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Green Cars Aren't Always So Green

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2015

Is your green car as green as you think? A new report from The Weather Channel's Weather Underground says it might not be, even if you're driving a fully electric vehicle, a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. How is that true? We're taking a look at some of Weather Underground's information on green cars to help you understand why your green car might not be as green as you think.

Keep Your Car

If you want to have the greenest possible car, Weather Undeground's advice is to keep your vehicle for as long as possible, whether it's a hybrid car, an electric model or a standard gas-powered vehicle.

Although a standard gas-powered car emits, on average, about 4.7 tons of carbon dioxide each year (and a hybrid car emits 3.1 tons), the process of building a car emits about 6.5 tons of carbon dioxide. As a result, buying a new vehicle contributes to harming the environment more than driving an average gasoline-powered car for a year.

From there, simple math helps determine why you should hang on to your car for a long time,if you want to help the environment. A standard gas-powered car emits 70.5 tons of carbon dioxide over 15 years, while a hybrid car emits 46.5 tons. A driver who buys a new car every five years adds 6.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions with each new purchase. As a result, a driver who buys a new hybrid car every five years pollutes roughly the same as a driver who keeps their average gas-powered car for 15 years.

Know Your State

Another interesting tidbit about green cars is that, according to Weather Underground, a fully electric vehicle might end up being less environmentally friendly than a gas-burning hybrid car, depending on the state.

The reason? Some states exclusively use coal for power, which is relatively unclean and diminishes the electric vehicle's benefit to the environment. For example, in Indiana, a state heavily reliant on coal power, the Nissan Leaf is responsible for considerably more carbon dioxide emissions than the gas-powered Toyota Prius hybrid, even though the Leaf technically has zero emissions. It's the opposite story in Washington, which relies on nuclear and hydroelectric power. There, the Leaf is responsible for fewer carbon dioxide emissions than the Prius.

Overall Take

When asked for his opinions on the issue of going green, The Weather Channel's Carl Parker summed it up perfectly for us. "For anyone who's looking to go green," said Parker, "it's very important to know where your state's power is coming from. Beyond that, the longer you keep a car, the more you reduce the cost of the embodied carbon involved in its manufacture."

So, if you're looking to help save the environment, remember you shouldn't only look at gas mileage when buying your next car. Other important factors include how long you plan to keep the vehicle and, if you're comparing a hybrid car to a plug-in electric vehicle, where your state's power comes from.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Green Cars Aren't Always So Green - Autotrader