Wednesday, May 02, 2007

How Green Is Your Car?

I want to confess to one of my worst eco sins. I drive a big, gas-guzzling car.

At the time we bought it, it seemed to make sense. We weren't as aware of the damage to the environment caused by thirsty cars. And we needed a big car to fit three baby seats when the kids were all small. A saloon car just wouldn't do it.

But now the kids just need booster seats rather than baby seats, so they can fit in a much smaller car. And we have realised we can always hire a big car on the one or two occasions a year we really need it, such as going on holiday. It's time to trade down to a smaller car.

How environmentally friendly is your car? You can type its details into and get a rough-and-ready eco-rating. Ours scored 68% overall rating (confusingly, high numbers are worse, so that's quite a poor score), with 89% climate change score (a dire score) and 37% air quality (not a bad score). We're hoping to improve on that considerably with our next purchase, and save ourselves money on fuel, road tax and running costs as well.


Moonwaves said...

interesting site - this is something else I've been thinking about recently. Mostly, I have to admit, because I don't really like my car. My reliable old Nissan Sunny was stolen the year before last so I just had to buy something quickly and someone in work was selling theirs at a really good price. But I've never felt comfortable in it and recently have been trying to decide if I really need it - probably not based on the idea that I can hire a car if I need one and it probably wouldn't cost much more than insurance, tax and upkeep of my own. My overall score was 44 on that test.

Nev Sutter said...

Our 'nasty' 4x4 fairs only slightly better than the people carrier with a score of 66 overall. Unfortunately, it (or some other large car) is still a necessity, with a 6 month old in a car seat, the nappy bag, the buggy and even my hockey kit all having to squeeze in there.

Anonymous said...

I am in very similar circumstances. I chose our current car on practical, rather than environmental. That was back in the day before I did numerous small runs to/from school/playgroup. I feel very guilty using a big 1.6 car for short runs, which is by far the bulk of what I do. (I do try to minimise btw walking bus etc, but ....) The problem with a small car for me is not the day to day stuff, but the every now and then. I've looked into the possibility of hiring a bigger car when we need it, but it is just not cost effective. In fact, it's darn expensive! I've looked into train, but that is also expensive and not very practical. I want to be more green, but I'm struggling!

Anonymous said...

It's an excellent website, and really does throw into sharp focus the amount of damage that our four wheeled friends cause us and those that will follow us.

As Nev has said, though, big families require a large vehicle, however there are still important measures that you can take.

Taking Mel's car as an example, Mel drives an automatic. Auto's are a wonderfully luxurious labour saving device, but like many labour saving devices that we could mention, are not exactly eco-friendly! Auto's are far less fuel and emissions efficent than a comparable manual gearbox car. Changing to a manual would bring the score down (using Mel's car as an example still) to 61/80/32.

Buying a diesel would reduce it further to 59/64/51.

So if family necessity requires a large vehicle, look for a smaller capacity turbo diesel rather than a big petrol engine, and get working that left arm more!


Kim said...

I am quite thankful that I have managed to get away with not learning to drive so far in life.

Having a car never crosses my mind because to get one, I'd have to spend a lot of time and money learning how to drive it!

I'll stick with cycling and taking the train! (I'm planning to trade my bike in for a folding cycle at some point to make combination travel (i.e. using the train then cycling part way) much easier.

Anonymous said...

Car ownership is a big problem but, sometimes, an absolute essential. I love miles outside of town, on a hilly route. There are NO buses. Cycling is out as I suffer from asthma, angina, diabetes and arthritis so ..... Any viable solutions anyone ?

Melanie Rimmer said...

Get a horse.

Seriously, car ownership is not evil. The problem is overuse of cars. the other problem is defining "overuse" to mean something other than "I need my car but everyone else should drive less".

Use your car when you need to, and don't worry about using it on those occasions. Just be thoughtful - perhaps combine errands so you make fewer trips into town but get more done whilst you're there. And when you need to go further afield consider using public transport instead of driving, which might mean getting a cab to the train station.

This is part of the problem with the anti-4x4 crusade. 4x4s are not evil. True, there are more eco-friendly options for city drivers. But it's very important not to penalise the rural smallholder with laws designed to limit Chelsea tractors. I'm not anti-car, and nor are most sensible environmentalists. I'm just pro-thoughtfulness and pro-self-regulation.

Anonymous said...

I think Mel has absolutely hit the nail on the head there, it's not that cars are inherently evil (although the bloke I sold my last one to probably disagrees by now!!), it's our usage patterns that are causing the problem. Cars don't kill people, it's people who kill people....

As Mel says, if there are no other viable alternatives, then the car has to still be your answer. It would be a travesty if Bill could no longer enjoy the green of the country. The trick is buy the type of car most fitting to your usage pattern and, if there are other alternatives available (bike, legs, horse etc!) use them whenever possible and leave the car at home.

I'm as guilty as anyone (oh the shame!) of driving a gas guzzler, but if I'm being honest how often do I need that amount of luggage capacity / space? A lot of us only fill our cars to capacity once a year for our week's annual vacation on the M6, so if that is the case why not do as Mel is doing, and trade down to a smaller more economical car, but buy a trailer or roof box for that once a year jaunt??

I would raise one last question though... I totally agree with Mel on 4x4's that you can't have a 'one rule fits all' mentality, but how many of us, with hand on heart, genuinely need one?

