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Green Wheels: Hybrids vs Used Cars

 
 
Reply Mon 27 Sep, 2010 02:33 am
Quote:

Is buying a new car greener than buying used?
by Steve Offutt • September 24, 2010 1:33 pm

About a year ago I was at a conference where the keynote speaker dispensed the conventional wisdom that buying a used car is more environmentally friendly than buying a new one, even something like a hybrid.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Manufacturing a new car requires enormous mining, manufacturing, transportation and other costs and energy inputs, while a used car doesn't need to be manufactured; it already is.

You can find articles agreeing in Wired, Knol, Scientific American, BrakeandFrontEnd Blog and many other places.

If you are worried only about your own personal environmental footprint, then the used car is likely better. But if you are concerned about the entire planet, you have to draw a larger circle than just around yourself, and that changes the answer.

When one goes to purchase their replacement vehicle, what happens to the one they already have? In most cases it is sold to someone else, who eventually sells it to someone else until it finally completely dies after about 17 years and several owners.

In fact, every car that is manufactured will be on the road until it finally is totaled or gives up the ghost. Your particular ownership of that car is just a waypoint on the path from manufacturer to junkyard.

A better outcome, from an environmentalist's standpoint, is for manufacturers to start churning out more and more high mileage and hybrid cars and working desperately to design and build the next, even better generation of vehicles.

The way to get the manufacturers on board is to affect demand. Car builders claim over and over that they manufacture to meet the demand of buyers — it's why GM claimed it was building so many SUVs, for instance.

Manufacturers don't care about used-car buyers, even if demand for used cars sends a weak signal. If I buy a new, cutting edge, fuel-efficient vehicle, then I'm sending a signal to the manufacturer to make more of those. If I buy a used car, I'm not sending any signal, but someone buying a gas-guzzler might be.

Buying a used car neither reduces the total number of manufactured cars nor the number of cars going to the junkyard: remember, each owner is just a way station along the car's trip.

Another way to look at the argument is to scale it up. Thought experiment: a fleet buyer is buying 100,000 vehicles. Imagine the difference between placing an order for 100,000 new hybrids vs. buying 100,000 used cars. Which is going to make the manufacturers sit up and take notice — and maybe even invest in new factories?

In fact, what if that fleet owner put in an order for 100,000 every year? There's an interesting twist. Counterintuitively, by making that argument writ small we learn that buying a new efficient car every year is better than buying one and making it last. And it's true (although not practical for most people). It would send an even stronger economic signal to manufacturers.

In the end, the decision about replacing your car includes a lot of factors, not the least of which is your own personal financial situation. But if you're thinking about a new car, but have considered a used car for environmental reasons, think again.

Incidentally, Slate did a comparison that also comes out in favor of the new Prius even without invoking my macroeconomic and macro-environmental arguments.


Source: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=7242

I think this is a good thing to talk about. Hybrids are great pieces of technology, but there is no magic bullet. Transport related efforts to promote sustainability are not just about what we drive, but how we commute, and more largely our lifestyles.

I have a 1999 Subaru Legacy Outback with over 200k miles. It's not worth much in cash, but compared to a very expensive Prius, what do you think the ecological impact of my car will be if I simply continue to put maintenance into my car?

I purchased my car for $5,500 dollars in 2007 and I have put about 60k miles on it as its third owner.

A new baseline Prius costs $22,800 and has twice the fuel economony.

How many miles would I have to drive int he Prius to match the manufacturing offset? How much money would I have to put into my Subaru to validate keeping such a high mileage car?

Do economy and ecology ever cross paths? I suppose, buying a used hybrid is the best...

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Type: Discussion • Score: 4 • Views: 2,945 • Replies: 12
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boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Sep, 2010 06:12 am
Several years ago I read an article breaking down the cost of building a hybrid. If I recall, the environmental cost to make the battery was greater than any environmental savings that might be achieved.

It's funny that the article mentions a 17 year lifespan for a car -- that's exactly how old my car is and it still runs pretty darn good. I'm the original owner. It's been in the shop twice over the course of 17 years, once for major repairs, once for minor repairs.

Once in a while I dream about getting a new car. I've looked over the hybrids. I would consider one if they made one that was affordable that looked decent.
0 Replies
 
chai2
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Sep, 2010 06:42 am
@failures art,
You've put 60,000 miles on it since 2007. is that 4 years, 3 or somewhere in between?

Has the amount of driving you do since 2007 decreased? How many miles would you say you drive in an average month at present?

Sorry if I haven't kept up, but I thought you used a lot of public transportation. Do you use the car to go to work?
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Sep, 2010 06:43 am
@failures art,
From what I can determine, a traditional vehicle with very high gas mileage (corolla, civic, and especially things like the Jetta diesel) are better environmental choices than a Prius or other hybrid.

