General Question

Skeeter's avatar

Is it better for the environment to buy a fuel efficient older car or a new hybrid?

Asked by Skeeter (14points) October 22nd, 2007

What’s the better purchase in terms of short and long-term impact on the environment? A fuel-efficient used car like a Honda Civic (non-hybrid) or a new hybrid? The latter will have better fuel efficiency, but what about all the energy that goes into the manufacturing of the new car? I just feel like this push to buy more and newer things isn’t necessarily the answer to being a good environmental citizen, and I’m wondering what to do in this case. Thanks!

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6 Answers

sarahsugs's avatar

I don’t know, but you could do the best of both worlds and buy a used diesel car and run it on biodiesel. Depending on where you live there may be a biodiesel station, or a local environmental organization that makes the biodiesel so you don’t have to do it yourself. Then you get the fuel efficiency, low emissions, and zero energy for manufacturing a new car, all in one!

hossman's avatar

The biggest green concern re a new hybrid that is rarely discussed is the disposal of the battery pack. Any battery sufficiently modern and efficient to be be used in a hybrid contains highly toxic materials. ALL of these batteries will have to be replaced over what is now considered the average life of a vehicle not totalled in an accident. Nobody has given any serious concern to the effect of the disposal of all of these very large and toxic batteries. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if 6 or 7 years down the line hybrid owners aren’t faced with not only a huge cost in replacing their battery packs (which will either increase ownership costs or reduce resale value, possibly eliminating any fuel cost savings over the life of the vehicle) BUT ALSO huge fees to dispose of these battery packs. Further, whenever there are high costs, there is always an incentive for corruption, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t start hearing stories of battery packs dumped, leaching into water supplies, buried in landfills without precautions, etc.

Car and Driver has done some very good columns with engineering analysis concluding highly efficient internal combustion engines are still more efficient in energy usage, cost, and overall environmental impact.

migueltang's avatar

doesnt the acid found in cr batteries reused for new car batteries? My professor mentioned that the reason for a car battery going bad is the desintegration of the metal tubes of the battery.

occ's avatar

Someone asked a similar question in the “Ask Mr. Green” advice column for Sierra Magazine…I’ll copy it here from their website:
Hey Mr. Green,
What’s best for the environment, continuing to drive my perfectly fine 1990 Honda Accord, or trading it in for a new gas-sipping Prius? — Heath in Los Angeles

Well, Mr. Green hates to say this because you might be bonded to your trusty old Accord, but she burns twice the petrol and wheezes out twice the global-warming gas of a Prius or similar hybrid model. Being a conscientious environmentalist, though, you’re also worried about the energy and pollution involved in building a new car — the equivalent of 1,000 gallons of gas. But by the time the Prius hits 50,000 miles, its energy savings will have made up for its own construction. So unless you drive very little, a new hybrid is the way to go.

so, Skeeter…I guess the best thing would be to figure out the mileage that the used non-hybrid Honda Civic will get (as opposed to a Prius), figure out how many miles a year you drive, and how many years you plan to keep the car. If the Prius would save you more than 1,000 gallons of gas over that time, then it would be better for the planet to buy the Prius. Unless, of course, you take the money you’d save by buying a used car instead of a new one, and donate it to environmental groups instead ;)

Captain_Tetanus's avatar

If you only drive around town going under 40 and experience some stop and go traffic go with the hybrid. If you do a lot of hwy driving, stick with what you have. I know from actual experience.

My best friend got a brand new 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid for Christmas from her dad. It’s a really nice vehivle (small SUV) but it gets about the same mileage my old 1993 Dodge grand caravan (big minivan) gets. Slightly worse actually. The only time it was better was when we were stuck in Chicago traffic for an hour.
We drove from South Carolina to Wisconsin together, she in the brand new Escape and me in my hand painted, bumper stickered, van with its’ broken side door, and various rust holes.

The escape is really meant for in town travel. Otherwise it’s not really able to perform as a hybrid.

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