The arguements for 4x4's have historically been:-

a/ I need a big car. If you look at the stats, though, the vast majority of 4x4's do not have greater usable capacity than an average family hatchback / estate, in fact a lot of them are, in terms of square footage, actually smaller! Also all of the major car manufacturers these days produce versions of their average saloons with slightly larger, squarer bodies specifically designed for people with families.

b/ 4x4's have more grip, so they're safer. 4x4's were originally designed for military and agricultural use, in other words for 'off road'. In normal road conditions (ie on the tarmac!)having 4 wheel drive provides no material benefit whatsoever. Only in awful weather conditions can it be argued that 4 wheel drive provides greater traction and therefore safety, however so does driving slower.......

The other reason that 4x4's get (and I would argue deservedly) such a bad rap is the usual fitting of 'bull' (or 'kangaroo' if you're from down under) bars on the front of them. Bull bars were, again, designed for agricultural use, for farmers gently moving livestock from their path. But peering out of my city centre office window into the staff car park, although I can count over a dozen bull-bar equipped cars, I'm strangely unable to spot any errant bovines careering down the high street... Bull bars are on 4x4's for no other reason than style, but have been proven to vastly increase the road traffic fatality rates in accidents, particularly those involving pedestrians. Also the boxy shape of 4x4's increases these statistics. The low bonnet of a family saloon car causes any unfortunate pedestrian to be thrown up and over the bonnet, disippating some of the impact energy, but the high, square fronts of 4x4's cause the full force of the impact to hit them square on.

I agree with Mel, that if you live in a rural community where the roads ice solid over winter, then a 4x4 may be your only choice, but most of us don't. Most of us are urbanites. So unless you work off road, or are the major general of the NATO armed forces on desert manouvres, are there honestly any viable reasons to own that Landrover Discovery??

So I'd plead, if you're out there looking for a new car, don't leave your eco-warror badge at home, just in order to think that you'll look more stylish in Tesco's car park...


Anonymous said...

I'm chuffed, I have a 1 litre 3 door Nissan Micra and I scored 35/50/23.
It fits me, my BIG hubby & when I travel to visit Mel, 200 miles away, it fits all our luggage in the boot & footwells under the kids feet in the back.

I wonder if Anon who doesn';t fancy downsizing because of the rare occasions when they need more space would consider getting a roof box or trailer. Don't leave the roof box when empty because the drag would increase fuel consumption.

I didn'tmention that hubby drives a BIG BMW though, did I?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments Melanie and Anonymous. I do drive a small 1000cc car and yes, for longer journeys, I drive into town, park, and catch the bus.

welsh girls allotment said...

two of ours cars are lpg so they have less of an impact than most - have any of you thought of converting to lpg? its cheaper cleaner and doesn't impair performance

Anonymous said...

I listed Land Rover and then found that they don't allow for a 1964 registered Series 2 that does less than 3000 diesel miles per year (Only 350 miles the year before)
I pay no road tax and reckon that any carbon emissions created in its manufacture have been more than offset by its longevity.

Anonymous said...

what's lpg, can I ask?

Anonymous said...

here's a eco-car question; is there a non chemical alternative to windscreen wash or de-icer? I hang lavender from my visor instead of buying a frangranced thingy, but that's partly cos there's a lavender bush right next to where I park.

Anonymous said...

Hiya Steph

LPG stands for Liquefied Petroleum Gas.

Using LPG as a vehicle fuel can supposedly cut your fuel bills by around 50%, as LPG retails at about half the price of petrol and diesel, but more importantly LPG is 'cleaner' than petrol and diesel in terms of vehicle emissions.

According to research, LPG vehicles supposedly emit 20% LESS carbon dioxide than a petrol engined car, and less nitric oxide and particulates than a diesel. Carbon dioxide, nitric oxide and particulates are seen as key contributors to problems like poor air quality and global warming (as 'greenhouse' gasses).

Lots of LPG cars and vans also qualify for a 100% discount on the London Congestion Charge, for anyone living or traveling down in the Smoke a lot, so there's several reasons for Tony to have a look into it.

I've seen adverts that say that most cars can be converted, but I don't know which or how much it costs off the top of my head.

Can I ask Welsh Girls Allotments how they went about getting their's converted, and if they're seeing the benefits advertised, because I'd be interested in looking into this for our own gas guzzling leviathon?

So further to Bill's comments, maybe LPG would be an answer to allow you the freedom of the car, but also do your bit to help (or not injure any more than possible!) the environment. I don't know how many garages in your end of Ireland stock LPG, but most car conversions are set up as duel-fuel anyway, so can still revert back to petrol if necessary at the flick of a switch.


welsh girls allotment said...

Hello anon,
both our cars were purchased already converted my husbands vectra was factory fitted with lpg as this is his work car it has slashed his outgoings, we waited until we could find a gas converted jaguar xj6 to tow our caravan, as we have always had jags but didn't like paying to run them, so lpg killed 2 birds with stone reduced running costs for my tightwad husband and kept the eco side of me happy, you are also correct in asserting that lpg cars are congestion charge free - we have certificates for each car to prove it - I would imagine the cost of converting a car would pay for itself within a year if you lived in the zone in London

Anonymous said...

that's great, thanks Welsh Girls Allotments.

I've just found a really good website for anyone interested in converting, at, which is a consumer site sponsored by the Department of Transport and Industry.

It gives advice on how to go about buying an LPG car, or getting your current car converted, plus where to find LPG 'petrol' stations in the uk and abroad and loads more interesting info.


lilymarlene said...

Thanks for putting the link to the greener car site. I followed it through for our Picasso (Citroen Xzara Picasso) and found it to be the second best car in it's class (MPV). It scored 39.59.21.
Those who need a big car should give it a look. It is higher off the road than a saloon, so much easier for fixing kids into car seats etc. We like it because we are getting on and a higher car is so much easier to get into for those with hip problems.

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