In California, though, you need to consider access to the HOV lane; that's a major perk of owning a hybrid.
0 Replies
 
failures art
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Sep, 2010 07:09 pm
@chai2,
I unfortunately have no public transit options for work. I do drive, but use public transit and my bike more on my days off. I used to have a carpool, but he moved away :-(. I'm moving in Jan and trying to switch jobs. A large part of my objectives is to reduce all forms of transit to where I can have a more pedestrian lifestyle. Then the car is only needed in specific situations.

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farmerman
 
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Reply Mon 27 Sep, 2010 07:23 pm
I bought a demo hybrid. I got a very good price (Almost half off a 2 year old car with very low mileage). I was concerned at first but, with my price I got an extended warranty and a new 10 year warranty on the 7Kw batteries.
Its an Ascape and is an SUV so it gets just shy of 31 mpg. (pretty good for an SUV) CI and his wife were in it when I picked em up at VAlley Forge last year, so they can say whether the backseat was comfy. Its got all the creature comforts like leather seats, power this and that. electric seats. Heated front seats, and drives like a little banshee. And its only a 4 cyl engine and a battery engine that operates at speeds under 35 moh. The new ones have a 45 mph speed cuttoff for the electric engine and it can run at that engine for about 20 min without needing a recharge(which is fairly fast when driving)

The newer batteries are Lithium so they are even better.

The dirty little secret is that, should you want to run the AC , the electric motor disengages and you are running on the engine.
I dont like the looks of the Prius, its like an M&M that someone toom a bite from.
failures art
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Sep, 2010 07:32 pm
@farmerman,
Cool. Nice deal too.

I'm not a huge fan of the aesthetics of the Prius either, but I think the 3rd gen looks a lot better. I think the A/C issue in your car is common in a lot of hybrids. I believe you can do modifications where this can be changed.

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chai2
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Sep, 2010 08:07 pm
@failures art,
failures art wrote:

I unfortunately have no public transit options for work. I do drive, but use public transit and my bike more on my days off. I used to have a carpool, but he moved away :-(. I'm moving in Jan and trying to switch jobs. A large part of my objectives is to reduce all forms of transit to where I can have a more pedestrian lifestyle. Then the car is only needed in specific situations.

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hmmm
If you planning on moving in January, and may only need a car once in a while, is it worth buying any sort of new or used vehicle?

If you're going on a pleasure trip, you can rent a car. If you need one for errands, do you have those cars that you can rent by the hour? (see my thread regarding Cars To Go. I'm seeing more and more of them around town)
failures art
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Sep, 2010 09:15 pm
@chai2,
Sorry for the confusion. I'm not shopping for a new car. I was just using my own circumstances as an example.

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farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Tue 28 Sep, 2010 03:45 am
@failures art,
Quote:
I think the A/C issue in your car is common in a lot of hybrids. I believe you can do modifications where this can be changed.

Naaah, It takes 20 HP to run the AC system , Idf you keep it in hybrid mode (by city driving only), soon the AC craps out and begins blowing muggy air. SO, in order to keep AC, there is a "Peak AC" button which totlly bypqasses the battery power.
YES it is common to all hybrids but my point was that the dealers NEVER even mention it to a prospective customer.
0 Replies
 
chai2
 
  1  
Reply Tue 28 Sep, 2010 04:35 am
@failures art,
failures art wrote:

Sorry for the confusion. I'm not shopping for a new car. I was just using my own circumstances as an example.

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whoops.

all righty then.
0 Replies
 
bj2002
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Oct, 2010 08:57 pm
@failures art,
The error in the thinking here is the assumption that if *I* don't buy *that* particular used car I'm looking at, someone else *definitely* will. On the micro scale that may work, but somewhere along the way, it stops one car from going the graveyard earlier than the average. THAT means a savings. It's a given (assumption) that the average new car is more efficient than the one it replaces ... REGARDLESS of the the "demand" we signal to the OEM's. But high hopes for the Chevy Volt don't change reality: There's only a small gain with each product cycle, which does not offset the 12-24% emissions blast to the environment (depending on who's study you believe) that happens in the first year of production. Again, for the "average" car, it simply takes too long to recoup. Especially as the latest technologies used in autos is actually increasing their pre-use carbon footprint.
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Oct, 2010 09:15 pm
@bj2002,
Remember, developmet of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric cars, and high efficiency gas and diesel engined cars are activities that are all going on in oparallel. so whoever wins is whever wins. I like my hybrid but Im certainly not married to the concept of hybrids. Ive seen the new VW diesels that have great performance (reported) and fuel mileage of about 45 mpg. This is an adaptation of diesel truck engines where theyve had injection,turbos and intercoolers for years and the engines are more finely tuned with all the newer electronic gizmos , and once again they require glow plugs to start when cold (due to the much higher compression)
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