and the environmental penalty, drivers are still opting for style and power over economy.
Short of a huge shift in the American psyche, what can we do as individuals to "drive green"? First off, if we have a car we depend on, we should keep it in the best running order possible and keep it as long as is economically feasible. The economics of replacing an automobile that is running well and reliably, unless it is so old that even when running well it is a gross polluter, can be calculated just like calculating the payback time for installing an energy efficient heater or dual glazed windows. Even if you buy the cheapest gas sipper you can find, it is still going to cost you $4,000 a year or more for three years. During that time it will lose up to one third of its’ value. The car you are driving now is already paid for. Another reason to keep a car that runs well on the road is the environmental penalty imposed in the manufacture of the replacement car. Even though manufacturing efficiencies are vastly greater than they were just ten years ago, building even a modestly sized car consumes huge amounts of materials and energy, and creates a fair amount of environmental pollution and degradation in the process.
If your treasured vehicle has reached the end of its’ life, by all means replace it. Take a really close look at the kind of driving you do. If you are alone or with one other person in your car most of the time, chose a small hybrid sedan or coupe. If you regularly haul half the soccer team, consider one of the mini vans before looking at that Suburban. Many of the new mini vans can get close to 30mpg on the highway and are capable of hauling up to nine people and gear! If you really need to haul stuff, take a look at diesel power in trucks. Despite the initial added expense of opting for a diesel engine, as well as the more expensive fuel (here in CA), diesel powered trucks can get more that twice miles per gallon and potentially last twice as long as gas powered trucks.
To sum up, the car you drive right now may be the cheapest car you can own, but if you have to replace it, think green.
Next month: Really, really, green cars, and when we are going to get them.