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How to buy a green (eco-friendly) vehicle

With increasing fuel prices, energy insecurity and climate concerns due to carbon emissions, there has never been a better time to drive an eco-friendly car.

A significant level of carbon dioxide emissions in Singapore is attributed to personal car use. Although public and self-propelled transport are generally less polluting than personal cars, it is sometimes necessary to use a car in our daily lives.

One way of reducing the amount of emissions produced from driving is to own an eco-friendly (green) car. The Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) that came into effect on 1 Jan this year is also one of the initiatives set by the Singapore government to improve the air quality of our country. Depending on how you view the VES, it is either an incentive to own cleaner models, or a deterrent to own a less eco-friendly model.

Green cars offer an alternative to traditional petrol-consuming vehicles that rely solely on fossil fuels to run. Green cars produce low or no emissions, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is an ever-expanding range of green cars, making them an increasingly viable option. However, green cars do have limitations such as a higher price and restricted range.

What is a green vehicle?

While there is no standardised definition of a green car, it is generally considered to be one that has low carbon emissions. But do bear in mind that the VES measures CO2 and four other tailpipe pollutants, namely carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. All cars sold in Singapore must meet minimum emission requirements, but green cars exceed the minimum threshold or completely cut exhaust emissions. To achieve this, green cars either use electric or hybrid drive systems.

1. Hybrid

Hybrid vehicles use both petrol and electric engines to power the car. Unlike electric cars, they do not need to be plugged in to recharge the battery as the petrol engine charges the batteries. Some also utilise deceleration when braking to charge the electric engine.

They run on either the petrol or electric engine, and the onboard computer in the car switches between the two engines to maximise efficiency. For example, when the car is idle and during acceleration, the electric engine will switch on, but while cruising, the petrol engine will take over.

2. Electric

Electric cars run solely on a rechargeable battery that is charged from charging points. Some electric cars can also utilise the deceleration process to charge the battery. Electric cars have no fuel tank or exhaust pipe and never need an oil change. However, they are restricted by the need to recharge, which can only be done in certain locations.

What are the benefits of a green vehicle?

Green 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 petrol costs. While hybrids do require petrol, they consume a lot less than regular cars. Hybrids can travel approximately 100 kilometres on 3-5 litres of petrol. This is roughly half of what is used by a comparable petrol car to travel the same distance. Electric cars don’t use petrol but do require electricity to recharge.
  • Cleaner cities. Car emissions are a major contributor to poor air quality in cities. By driving a low emission vehicle, you won’t be increasing the amount of smog.
  • Less noise. Electric engines are quieter than petrol engines. This reduces the amount of road noise.
  • VES rebates. Low emission cars that fall into A1 or A2 bands will receive rebates, which helps offset the higher purchase price.
  • Increasing consumer demand. By generating demand for electric vehicles, you are helping improve the technology and bring down the price. Doing so makes them more attractive to others, creating a cycle of benefits.

How do I know a vehicle is green?

All cars sold in Singapore must meet emissions testing requirements. This information should be displayed somewhere on new vehicles (generally on the windscreen). You can also check the Vehicle Emissions Scheme (VES) bands of various car models, as well as their fuel efficiency on the ONE.MOTORING website.

If you are buying a fully electric car, then your vehicle won’t produce any emissions. The situation with hybrids may be slightly murkier as the manufacturer will report fuel economy that you may never be able to achieve during real-life conditions.

It is important to research perspective cars before you commit to buying one. There are independent bodies that test emissions and fuel economy on most new vehicles and might give a less biased figure.

What are some examples of eco-friendly vehicles in Singapore?

Here are some common eco-friendly cars available in Singapore:

  • Mitsubishi Attrage 1.2 CVT. A compact sedan with outstanding fuel efficiency. Falls under VES Band A2 and comes with a $10,000 rebate.
  • Honda Vezel Hybrid 1.5X. A Top class SUV with high power yet low fuel consumption. One of the most common green car in Singapore. Falls under VES Band A2 and comes with a $10,000 rebate.
  • Honda Vezel 1.5X CVT. Although not a hybrid model, this conventional Vezel is still one of the models that qualify for a $10,000 VES rebate.
  • Tesla Model S. Tesla only makes electric cars. They aren’t cheap but are designed to perform like a sports car, not a golf cart.

Are there any drawbacks of green cars?

The two main drawbacks of green cars are the upfront cost and the limited range. Green cars are much more expensive than a comparable petrol vehicle. Even considering the savings on petrol, oil, maintenance and VES rebate, it would take a few years to offset the upfront expense. However, this is assuming petrol prices do not drastically increase.

Range refers to how far the vehicle can travel before needing to refuel. When compared to petrol vehicles, electric cars have a very restricted range. They are also limited to areas which have recharge stations, such as your own home or a public recharge station. This makes electric cars problematic for those who need to travel longer distances or charge their vehicle urgently. However, hybrids could be a suitable option in this situation.

Green car technology is still developing, and while both these issues are certainly legitimate, you should expect rapid improvements as they become more common.

How much do green cars cost?

Green cars are more expensive than petrol vehicles. An electric hatch may sell for $30,000, whereas a comparable petrol model might be $15,000. Medium size sedan hybrids go for around $40,000, whereas a petrol equivalent could be as low as $20,000. For new cars, stamp duty will be less for a green car than a regular petrol vehicle.

Tips for eco-friendly driving

If nothing else, you can substantially reduce your vehicle’s emissions just by changing your behaviour. Here are some green driving tips:

  • Accelerate slowly and smoothly. Engines use the most fuel when operating under strenuous conditions. In terms of driving, this is when you are 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 minimise the amount you need to slow down or speed up.
  • 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, get rid of them.
  • Maintain your vehicle. Basic maintenance such as checking tyre 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 Singaporeans. If you are concerned about your vehicle’s carbon emissions and its effect on the environment, then you should consider an eco-friendly alternative. However, be aware of the additional upfront cost and limitations before you commit.

Picture: Shutterstock

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