CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Affordable "green" car

Need a new/used car. Would like a hatchback. Which car out there is the greenest, and why?

If you get down to it. Keeping your current car ,assuming you have one, and constantly repairing it is the “greenest” choice most of the time. It takes signifcantly more resources to build a new car, hybrids especially, then it does to keep a 20 year old clunker on the road.

Green: footprint to build, gas usage or longevity?

Green is a state of mind. If your car gets great mpg it is green. If is kept tuned up it is green. My '03 Honda Civic is green to me. It gets 40 mpg on the expressway, and 35 mpg overall and is rated a SLEV which is a super low emission vehicle.

So a used Civic, Corolla, Mazda, VW Jetta TDI or regular gas, or just about any car EPA rated for 28+ mpg is green. If you carry 6 or more in your minivan that’s green, as least on a per person basis.

Big SUV’s, commuting to work with one person inside, that’s not green.

A Honda Fit is a nice hatchback, great mpg, that’s green. Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, good green hatchbacks.

Green is coming to mean “hybrid” and I don’t buy into that concept. A green car makes good use of our resources and if you need to carry a bunch of stuff for work a Ford F-150 is green.

I afraid that “affordable” and “green” do not go together. If you want green then it’s going to cost you a premium. There are a lot of affordable hatchbacks out there but I don’t believe any of them are green (except for their paint color). I don’t mean to be facetious…I’m just being honest.

What do consider affordable? I have an uncle who thinks 100K is affordable. I see affordability as 5K-10K. I am sure a lot of people would see it as less and a lot will see it as more.

Agree; make sure your current car meets the emission regs and is in good tune. Keep the tires inflated correctly and drive sanely.

If you MUST have another car, a relatively new car with a small engine and low weight will ensure you get the best mileage for your dollar.

For instance a stripper compact with a small engine and stick shift will get excellent fuel mileage and the resources to build it have already been accounted for. In all cases, taking good care of the vehicle and getting maximum mileage out of it makes a real contribution.

Cash for clunkers was mainly designed to stimulate car production, the chief beneficiaries being the auto workers.

You really have to look long & hard, and research deep and thorough to define YOUR overall definition of greenness for any product.

ie: did they bulldoze 1000 acres or rain forest or fill in wetlands for the factory ?
What materials did they build the factory with ? Where did they come from ?
In the multiple source supply chain, where are these factories ? Who’s jobs are lost or intact and at what environmental impact ?

Emissions ? Whos ? From the chinese production of the door handles to the mining of the aluminum and steel, there are emissions we almost can’t control with our purchases. Importing products entails a transportation chain that includes age old ships, trucks, etc that spew more than you’ll ever save.
Mining requires vehicles and methods that you’d better find out about before calling anything green.
And the production of all this plastic ?

When that vehicle is dead and gone how green is it at that point ?

( Other posters out there will be able to add to this ‘how green is it really ?’ list because I’m at work and haven’t completely remembered all the entities involved. )

There are massive angles to this “GREEN” equation.

Where do you actually expect to make a difference ?
Where can any of us actually make a dent ?

In my opinion, the greenest car is the best buy for the money you’re likely to keep the longest without trade. That would be a Corolla, or one of it’s derivatives with a hatchback with the Toyota 1.8 L motor in manual transmission. It has excellent power and there are few if any non hybrids that are as good on gas.

Surprisingly, a mini van FULL of people traveling a great distance may give you the most “passenger” miles with the comfort all think we deserve. There’s your average two cars for a two car family. So most people are pretty smart…already.

I disagree. Unless you’re going to say that the only “green” vehicle is a bicycle or a subway car, cheap cars are generally as green as they come. The expensive flashy hybrids add a ton more complexity and environmental impact for very little fuel mileage advantage over a small economy car (and in the case of luxury hybrids like the Highlander or Camry, none at all). That the car companies have chosen to focus their “green” marketing to much more expensive cars belies the real facts of the situation, IMHO.

And, of course, if you agree with the argument that used is greener than new, than the greenest car out there is a used economy car, which also happens to be the most affordable. What a happy coincidence for the OP!

