Living Green 365: Choosing your next vehicle

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Feb 2014 header

Buying a cleaner car

The vehicle you drive and how you use it may have a greater effect on the environment than any other choice you make as a consumer. While cars and trucks are much cleaner than they were in the past, they still are one of the biggest contributors to urban air pollution. In Minnesota, over half of all the air pollution comes from vehicles.

There are several different types of cleaner, eco-friendly vehicles on the market. While advanced technologies and alternative fuels offer the greatest environment benefits, choosing an ordinary, low-emission, fuel efficient gasoline vehicle is one of the single biggest steps you can take to reduce air pollution and cut your fuel costs. By making a good, informed choice, you can save hundreds of dollars a year in fuel costs while also reducing air pollution. It’s a win-win! 

Choose carefully

You can reduce pollution and emissions from your car by choosing your car carefully the next time you are in the market to buy, lease or rent a car. 

toy truck

Consider size. 

When purchasing a vehicle, choose the size and type that meets your daily needs. If you are like me and only carry large loads a few times per year, consider borrowing or renting a large vehicle, trailer or car-top carrier for those occasions. The savings of will far outweigh the environmental and fuel costs of a bigger vehicle for only the occasional use. 

gas can

Consider efficiency

Look for the miles per gallon rating on the label for new vehicles. The more miles per gallon a vehicle gets, the more efficient it is which means it generates less pollution and more savings. The difference between a car that gets 20 MPG and one that gets 30 MPG amounts to $832 per year (assuming 15,000 miles of driving annually and a fuel cost of $3.33). That's $4,162 extra in fuel costs over five years! 

The EPA and DOE’s Fuel Economy Guide, for 1984 to the present model year cars, will help you choose an efficient vehicle to save money at the pump and pollute less. The online guide provides you with a valuable resource to identify and choose the most fuel efficient vehicle to meet your needs. Also, the guide includes a 1-10 greenhouse gas rating for each model, providing a quick and easy way for you to identify vehicles with low greenhouse gas emissions. 

plug in

Consider alternative fuels.

As you compare vehicle types, you may encounter different types of engines. FlexFuel (FFV), hybrid (HV) or electric vehicles (EVs) help reduce our air pollution. Like fuel economy, vehicles vary in relation to the quantity of various pollutants emitted in their exhaust. Certain green vehicles even qualify for tax credits and other incentives. Some of the more eco-friendly options available are:

  • HEVs : They combine the benefits of gasoline engines and electric motors to increase fuel efficiency up to 50 percent (up to a combined 50 mpg). An onboard computer does the work switching between gas and electric motors. A wide variety of HEVs is currently available.  
  • EVs : Powered by electricity stored in batteries , they do not use an internal combustion engine; therefore, emitting no tailpipe exhaust. They are also four times more efficient than vehicles powered by gas. Since EVs use no fuel, widespread use could drastically reduce both pollution and petroleum consumption. Find out more benefits of driving EVs.
  • FFVs : These vehicles are capable of running on E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline), only gasoline or a mixture of both. Local fuel production of ethanol decreases reliance on fossil fuel imports. 

Reconsider buying altogether.

 Another option for people who are considering a vehicle is to try car sharing, rather than purchasing their own. If you do not frequently use your vehicle, car sharing services such as HourCar or car2go provide cars for people living in the Twin Cities metro area. This service provides access to a car when you need it without having to own it.  The gasoline, insurance and maintenance costs are included in the user fee.

Community events and resources

Join Friends of the Mississippi River and the Science Museum of Minnesota for Our Water in a Changing World: Climate Change and the Urban Watershed. Discuss the intersection of climate change and local quality issues with topics spanning from changes in growing seasons and urban heat islands, to new stormwater management issues and tree species suitable for the future, February 13, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Science Museum of Minnesota (St. Paul).

Kick off the growing season early! Attend the Twin Cities Community Seed Swap. Urban gardeners, farmers, coordinators, foodies and seed enthusiasts will enjoy an afternoon of workshops, seeds and snacks, February 22, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m., Bryant- Lake Bowl Theatre (Minneapolis).

Spend an evening hiking on snowshoes through the beautiful north woods of Minnesota at the New Moon Snowshoe Hike. Learn about special adaptations that animals use to help them function at night. February 26, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Soudan Underground Mine State Park (Ely).  

Community POWER (Partners on Waste Education & Reduction) grants available: Ramsey County is looking for applicants to propose new and innovative ways to educate and actively engage residents and businesses in the county to change their behaviors and reduce waste. Non-profit organizations and schools are eligible to apply. Read the grant guidelines and submit an online application by March 24, 2014. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Retiree Environmental Technical Assistance Program (RETAP) is hiring new members to conduct energy efficiency and waste reduction assessments.  Members are retired environmental professionals that are comfortable working independently. RETAP employs skilled, retired professionals to provide facility assessments and community sustainability assistance to small businesses, institutions and communities in Minnesota.

Send questions or comments about living green to the address below.



Taylor Holland and the Living Green Team