Keeping Green: Green car buying

A BMW i8 parks at South garage and get charged by the on-campus charge station. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

With modern technology and the growing effort to reduce the environmental impact of our daily activities, more domestic and foreign car companies are producing fuel-efficient options to suit the eco-warriors of today. However, with the recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, Tesla’s intimidating prices, and the general mistrust of anything General Motors makes, it can be difficult to see the car option that does the least amount of harm to the environment and your bank account. With the help of the Environmental Protection Agency and The Union of Concerned Scientists, we can take a closer look at which option is the greenest.

To preface, it is always the most sustainable and healthy for your body, wallet and environment to build your transportation needs around public transportation, walking and biking. Despite its obvious benefits, vehicle ownership comes with many costly responsibilities and variables that are easily avoided by simply not having one.

Also, you may have heard the term ‘Clean Diesel’ before which may seem confusing. There is nothing different about the composition of the diesel fuel or how it burns that has changed to make it cleaner. Rather it is a standard that all diesel fuel burning cars must now meet in terms of efficiency. Diesel is no cleaner than any other fossil fuel when looking at emissions. According to the UCS Senior Vehicle Analyst, diesel is more carbon dense than regular gasoline and it takes more energy to produce it so on a gallon-to-gallon comparison, diesel fuel emits 20 percent more green house gasses than gasoline.

First we are going to look at the most important aspect, environmental harm. If you are looking to own a car for commuter or other personal reasons but want to have as little environmental damage as possible then an Electric Vehicle (EV) is the best choice for you. It should be noted that most compact EV models have about 30-40 mile range on a single charge and can take hours to fully charge again. Cars that are 100% electric tend to be more expensive up front due to the modern technology involved in their production but will ultimately save you money over time.

The same could be said about hybrid cars. Diesel cars do cost more than conventional combustion engine cars but will also save you money over time. According to the EPA it will only save you, on average, five -10 percent of the money you spend on fuel compared to conventional cars and the environmental damage saved is marginal compared to electric or hybrid options.

If you want the environmental benefits of an electric car but do not want the anxiety of running out of battery, or losing the ability to go on long road trips, then a standard or plug in hybrid is the best choice. Both tend to cost less than electric cars and about the same as diesel cars.

Many plug-in hybrids can operate entirely on their battery just like their EV counterparts with comparable range, the significant difference lies in the combustion engine that the car can rely on if the battery runs out of charge. EV and plug in hybrids are priced about 20-30 percent higher than standard hybrids and diesels. Another benefit to note is that EV, and hybrids both will often get federal and state tax rebates.

In conclusion, taking into consideration the upfront price, tax rebates, environmental harm, and versatility, the best all around choice is the plug-in hybrid, and the least cost effective and most damaging is the diesel. If you reside in the nutmeg state and are planning on purchasing a new “clean vehicle” in the near future the State of Connecticut’s Department Energy and Environmental Protection offers up to $3,000 in rebates and federal tax credits can get up to $7,500 which makes the price point of these cars much more tangible to the average consumer.

If you want to explore the fuel economies and pricing of individual cars side-by-side, the EPA has an informative web tool available online.


Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.