Good post Dagosa. Actually, a Yaris will last a very long time as well, and uses even less gas than a Corolla. You would need TWO Aveos, for instance to last the same length of time and mileage as one Yaris.

I have been involved in a number or transporation studies, and a fully loaded diesel bus gets the most people miles per gallon on inter-city travel. Surprisingly, a diesel train, which is heavy, does not do as well. Air travel takes a lot of energy, but a fully loaded Boeing 737 gets the equivalent of 85 passenger miles/gallon of jet fuel. And planes fly in a straight line, making the distance shorter. The secret is to fill the plane.

The London Taxi, the old Checker cab, and other durable vehicles, are environmentally friendly in terms of resources they used over their lifetime. There is a retired fellow in my town who drives a late 60s Mercedes 240 diesel, without turbo. It has a 4 on the floor and no extras whatsoever. He is currently at about 500,000 miles and wants this to be his last car. So far he has gone the equivalent of 4-5 Aveos, and has gotten very good fuel mileage as well. This is a 5 passenger car and comfortable on the highway.

Typically the building of a car takes about 15-20% of the lifetime energy consumption, according to SAE studies. If you can make a car last twice as long, that would be 7.5-10% with only half the waste disposal at the end of the car’s life.

In general what you say is true, but in my case I use 5 gallons a week commuting in the winter, and less in spring summer and fall as I ride my bike 1 to 3 days a week. I think even though I am alone in my commute in my SUV, Am I more green than someone who uses more than 5 gallons a week with any car.
I can’t tow a boat or trailer, use the 4 bike hitch rack, put the rear rack on to take a trash can of grass clippings to the city site for composting, or pick up mulch. I used to be anti urban assault vehicles, but now that I have one I am attempting to say all SUV drivers are not necessarily un green.

I own an SUV too, a big one. When I drive it, it is pulling somethihg or loaded with me, wife, 2 dogs and one cat. Also great for hauling stuff.

Using your bike is very green. SUV’s aren’t bad if they serve a valid purpose.

IMHO I think the Corolla cant hold a candle next to a Civic Two door Coupe.

It’s funny how it actually works. Most economy cars, the least expensive models that include sub-compacts and compacts, with conventional drivetrains are the most ‘green’. Toyota Corrolla, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, are the most green cars available today. Honda Insight and Toyota Prius are the most fuel efficient, but actually not the greenest. These cars cause more environmental havoc because of their hybrid battery systems and the amount of nickle required. Nickle mining and refining is a very dirty business, and this alone makes the manufacture of a Prius much dirtier than the manufacture of a Hummer. One study suggests that over a lifespan of 100,000 miles, a Hummer is still cleaner than a Prius, even though the Prius uses a bunch less gasoline. Because the environmental cost of manufacturing is so lopsided against the hybrid battery.

Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio. You can buy a new Accent for $10,000 and a loaded new Rio for less than n$15,000.

I smell a challenge…I’ll raise you one Scion :slight_smile:

1990 Honda Civic CRX five speed. I had a coworker who had one of those. You can’t get much greener than a 2200 pound hatchback that will never quit running and gets 50 mpg on the interstate. On top of all that, the car looked good and was fun to drive! Why can’t they make something like that any more?

Any WELL BUILT econobox with a stick shift and a small engine can be classified as “green”. The Civic used to come in a basic and very streamlined coupe; their entry vehicle. My neighbor bought two of these for his daughters when they went of to college. They proved to be long lived, although one got run over by an out of control pickup which totalled it. By that time it had almost 200,000 miles on it.

The original VW Beetle was meant to be that economical, long lived people’s car. In those days “green” was not a popular term yet.

Thanks all.
Didn’t expect such detail and big picture thinking in the replies. Agree with and aware of much of what was said.
Just moved to the US from Sweden and do not own a car yet. Do walk or bike the majority of the time. Was hoping for a few suggestions on great mpg vehicles, which I received a few. More are welcome:) Affordable is relative, I know. Good value for money might be better.
Also have a little 10 mo old daughter so safety and reliability is also part of the equation.
Thanks again!