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Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

Posted August 08, 2014 10:12 AM by Jordan Perch

The debate over whether it's more eco-friendly to keep driving your old car or replace it with a new one has been going on for several years now, with some good arguments for both sides of the issue, but without any reliable data and statistics supporting either side. In the past, the prevailing opinion has been that driving an old car is greener than buying a new one, because the amount of harmful gases released by a car while it is being used has been considered to be create less pollution than the emissions produced with the manufacturing process for a new car. However, there has been a lot of research in recent years calculating the amount of emissions that is released in manufacturing and emissions released over the course of a car's lifetime, revealing that old cars are actually more harmful to the environment.

When comparing the environmental impact of old cars against new ones, there are several factors that have to be taken into account. With old cars, it's all about how much gas they use during use and how much CO2 they release, whereas with new cars, the energy that is required to produce them needs to be taken into consideration, on top of the fuel used while the vehicle is in operation and its carbon emissions.

According to data from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the average fuel economy of passenger vehicles in 2013 reached nearly 25 mpg. Given that the average distance traveled by an American driver annually is 12,000 miles, it means that a 25-mpg car emits 3.4 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Over the course of 12 years, which is the average lifetime of cars in the U.S., this car will emit 40 tons of CO2, and this figure is only going to increase with each passing year beyond that, at a faster rate.

As far as production is concerned, according to some estimates, the average footprint of each car, regardless of size, is somewhere around 12 tons of CO2. Considering that newer cars have largely improved fuel economy, with many of them getting as much as 40 mpg, the total amount of carbon emissions released annually is 2.1 tons. Over the course of 12 years, a 40-mpg car will release 25.2 tons of CO2, and when the production footprint of 12 tons is added, it amounts to 37 tons of carbon dioxide, which is still significantly lower than the old car's footprint, even without taking the old car's production into account.

With this in mind, while building a new car does produce a considerable amount of carbon dioxide, the fact that it is drastically more efficient than an old car and burns far less fuel, more than makes up for the production footprint and ends up releasing much less harmful gases over the course of its lifetime, so if you want to help save the environment, and you can afford it, replacing your old car with a new one is the way to go.

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#1

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/08/2014 10:53 AM

Sure SOUNDS like colusion between UMTRI, EPA and automotive manufacturers to boost sagging sales me! Especially since most people are KEEPING their cars longer (~11 yrs) these days because of the recent wimpy economy.

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#2

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/08/2014 1:02 PM

WALOOB!

Yeah and wiping out mankind is better for the environment too.

Del

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#3

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/08/2014 2:48 PM

This analysis is the last thing I will think about before buying a new car. The most important thing to consider is cost to operate, which starts out high (depreciation) and then drops down until it rises at the end due to repair/maintenance cost. I like my present car and will continue to drive it, thank you.

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#4

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/08/2014 7:53 PM

"and you can afford it".

I paid more for my last used pickup than I did for my first NEW house.

If I bought a new equivalent pickup it would cost, minimum $31,701 USD plus tax, delivery, license and finance charges.

I can't afford a new truck. I'd love to have one, but everything on my 13 year old truck functions as it did when new.

I'll go the way of the dinosaur.

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#10
In reply to #4

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/10/2014 2:55 PM

I suspect it was intended to read "... so if you want to help save the environment, and (if) you can afford it, then ..."

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#12
In reply to #10

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/10/2014 7:57 PM

So if you really want a new truck, try this argument on your wife.

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/10/2014 8:24 PM

I did. It worked.

YESSSSS

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#5

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/09/2014 12:43 AM

It has been shown that by applying the new electronic systems to timing and ignition systems, as well as fuel delivery, along with emission systems, that older 350 and similar small blocks , as well as big blocks (454's), can deliver up to 30mpg. This allows using all of the old engines, already built, with modifications, to come up to current standards, with no retooling , no new plants being rebuilt and not having to recycle all of the older engines. The energy saving would be huge, just by retro fitting.. But with the Energy Dept continuing to move the goalposts, in a failed attempt to save the Planet, we will never see this action. It is a perfect fit to allow older vehicles to share in the newer developments, as the newer cars are brought on line. Why is the whole shift towards totally destroying older vehicles , that can be retro fitted? Think of "Cash for Clunkers", stupidest program ever brought forth, IMHO...

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#6

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/09/2014 3:55 AM

If this is a representation of driving an old car against buying and driving a new car, the person(s) that made the comparison were probably lawyers, because it does not compare like with like. (Remember? A blowjob is not sex?)

There is no statement as to the present age of the old car for example.

If it say is already 12 years old, it is most unlikely to be able to run a further 12 to stay parallel with a new one that most probably will run 12 years. Then the comparison may make some sense....

Or are we talking about older cars that have been in a time warp and although technically they are 12 years old, they have never been run? Will it cost a new car price or will it cost the price from 12 years ago? If they want an up to date price, nobody will buy them!!

The comparison is completely F.UP to my mind.

Of course, if I have a car that still does 40MPG (mine!), but is 8 years old (mine!), why would I think of changing it to a new one that does 40MPG??? The question is simply stupid. I don't have the money to buy a new car just to look more modern....

