Coffee Talk #458: Green Cars and You

As some of you know, I’ve recently acquired a learner’s permit. I don’t really want to drive, but I might have to in the near future. If possible, I’d like to get a green or greener car. I’ve been following the market as a fan for years, but in the last week I’ve done heavy research on green automobiles and…

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As some of you know, I’ve recently acquired a learner’s permit. I don’t really want to drive, but I might have to in the near future. If possible, I’d like to get a green or greener car. I’ve been following the market as a fan for years, but in the last week I’ve done heavy research on green automobiles…and I’m totally bummed with what I’ve learned. Of course I expected there to be compromises, but it seems like things kind of suck no matter which way you go. To help me think this though (input please!), here are some thoughts on my green-automobile study.

Hybrid Cars: These are easily the most convenient green cars. You drive and fuel them as you would a regular automobile. You just enjoy more miles per gallon (around 40 to 50, depending on the model). The plus side is that you use less gas. However, you’re still pumping out the same types of pollutants into the air and using fuel that’s mostly derived from imported crude oil. It’s slightly greener than a standard car, but not by much.

Natural Gas Cars: The Obama administration is high on natural gas. The emissions are much cleaner than those from gasoline — up to 97 percent less carbon monoxide, 25 percent less carbon dioxide, and 60 percent less nitrogen oxide. America and Canada are rich with natural gas deposits, so the fuel wasted and potential hazards of importing crude oil are out of the equation. The cars aren’t too inconvenient either, with plenty of natural gas pumps in California and a range of 240 miles (Civic Natural Gas).

The problem is fracking, which (in addition to being fun to say) is the process of extracting natural gas. The EPA has done numerous studies on the environmental impact of fracking and numerous details have vanished. Some studies show that fracking causes damage to the local air and drinking water. Some are even going as far to say that fracking has a harsher impact on the environment than drilling for oil. While the emissions from natural gas cars are much cleaner, the fracking process might negate the greenness.

Electric Cars: The awesome news is that electric cars do not emit greenhouse gasses. The bad news is…actually, there’s a lot of bad news. First of all, the cars are frickin’ expensive. The cheapest one I found was the Mitsubishi i, which starts at $29,125 (you do get a $7,500 federal tax credit though). On the plus side, EV charging stations are plentiful in California; as an apartment dweller, I’d have to rely on them. The bad news is that electric cars have limited range — around 60 to 80 miles per charge. While it’s common to hear of Hondas lasting 20 years, electric cars usually require an expensive battery replacement in ten years or less. Similar to natural gas cars, the fuel source is questionable; while electric vehicles don’t emit pollutants, a lot of electricity is derived from dirty coal burning.

Certainly electric cars are cleaner than hybrids and most would argue that they’re cleaner than natural gas cars, but they come with far more compromises and cost much more.

Hydrogen Cars: I’d love one, but no way I can afford one.

Anyway, those are some of my (frustrating) thoughts on green cars. What do you make of all of this? Have you ever considered a green automobile? Would you put up with some inconveniences and/or higher prices to treat the planet a bit better? Leave a comment and let me know (please!).

Author: RPadTV

40 thoughts on “Coffee Talk #458: Green Cars and You”

  1. I think those TDI Jettas are pretty nice and highly economical.

    As always I recommend a truck. Though I think Slicky might be my only support on the issue :)

      1. It seems environmental impact is harmful no matter what you go with though. Whatever makes you feel best I suppose :)Sent from my iPhone 4

      2. The Tesla's are awesome, but I gotta agree with with SG here that the environmental impact vs actual functionality is a contest in which functionality (and of course affordability) is clearly the victor.

        My other argument, is that I have never seen any true evidence that global warming is caused by man. I've seen coincidental factors, but nothing to prove it. I'm not saying global warming isn't happening (because it clearly is), I'm saying there's also evidence to prove that it could be the natural progression of the earth.

        Let's face it, no matter what, we're about due for another ice age.

        So, in the grand scheme of things, global warming could be a ploy by big business to make nations happy that industry (i.e. jobs) are being outsourced to other countries who "care less".

        But, I can't say for sure. What I can say for sure is that fracking is terrible for the environment, battery life for electric vehicles isn't where we need it yet, and LA is gonna be smoggy no matter what you do.

      3. Most of the harmful greenhouse gasses actually comes from the the meat industry cattle to be more specific. It's their dirty little secret. My brother used to work for an environmental agency, you wouldn't believe how much misinformation is out here (I'm sure you have some idea).

