My Friends, Their Cars, The Earth

Many of my friends and family have purchased new cars, or new used cars, in the last couple of years. Most of these people would define themselves as “progressive” if not “radical” and almost all of them would come out on the David Suzuki rather than the George Bush side of environmental issues.

To this end, I decided to look at the fuel economy of the vehicles of my friends and family, and the results are presented below. I used the site, run by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for my figures; as a result, any differences between U.S. and Canadian models won’t be accounted for. I set the price of gas at 68 cents a litre (or $2.61 a gallon). I guessed where I didn’t know the specific year, model, or engine type. And of course older cars won’t be performing at their peak these days. All fuel economy numbers are combined city/highway miles per gallon; dollar figures are in Canadian dollars.

Friend Vehicle Fuel Economy
Johnny 1998 Chevy Blazer 18
Steve 2003 Jeep Liberty 19
Dan 2002 Subaru WRX 23
Carol 2002 Chrysler Sebring 23
Mike 2000 VW Golf 24
Norm 1990 Honda Accord 24
Robert 2003 Honda CRV 24
Steven 1993 Dodge Spirit 24
Dave 2003 VW Jetta Wagon 25
Ann 1998 Toyota Camry 26
Me 2000 VW Jetta 27
Kevin 2002 VW New Beetle 27
Ray 2002 Mini Cooper 28
Catherine 1995 Ford Escort Wagon 29
Frances 1996 Honda Civic 32

Johnny’s last-place finish is no surprise, as the Chevy Blazer isn’t exactly known as a paragon of fuel economy, and he didn’t purchase it with any illusions that it was. The surprise, for me, was Catherine’s second-place ranking with a 1995 Ford Escort Wagon; I never realized these were so fuel efficient.

If you look at the difference in what it costs for fuel, based on 15,000 miles/year, Johnny will pay $2175 and Frances will pay $1223, a difference of $952.

In terms of pollution, the difference between Johnny (10.5 tons/year of greenhouse gases) and Frances (5.9 tons/year) is 4.6 tons. It says here that U.S. President Clinton proposed “reducing U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2012.” The article goes on to say:

…if the United States agrees to limit its emission of greenhouse gases to 1.6 billion metric tons annually (the 1990 level), then the average American can produce no more than 5.3 tons of greenhouse gases if our population is 298 million in 2025, as it would be with moderate levels of immigration.

Because the vehicle figures above don’t include the greenhouse gases we produce from our electricity usage, we’ve all obviously got some ways to go, no matter the car we drive.

In 2003, the best fuel economy you can get from a generally available fuel-burning car is 64 mpg from the Honda Insight. It produces 3.1 tons/year of greenhouse gases, and has fuel costs of $612/year.

By way of comparison, the 2003 Toyota RAV4 Electric gets 112 mpg, and emits 3.8 tons/year of greenhouse gases (they say that “For electric vehicles, mpg represents the number of miles that can be traveled using an amount of electricity equivalent to the energy in a gallon of gasoline.”).

For those of you claiming poverty, the 2003 Toyota Echo gets 38 mpg, and produces the same emissions as the Insight, 3.1 tons/year. The Toyota Yaris, which is the model the new Canadian 2004 Toyota Echo Hatchback is based on, is rated at 50 mpg/combined in Europe. Both models are very cheap.


Dan James's picture
Dan James on June 22, 2003 - 01:13 Permalink

Mine’s (Subaru WRX) 27 MPG on the highway and i do 90% of my driving there as I don’t live in town. A very interesting list. To be honest, I bought my car because of its great breaking… save save moose.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on June 22, 2003 - 04:01 Permalink

I’m surprised to see that my big ol’ Spirit is on par with a 2000 VW Golf.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on June 22, 2003 - 04:04 Permalink

Or, looked at from the other end: Robert’s brand new “mini-SUV” has gas mileage as poor as a 10 year old Plymouth.

Derek Martin's picture
Derek Martin on June 22, 2003 - 15:50 Permalink

I have a bicycle, so if anyone wants to buy some emmision tonnage from me, I’m taking offers.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on June 22, 2003 - 16:19 Permalink

Curious as to what patterns would emerge, I charted your numbers. There really isn’t enough data to draw any conclusions from — but in our tiny sample, newer car does not equal more efficiency. See the chart (181Kb PDF).

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on June 22, 2003 - 16:29 Permalink

I have always wondered if things that both are and seem excessive and harmful to the planet would be shunned by progressives if they actually weren’t excessive and harmful to the planet. If engineers could design a big huge Cadillac that got 100 mpg, would those who drove it still be treated like dinosaurs on aesthetic or other grounds?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on June 22, 2003 - 16:32 Permalink

It says here that “Older vehicles produce a disproportionate share of total U.S. vehicle air emissions. Cars of 1971 or earlier vintage make up about 3.4 percent of total auto registrations and only 1.7 percent of total miles driven, yet produce 7.5 percent of the hydrocarbon (HC), 7.6 percent of the carbon monoxide (CO), and 4.7 percent of the nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions of the fleet.” Of course the fleet of my friends doesn’t include any cars that old, so the statement doesn’t apply directly.

Ken's picture
Ken on June 23, 2003 - 03:13 Permalink

The heavier the car, the more detached drivers become from each other, with much graver accidents. So ideally we would all drive mopeds or if it was a car, a very small car, especially around town.

Ricky's picture
Ricky on April 9, 2004 - 15:50 Permalink

Actually, most cars here in europe get 30-50mpg whereas the same make/model car in the states gets about half that.

Dennis's picture
Dennis on May 17, 2004 - 03:14 Permalink

I don’t get how the Insight can get better mileage and produce the same amount of green house gas (presumably in the form of carbon dioxide) compared to the Echo. I always thought the carbon we release is directly proportional to the amount of fuel combusted.