The average intelligent person runs a car till it is for him no longer attractive AND he has the money to buy a new one. For some this will come every year or maybe 2 years or even every 12 years.....its up to him and his pocketbook.....(the same pocket book that the fuel is paid for from!!)

This is another government F.UP!!

They think we are all too dumb to understand how we are being hoodwinked, WRONG!!!

Maybe if they took the tax off all new cars and all fuel, we might change our cars more often.....as if THAT would happen.

Years ago, here in Germany, the green party was in a coalition, they wanted the price of fuel to be increased with taxes to (if I remember correctly) to 5 times the (then) present cost, within 2 years (it is still today cheaper than their wishes!).

Till someone from the other party showed them that by adding around 100% more taxes would actually reduce the amount of taxes gathered because (we have a proper bus and rail system here!) people would stop buying and/or using their cars!!!

So they changed their minds.....and it never happened!!!! It shows just how green they REALLY are.....the change would have been great for the environment, but taxes earned for the governement might have halved due to car manufacturers going bankrupt, fuel suppliers the same, etc..

Not forgetting how many would have lost their jobs due to the high fuel costs.....

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#7

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/09/2014 10:57 AM

Since most people in the USA cannot afford to buy a new car, this study is moot.

Must have been written by someone totally disconnected from society.

I live in California. New car means higher registration fees, higher insurance premiums and I just can't afford that on $16/hr. I live in Rural California, we don't have over inflated wages, like they do in Urban California, yet we have to pay all the same prices.

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/09/2014 12:40 PM

I am retired in California, and have the same problem with income you do, and the insane taxes and State handout programs, that drain the coffers. Boy, that 80 Billion dollar train is sure going to help!!

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#9

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/09/2014 3:13 PM

A new car may be good for the environment, but lousy on my bank account. The last new car I bought was in 1992. Can't afford new anymore.

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#11

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/10/2014 4:43 PM

I can't afford a new car and so I spend my hard-earned cash at a local natural-foods shop. Like the car dealers in town, they care greatly about the environment and so try to sell me more than I could possibly afford which today isn't very much (all for a good cause of course).

Reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a certain outspoken checkout-clerk-cum-militant-environmentalist there whom I've heard before but didn't say anything. I was there two weeks ago, was feeling a bit adventurous and so this time I thought I'd have a little fun. Besides, there's not much else to do around here.

"Did you find everything okay?"

"No. I couldn't find the DDT."

[scowls] "We don't carry DDT. We never have; it's bad for the environment. Didn't you read 'Silent Spring' by Rachel Carson?"

"Should I have? What's 'Silent Spring'? Does it have pictures?"

"It's about how we're killing the environment. Birds and things. DDT kills birds."

"DDT kills birds? Why don't you stock it then? I've a troupe of bluejays that shit all over my windshield every morning. You don't think birdshit is bad for the environment?"

"Of course it isn't. It's natural!"

"There is nothing on this planet that isn't!"

"DDT isn't natural. It's man-made."

"'Man-made' just tells me it's produced by a certain species known to occur naturally on this planet and so it must be natural also, yes?"

"People make it so it's not natural."

"If it were 'natural', would you sell it?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"It's poisonous!"

"So is table salt if you eat enough, and I know you sell table salt. Organic salt - which, by the way, isn't organic as sodium chloride does not contain carbon."

"Organic salt is natural. DDT is not. It's man-made."

"African termites are natural and they make towers. Are those towers artificial?"

"Termites don't use tools."

"Chimpanzees use tools. They use twigs to fish out termites. 'Natural' works for Chimpanzees but not for people? Is this what you're saying?"

"All I know is that people like you are destroying this planet!"

"People 'like me'? Like me in what respect? In that I'm asking you to clarify what 'natural' means?"

"No, because you use DDT to kill birds and stuff."

"Really? Have you ever seen me using DDT? Have you ever once seen me kill a bird? Do you know for a fact whether I have ever killed a bird in my entire life, even if unknowingly or unwittingly? Do you know anything about me at all apart from the fact that I am here today buying groceries and asking you questions for which you evidently have no answers? If not, then why do say that 'people like me are destroying this planet?' As far as you know I might be helping it. Helping it by getting people like you to think with your brain instead of with your glands? I think what I'm doing is quite noble, actually. A valuable service."

"Paper or plastic."

"You don't agree?"

"Paper or plastic!"

"Plutonium, thank you."

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#14
In reply to #11

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/11/2014 2:42 AM

Funny, except FAR too close to real life.....which is why I as good as never go into any Bio store!!

Thanks for sharing, you missed your vocation as a writer maybe?

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#15
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Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/11/2014 8:16 AM

???

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#16

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/11/2014 10:46 AM

This article is based upon the wrong assumption that man causes some sort of environment change and therefore we need to "do something" to keep things from becoming worse.

The only real factor of the article, like someone else posted, is the operating cost of a vehicle. This includes depreciation, fuel economy, maintenance costs, etc.

