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Saturday, July 7, 2012

My new "Green" car

You're probably looking at this picture and wondering how an old 1999 Ford Escort is a "green" car. Let me explain. I've been in the market for a new-to-me car and spent a fair amount of time doing market research on the new cars on the market these days.

I particularly love the Fiat 500 because it's cute and reminds me of the two years I spent in Italy in the 1980s. The minimum advertised price for one of these is $15,500 and it gets 30/37 MPG with premium fuel. I even kow all the old Italian songs about the 500 or "cinque cento."

The engineer in me loves the Toyota Prius, starting at about $24,000 and getting 51/48 MPG. Some family members have Priuses, so I've had a chance to drive them and check out the features (video showing reversing, keyless entry, trip computer plus GPS). Prius is definitely a nice car.

I've really liked the smart car since the Smart Fortwo came out in the US in 2008 (starting at $12,500 and getting 34/38 MPG). Alas, my husband requires we have cars that can fit the family, so he wants a car with four seats.


In a few months the first all-electric version of the Smart Fortwo will be available for individual consumers. The cars have a range of almost 85 miles, based on data from the Car2Go carsharing service, which has been using the Smart Fortwo vehicles in their fleets since November 2011. In fact I got myself an account with the Car2Go service in the city where I work. Unfortunately, I live outside the city limits, so the carsharing idea doesn't meet my commuting requirements.

So why buy an old car, when all these new cars are so awesome and "green?" Though a new car saves any amount of gas money and emissions for the owner, there's always the fuel, water, and emissions incurred in creating the car in the first place. In 2010 Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark at The Guardian said it takes about 17,000 metric tons of CO2 to produce a new car. By comparison, the US EPA estimates the average passenger vehicle produces 5,000 metric tons of CO2 per year.

So if I buy an older car and drive it for 3 1/2 years, it's the same CO2 impact as purchasing a new car and leaving it in the garage for 3 1/2 years. It'd take a powerfully fuel-efficient vehicle to get me a ROI in less than, say, 10 years.

The 1999 Ford Escort I just bought has less than 65,000 miles on her. She could stand getting aligned and no doubt needs a tune up. But she cost me about $3000 and this year/make/model routinely gets ~30 MPG based on actual customer results (based on 50+ fill-ups). It would take a really, really long time before I could earn a return on investment for any of these new green cars in terms of either money or CO2 emissions relative to this old but new-to-me vehicle.

There are other perks. My insurance rates will be lower, as well as my local car taxes. Repairs will be less expensive when required, and this car has the old-fashioned keys that can be copied at the store for less than $2.00.

And you know the really funny thing? The car, itself, is actually painted green. You can't get more "green" than that!


  1. How can you find a decent older car? I go to and search for used vehicles in my area costing less than what I have in the bank (e.g., $5,000) and with less than 100,000 miles. Many of the used car dealers now offer free CARFAX record checks, so you can evaluate the car history from the comfort of home. It's a buyers market, and most folks are eager to please, if only to avoid negative online reviews.

  2. As you and I discussed, a lot of 'green' cars depend on relatively complicated support systems to recharge and in this day an age the vast majority of sources for electricity challenge the environment in one way or another. Prius type vehicles use another option, but as you indicate, they are usually quite expensive. Not only does 'recycling' a car put off the manufacture of another car in a real sense, but it also delays the day when the car is reduced to component substances including plastics, many of which can cause serious pollution if burned.

  3. Good options you have here for environment-friendly cars! :) And you provided a clear explanation about your insights too! :)

  4. The Smart Fortwo, I believe, is the smallest and newest green car in the American market. The adorable car is small but is still roomy inside. It is very stylish for a tiny car and is very affordable. Anyway, Ford Escort is an amazing car choice. It has great mileage, awesome transmission, a lot of space for your loved ones, and it is always ready for a cool and smooth ride.

    Leisa Dreps

  5. For me, I would like to have the Toyota Prius. What I particularly like about this ‘green’ car is that it has solar roof, which means it would have a great source of alternative energy for the car’s stereo and other gadgets. That would translate to fewer expenses for batteries and fuel. Anyway, if you are happy with the Ford Escort, then it is certainly the right car for you!

    @Timmy Radloff