Spring 2013

Close to Home | A Tale of Two Price Tags

When it comes to choosing a car, the sale price is understandably a deciding factor.  And most vehicles today run on gasoline, which is not cheap. To be a savvy shopper, look at the car’s sticker price and fuel economy ratings; you may find that paying a little more for efficiency could deliver big savings in the long run.

The Numbers Game

Consider price and fuel economy when shopping for a car, and you could save money in the long run.
Photo: ©iStockphoto

For example, say you’re deciding between a car that gets 23 miles per gallon (mpg), about the national average for 2012 cars, and one that gets 33 mpg. If you drive the typical 12,000 miles per year, the 23 mpg car will use about 520 gallons of gasoline for the year, costing you more than $1,800 at a gas price of $3.50 a gallon (which is lower than 2012’s average of nearly $3.68). The 33 mpg car will use about 160 fewer gallons of gasoline, saving you more than $550 every year you own the car. As a result, in five years you would save more than $2,700. If gas prices rise, so do the savings. And because fuel-efficient vehicles often have a higher resale value, you may save even more when you trade in the car at a later date.

Using less gasoline is good not just for your wallet, but for the environment as well. Extracting, refining, transporting, and burning a gallon of gasoline produces nearly 25 pounds of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions. In our example above, using 160 fewer gallons of gasoline would keep two tons of heat-trapping emissions out of the atmosphere — about a 10 percent reduction in the average household’s total annual global warming emissions according to our book Cooler Smarter.

These savings add up when you consider that most vehicles remain on the road (usually with multiple owners) for about 15 years, if not more. Over that lifetime, a 33 mpg car generates 29 fewer tons of heat-trapping emissions compared with a 23 mpg car, and saves some $8,000 in fuel costs (or more, if gas prices rise). So, whether you own that car the whole time or not, choosing fuel efficiency is an investment in a cleaner future.

Fuel Savings for Every Budget

Of course, with hundreds of car and truck models on the market, your personal buying decision will probably differ from our example. But whether you’re looking at sedans or SUVs, you can easily compare specific models’ lifetime ownership costs with the simple calculations we used above. Or visit www.fueleconomy.gov, a website maintained by the federal government, to see the fuel economy ratings and annual fuel costs (which you can personalize based on your individual driving habits) of each model you’re considering. And remember to buy only what you really need; if you occasionally require a larger vehicle for hauling cargo or extra passengers, rent one instead of buying one—you’ll save enough money on gasoline to afford it.

Each year, U.S. drivers buy more than 50 million new or used cars. When it’s your turn, take advantage of this opportunity to help cut America’s oil use and rein in automobile-related emissions for years to come: choose the most fuel-efficient model that meets your usual transportation needs.

Also in this issue of Earthwise:

Dialogue


Why are biofuels promoted as a clean energy solution when corn ethanol causes so many problems?