There is also a financial fallacy that most people abide by or accept; that being "if I can afford the payments" I will buy a particular kind of vehicle. If we are going to be financially sound we should never borrow money for a depreciating value item; such as a vehicle or recreational toy. That is just dumb! That is why Americans and America are in such sad shape financially. Get a LIFE Business "Financial Fitness Pack" and learn principles of financial stewardship.

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#17
In reply to #16

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/11/2014 11:20 AM

GA

(but will they want to understand it?)

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#18

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/12/2014 7:54 AM

...therefore spreading the build footprint over a greater vehicle lifetime is obviously the best way to go. The VW Polo in use here daily is 19 and counting, and gets north of 50mpg. Stick that in the figures!

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#19

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/14/2014 10:07 AM

Interesting but seriously flawed argument.

Has anyone noticed that the "new" cars are migrating towards underpowered 4 cylinder engines that get horrific gas mileage when operated on anything other than flat ground?

In the areas where I drive the 4 cylinders do not ever get into overdrive unless they are going downhill or on a flat level grade with no head wind.

My 7 year old car is a variable displacement 6 cylinder that averages 30.1 MPG. (28 City - 36 Hwy.)

My daughter is driving a new GM Malibu with a 4 cyl engine that barely attains 26 city -30 hwy.)

My car has not been involved with any recalls and the only maintenance issue I have had was to relace one of the axle seals (covered by warranty).

I cannot see where it would be to my advantage nor an improvement to the environment to buy a new car given all of the above.

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#20

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/14/2014 12:57 PM

I wonder who is paying for this study. The car companies must have donated money for their cause. This is the same tactic used by charitable organizations like "Save the Children", :ASPCA", GUILT. It's all about keeping their economy going by playing the guilt trip. "I feel guilty for polluting the environment with my nasty dirty old car; I will buy a new car and protect the environment" Classic guilt trip.

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#21

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/14/2014 12:57 PM

If I had purchased an average car in 1990, the average US fuel economy was about 17MPG. All things being porportional, that car would have produced about 59.3 tons of CO2 every 12 years (based on the OP's figures). So, 24 years later, that car would have made a total of 59.3+59.3+12 (initial CO2 production) = 130.6 tons.

If instead I had purchased another average car after 12 years (2002), with the US average fuel economy of about 21 MPG, that car would have produced 48.3 tons of CO2, for a total of 59.3+48.3+12+12 = 131.6 tons. I actually produced 1 ton of additional CO2 by just staying around the average.

So the OP's claims, at least by my basic napkin math, really only make sense if I'm going from an average or low efficiency car to a relatively high one. Lets say, for the sake of argument, I bought the average 1990 car, and then 12 years later jumped up to a 40mpg car (if one was even available at the time) - I would have made a total of 59.3+12+25.2+12 = 108.5 tons of CO2, saving 22.1 tons over the whole 24 year interval compared to if I had just stayed with a 1990 auto. Is that significant?

According to EPA figures, the average human being produces about 365 Kg of CO2 per year by just breathing. So, over 24 years, thats about 9.7 tons. My takeaway: If, in that 24 years, I can prevent 2.3 people from breathing, I will have produced no net difference in CO2 contribution while sticking with my old car.

Suppose, hypothetically, that instead of paying perhaps $30k for that new, more efficient vehicle, I instead bought roughly 2400 36-count boxes of condoms, and freely distributed those 86,400 condoms to a population. How many additional CO2 spewing mouths, which I should point out is only a fraction of a human's total carbon footprint, might that prevent from ever existing? Tens? Hundreds? perhaps even thousands? Difficult to say exactly, but I think its reasonable to assume its probably more than 2.3.

My point is, there are far more economical options with greater environmental impact than worrying about bumping your gas mileage by a few MPG. And hey, the money you could be spending on rubbers instead of that high MPG car might make the big back seat of your old gas sucking land cruiser just that much more enjoyable .

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#22
In reply to #21

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/14/2014 1:21 PM

GA for doing the math. The OP's argument only holds up against the argument of keeping an old beater gas hog as a daily driver because the owner claims the carbon footprint of building a new car is greater than driving the old one he has. I heard that one a long long time ago from someone I knew was just taking the contrary argument for fun.

If you want to help save the planet by reducing your personal carbon footprint walk, ride a bicycle, and/or use public transportation, move closer to your work and make sure you buy/rent existing housing. Don't use air conditioning and minimal heat. Consumption of manufactured goods in any form adds to the carbon emitted so consume less.

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#24
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Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/15/2014 7:12 AM

On the same theme, I read once that cow farts are worse for the environment than all the cars on this planet. No idea where I read it or even if its even true or not!! But we still want our milk deliveries...

(Let us also not forget farts from horses, dogs and other animals, including humans!)

(Maybe we all need to get a Catalytic converter "added". DNA change? Clean exhaust!!...)

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#23

Re: Buying a New Car is Better for the Environment Than Keeping Your Old One

08/14/2014 5:27 PM

All of the fuel use averages are a moot point, if one calculates the safety of High Mileage cars, say versus an older SUV--Almost 4 times as many deaths in the smaller, and lighter cars. Wonder if St. Peter gives you a mileage credit and a high five when going through the Pearly gates...

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