  2. I own a Saturn Vue Hybrid. Sport SUV with the same gas mileage as a regular compact car (about 30mpg, give or take). I used to have to do outside sales calls that sometimes required deliveries, and I needed the cargo space without having to load up on $50 worth of gas every day that the company wasn't reimbursing me for.

    I no longer work for that company, but frankly, I don't imagine myself going back to a regular old gas guzzler any time soon. The difference in my weekly costs is dramatic. There are times I don't even remember how long it's been since I've filled up my tank – which is an awesome feeling.

  3. Wow! That's a lot to take in. It seems the best available option would be hybrid cars. Thank you for doing all this research! I've been thinking about going green with my next car but didn't know what I should be looking at. I saw a commercial recently but can't remember the car maker where they guarantee the battery for the electric car including replacement for the life of the car.

      1. Yeah then ud have to really look into natural gas. I know all that fracking around may not be good but if ur driving to Vegas (great idea n8) or SF a lot electric is definitely an inconvenience.

      2. Being able to drive in the far left (usually less crowded) lane that's typically referred to as the "carpool lane" since you usually need to have at least one passenger to drive in it legally.

        However, I noticed that there's always one person in there going slower than the rest of the traffic when traffic is moving but when it's not, you actually want to be in the far right lane with the trucks. They look like they're going slower, but it's an illusion. I f you stay in that lane in heavy traffic, you will notice you get there faster.

  4. On a side note: When I was a kid, my father told me that there was no such thing as white cars. He said that they were the cause of all accidents and they sent them all back to Africa. I kid you not, and it didn't take long for my brother and i to debunk that.

    Anyway… I'm a fan of the VW TDI. It's considered a green car, and your mpg is CRAZY awesome. The other thing is that a diesel engine con be modified pretty easily to run on other fuels come the zombie apocolypse… or Dec. 21, whichever you believe in more.

    As for the electric cars, 60 to 80 miles is terrible. Try going to Vegas… I dare you. As for the midwest, forget about it. TOTALLY useless if you lived in Texas.

    Natural gas… I actually own property with 3 natural gas wells. The more people get them, the more money my mom gets. So that's cool with me. The fracking part is a good concern. What it does to water tables especially is terrible. What most people don't know is that the people who own the property with the wells (like me and mine) are given the option. They can't legally do it without the owners consent. Granted, alot of times, these owners just see more money to be made or don't care for whatever reason. Those in the know though, typically don't sign off (like we didn't).

    I also want to mention that Obama got my vote in the election when he endorsed geothermal energy… 4 years later, what the hell?

    You also didn't mention biodiesel. The downside of that is that it takes twice as much fuel to get somewhere, it's hard to come by unless you refine it yourself (f*#kin' hippies), and your vehicle smells like a french fry factory wherever you go.

    In summation, I still think we're about 10 years out from having a truly viable alternative to petrol. Especially since almost a century ago, the big wigs in the petrol game did everything they could to smash any alternative.

    1. Awesome stuff! For biodiesel, there are concerns about the land. It used to be that corn was the choice, then it became rapeseed. It seems like Brazil is the only country doing alternative energy right. Well, Iceland too, but biothermal is the easiest choice for Bjork's people.

  5. Honestly, I can't possibly get behind anything other than a quality Honda that still uses regular old gasoline. Currently I have a Saturn which is absolute crap on gas mileage and quality. My wife has a (almost) new Ford with decent gas mileage that is slowly but surely deteriorating with every year, and is also pretty bad with quality and comfort. Every Honda I've been in though has been comfortable with quality parts on the inside, and I've never been in one that gets bad gas mileage.

    Honestly I don't think there are enough options for alternative fuels to really be good for someone who can't afford to be an early adopter in this area, and I have not seen anything to convince me that hybrids are actually good for anything except highway driving. That isn't even a guarantee though and my 1993 Honda used to get almost 40 mpg on the highway with regular gasoline, which is near some hybrids mpg's anyways.

    Like N8R said, maybe in 10 years we can have a viable alternative energy to run our cars instead of petrol- but right now I don't think it is a better choice than regular gasoline and a quality vehicle.

    1. The Corolla is pretty damn good competitor for the Honda.

      As far as Saturns go, the quality kinda makes them one of the safest cars on the market. In a collision, they're designed to absorb more impact than almost (and possibly) anything else. Basically, it's designed to fall apart before you do.

