A buying guide to purchase your first hybrid or electric car.
With increasing fuel prices, energy insecurity and climate concerns, there has never been a better time to drive an eco-friendly car. Across America, driving contributes to a large portion of carbon emissions that impact our environment. A simple way to reduce your carbon footprint is to switch to an eco-friendly vehicle. These green cars offer a reliable alternative to traditional gas guzzlers that rely on fossil fuels.
There’s an ever-increasing demand for green cars and environmentally friendly options, meaning you won’t be stuck with the first car you find. Our guide teaches you what you’ll need to know to tackle your next purchase.
What makes a car environmentally friendly?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a green car is one that is more fuel efficient and emits less pollutants than a conventional gas or diesel vehicle. There are many states and counties in the US that require cars to meet minimum emissions requirements, but green cars exceed the minimum threshold or cut exhaust emissions entirely. To do this, they either use electric or hybrid systems.
Hybrid vehicles use both gas and electric engines to power the car. Unlike electric cars, they don’t need to be plugged in to recharge because the gas engine charges the battery. Some also utilize deceleration when braking to charge the electric engine.
The onboard computer in the car switches between the two engines to maximize efficiency. For example, when the car is idle and during acceleration, the electric engine switches on, but while cruising, the gas engine takes over.
Electric cars run solely on a rechargeable battery. They are charged from charging points either at home or in public places, and some electric cars also utilize the deceleration process to charge the battery.
And because they lack a gas engine, electric cars have no fuel tank or exhaust pipe and never need an oil change. However, they need to be recharged — usually every 50 to 100 miles — which can only be done in certain locations. The good news? There are more than 10,000 alternate fueling stations available in the US.
How much do green cars cost?
Green cars are more expensive than gas vehicles. An electric hatchback may sell for $40,000, and mid-size sedan hybrids go for around $30,000. Comparable gas models for both might cost as low as $20,000. Here are a few top fully electric and hybrid models.
|BMW i3||Electric||$44,450||118 MPGe|
|A3 Sportback e-tron||Hybrid||39,500||83 MPGe|
|Kia Soul EV||Electric||$33,950||111 MPGe|
|Ford Focus Electric||Electric||$29,120||118 MPGe|
|Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid||Hybrid||$39,995||84 MPGe|
|Chevrolet Volt||Hybrid||$34,095||106 MPGe|
|Ford C-MAX||Hybrid||$24,120||38 MPGe|
How can I finance a green car?
If you’ve decided on going green but aren’t sure how you can finance your car purchase, you have options.
- Car loan. Green cars are like any other car, and you’ll likely qualify for a car loan from a lender. The benefit? Some banks and credit unions offer interest rate discounts for green car purchases.
- Home equity loan. If you’ve built up enough equity in your home, you could use that money to finance your green car.
- Personal loan. A personal loan can be used for just about anything. So if you have good credit, you may be able to finance your car without using it as collateral.
Browse some of your car loan options
What are the benefits of a green vehicle?
Eco-friendly vehicles have a range of benefits for both the owner and the community. Here are some reasons to drive a green car:
- Fewer emissions. Green cars have low-exhaust emissions, reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.
- No- or low-gas costs. While hybrids require gas, they consume much less than regular cars. Hybrids can travel up to 50 miles on a charge before the engine switches to gasoline. Once it switches, the distance it travels depends on the size of the electric engine, but it’s usually about the same distance as a gas car. Electric cars don’t use any gas but do require electricity to recharge.
- Cleaner cities. Car emissions are a major contributor to poor air quality in cities. By driving a vehicle with low emissions, you won’t contribute to the smog in your area.
- Less noise. Electric engines are quieter than gas engines. This reduces the amount of road noise in cities.
- Tax credit. When you buy a hybrid or electric car, you could be eligible for a tax credit through your state or the federal government .
- Increasing consumer demand. By generating demand for electric vehicles, you’re helping improve the technology and bring down the price. Doing so makes them more attractive to others, creating a cycle of benefits for everyone.
If you’re buying a fully electric car, then your vehicle won’t produce any emissions. The benefits with hybrids may not be as clear if the manufacturer reports fuel economy that’s unattainable in your situation. Research prospective cars before you commit to buying one by looking at user reviews and and other independent, unbiased articles about emissions and fuel economy on most new vehicles.
A few hybrid and electric cars to consider
Here are some common eco-friendly cars found on the road across the states:
- Toyota Prius. An early hybrid and perhaps one of the more common green cars. They come as a medium sedan or hatchback and are similar to a Toyota Corolla.
- Nissan Leaf. A fully electric hatchback with a small solar panel for internal accessories. It can do a partial recharge in 30 minutes from specific quick-charge points.
- Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. This one is for the whole family. A hybrid SUV which has been reported to get up to 74 MPG from its electric and gas engines.
- Ford C-Max Energi. One of the cheaper hybrids, the rear seat battery may make it cramped for your passengers. However, its performance makes up for it if you only have occasional guests.
- BMWi3. A fully electric hatch for city drivers who appreciate luxury German engineering.
- Tesla Model S. Tesla only makes electric cars. They aren’t cheap, but they’re designed to perform like a sports car. If you want to drive an uncommon car, the Model S should put you in the spotlight.
What to watch out for
The two main drawbacks of green cars are the upfront cost and the limited driving range. Green cars are much more expensive than a comparable gas vehicle. Even considering the savings on gas, oil and maintenance, it would take a few years to offset the upfront expense.
Range refers to how far the vehicle can travel before it needs to refuel. When compared to gas vehicles, electric cars have a very restricted range. They are also limited to areas that have recharge stations, such as your home or a public recharge station. This makes electric cars problematic for those who need to travel longer distances or stay away from home for extended periods of time. In this case, opting for a hybrid could be a suitable compromise.
Green car technology is still developing, and while both these issues are certainly legitimate, you should expect rapid improvements as eco-friendly vehicles become more common.
4 tips for eco-friendly driving
Even if you can’t afford to buy a new car right now, you can substantially reduce your vehicle’s emissions just by changing your behavior. Here are some handy green driving tips:
- Accelerate slowly and smoothly. Engines use the most fuel when starting up or accelerating. Try to limit rapid or erratic acceleration.
- Anticipate traffic conditions. The most efficient way to drive is to maintain a fairly constant speed. Rapid slowing and accelerating wastes fuel. Anticipate the conditions ahead to minimize the amount you need to slow down or speed up. And of course, don’t be afraid to use cruise control on the highway.
- Remove unnecessary equipment. Extra weight and accessories decrease the efficiency of your vehicle. Roof racks cause drag and tools add extra weight. If you don’t regularly use or need them, take them off.
- Maintain your vehicle. Basic maintenance such as checking tire air levels and engine oil is an easy way to keep your car running efficiently. Performing routine services will also help identify problems to keep your vehicle operating optimally.
Green cars are becoming increasingly viable for those living in cities. If you’re concerned about your vehicle’s carbon emissions and its effect on the environment, then consider an eco-friendly alternative. Be aware of the additional upfront cost and limitations before you commit, and compare your financing options when you’re ready to buy.