      Granted, this makes it incredibly easy to total the car.

      1. The Corolla is ok, but I'd take a Camry over a Corolla any day, and I would still take my old Honda over my old Camry.

        And yes I'm fully aware of the Saturn's safety. I knew someone who bought an Ion brand new for $14,000 (extremely similar to the one I own) and barely slid on some ice into a telephone pole a couple months after making the purchase- $10,000 in damage caused. It wasn't that bad of an accident or anything, but all the panels crumbled in on themselves. Also, I never have to worry about rust on my car which will help my resale value when I'm able to sell.

    2. It's funny that you mentioned Honda and regular gas. The company has more available options than any other company: gasoline, hybrid, natural gas, and hydrogen. You also have the logic a bit backwards. Hybrids are great for city driving. More electricity than gas is used in city driving.

      1. Yes Honda does have the most options compared to other companies, and I think some of their options are really good- but I still would not go with them over a $2000 Honda that uses regular gas and gets 30-40 mpg.

        Also, I wasn't using strictly logic when mentioning the hybrids, I was referring to all articles or reviews I have read on hybrid cars in the last 5 years or so. I've not seen any reviews that come to mind where city driving was more economical than highway driving in a hybrid; and on average I would say the highway mileage I have seen for a lot of hybrids was not astoundingly better* than what I've seen and experienced on 20-30 year old Honda's consistently (* meaning enough to warrant the cost difference).

      2. Highway driving on hybrids shouldn't be better because that's gasoline being used. Again, the advantage is at lower speeds in city driving situations. That's when the battery is used. The numbers speak for themselves and are easy to find.

        The concern is more about environmental impact than the cost.

  6. I have a 2008 civic hybrid, i would NOT buy another one. We have had the ECU and the hybrid battery go bad on us. If you are thinking hybrid, go ford or toyota.

    also, 50 miles per gallon in a civic hybrid is a pipe dream. More like 38-40

  7. Ray, you should just wait a few years and get a multicopter. They are electric, can fold up to the size of a bike, under $20,000, and don't have to worry about traffic in one. (The sky is the limit) Only down side is that they only have one hour of flight time per charge.

      1. A mountable, multi-propeller electrical rotor-craft? I want one! I already have my license, so I'm already halfway there.

        Believe it or not, an hour of flight time in this thing is really, really good. A Robinson R-44 with two medium sized-passengers will get you about four hours of flight time out if it's 49-gallon tank (and auxiliary) that takes 100-LL avgas. So, by comparison to a real helicopter, it's really not that bad for an electrical, sport-flying solution from an efficiency standpoint.


      2. They are hoping to have a two seater out by the end of the year and are looking at hybrid/alternate power sources.

    1. The other downside about flying vehicles being the norm is that Southern California traffic (in particular) is dangerous as hell as it is. Can you imagine how much MORE dangerous it would be in the air?

      Think of what NYC would look like. Yikes!

  8. Ahh… you people are killing me. I'm just glad my family wasn't raised in California, or else we'd be out of business.

    My family runs a modest gasoline and diesel distribution and retail company so we pretty much live off the sale of gasoline and diesel (mostly gasoline) to the South Florida market. So, it's pretty safe to say, that I would recommend anyone that lives down here to get an H1 Hummer. Hell, I'll even help finance it for you.

    Since you live in California, I would suggest you go for whatever is cheapest and has the best infrastructure. If it's a 2005 Toyota Tercel, then so be it. The reason I say that (other than my obvious bias) is that you have to do what's best (and most economical) for you. It is commendable that you want to be a good steward to the environment, but the truth of the matter is that it is a luxury and you cannot afford that luxury right now. I understand that you don't want your money to go to any activity you believe is damaging to our Earth, but you must take care of yourself before you take care of your planet. This is the same principle that they use on airplanes when they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself FIRST, then your children. That's because you have to be stable first before you begin to help others. You have to be well off first (financially) in order to help the environment as far as vehicles are concerned since they are so expensive.

    Once you hit the powerball, you can start your own hydrogen car business and buy a mansion that runs off of nothing more than solar energy. Until then, you should just bite the bullet and just buy something super affordable that won't break your bank. Until then, save your money, so you can later save the planet.

    If it makes you feel any better, nothing we buy can be considered "clean" by your standards. Even hybrid and hydrogen cars are made from plastics, paints, epoxies, lubricants, and rubber that are all manufactured by using petrochemicals. The asphalt road you drive on is a direct product of heating crude oil that needs to be drilled out of the ground. The consoles we have at home are made by slaves at Foxconn and contain blood coltan (from Africa) as well as many of the other electronics we use. The coffee you drink (that's not fair trade) is picked by people exploited by the drug trade in South America.

    So, unless you live in a bubble, chances are that the money you are using to buy products you use everyday are going to bad people or people who end up doing bad things to the environment or other people. There is no way to get around this unless you want to spend quintuple of what you are paying for goods and services now. Business have to sell you things that are cheap to produce and unfortunately the cheapest oil comes from the Middle East and the cheapest electronics come from China (a huge human rights violator and industrial polluter).

    Would you give up your console, PC and smartphone even if you knew that the mining of their components and manufacturing of it was unethical, immoral, and helped to pollute the planet? If your answer is "no", then what car you drive shouldn't be based on those factors either.


    1. I got your back, dude. My exact comment was:

      -"In summation, I still think we're about 10 years out from having a truly viable alternative to petrol. Especially since almost a century ago, the big wigs in the petrol game did everything they could to smash any alternative."-

      Now, though I project a viable alternative in 10 years (or so), I still think we're MAYBE (emphasis on the MAYBE) 20 to 50 years from any viable alternative becoming the norm. And that strictly for standard automobiles. There will still be need for petrol in multiple other machines, industries, etc.

      The real problem is that it's a natural resource that is destined to be depleted eventually (like all natural resources). There's nothing anyone can do about that. The f*#ked up fact of the matter is that we NEED to find alternative fuel sources no matter what in order to insure the well being of the future.

      Let's face it, even at the rate petrol is climbing now, it's gonna be a luxury item. The BIG problem with that, is not so much us the average folk getting from A to B, but the truckers we rely on to ship our goods. Example: Who do you know that makes shoes? If the truckers can't get shoes to the shoe store, we're SOL. If they can't get food to the grocery store, I hope you have time to garden and raise livestock.

      Therefore, finding a viable alternative for the common folk is detrimental to our survival in any economic situation we can use at this point in time.

      1. You're preaching to the choir. Everyone knows that oil is a non-renewable resource and that it eventually will go away for good. How long do we have is a matter of debate. Personally, I have enough evidence to believe that we have enough oil to meet global demand for both ours’ and our children's lifetime. Eventually, some other mass-transit technology will replace the internal combustion engine, and whatever it is, the major oil companies will probably want to control it (if they haven't done so already).

        Right now, oil is not a luxury, but a commoditized necessity. The most honest thing I've ever heard George W. Bush say is "America is addicted to oil." My fear is not gasoline since there are already a swarm of alternatives out there ready to penetrate the market as the next big automotive fuel, but the other products we use everyday that most people don't immediately relate to oil such as plastics, rubber, asphalt, etc. The fact is that we can't go a day without the use of petroleum products or by-products. They are used to make things like synthetic fibers for our clothes to synthetic pacemakers to keep our blood pumping. They are used in keyboards, mice, medical equipment, paints, furniture, car parts and roads. Forget about automotive fuel… what is going to happen to all of these items we use everyday when oil becomes more and more scarce? You think that gasoline is going to be a luxury item? What about tires? How much do you think a car tire will cost when we have to rely on only natural rubber? Do you have any idea how much it is going to cost to pave all of the roads in the US with cement instead of asphalt? Do you know how much it's going to cost to maintain all of that? What low-cost substitute can you think of to replace plastic? I can't think of any.

        So, yeah, I wouldn't worry about the engine for the car and the fuel. I would be way more worried about what we are going to do to replace the other things in our lives that are made from oil.


    2. Totally valid points, but I believe people should try to sacrifice where they can and when they can. The Los Angeles car culture is particularly appalling. I know lots of people that drive two or three blocks, which is just all kinds of stupid.

      1. It's like in that movie LA Story when Steve Martin gets in his car to drive next door.

        However, I've walked from the Whisky to the Virgin Store in Hollywood (about 10 blocks or so)… and I wish I drove. Other than the sheer comedy of the people in Hollywood, it was not fun. Santa Monica Blvd… I would of drove out of fear.

        Also, if your knee wasn't in the shape it is, I'd suggest a bike. I see more and more people rockin' the Schwinns nowadays.

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