Science Questions

How do I save carbon with a new car?

Sun, 28th Jun 2009

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Steve, Crowborough asked:

With the budget introducing the £2000 subsidy to scrap old cars, I'm trying to figure out how much energy and carbon goes into the manufacture of a new car. Considering the increase in efficiency of the new car, how many miles would I have to drive to achieve an overall carbon saving?


We put this to Pablo Päster, Vice President of Greenhouse Gas Management at Climate Check and columnist at

So, unfortunately, there is no easy answer.  It really depends from vehicle to vehicle, not only the vehicle that you're currently driving that you would be replacing but also, the vehicle that you would replacing it with.  The U.S. government came out with a Benz Patent-Motorwagen model for figuring out the energy as to make a vehicle called, ‘GREET.’  And basically, it tells you how many BTUs it takes to build a car.  The manufacturing of the average car is roughly equivalent to 880 gallons of gasoline, in terms of the energy that’s used.  If a new car will save at least as much gas, it definitely makes sense to get rid of the old car.  If we’ve seen that your old car has around 100,000 miles left on it with good maintenance, your new car would need to be at least 6 miles per gallon better to make up for the emissions for manufacturing.  That means that if your old car gets less than 24 miles per gallon makes environmental sense to get a new car that gets 30 miles per gallon or better.  Not only can you feel better about your environmental impact, but you also get a £2000 discount on your new car.


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Oooh, ooooh, *thrusts hand in air* I know this one. A new car has on average 6.7tons of embedded carbon. It would take you just over a year of driving to have emitted this much. Remember this is an average. Your car can have as much as 12 tons. Am I a swot or what? Make it Lady, Thu, 25th Jun 2009

I'm sure that the average driver doesn't emit as much as 6.7 tonnes per year? That's nearly a trans-Atlantic flight isn't it? Do you have any references or sources for your wonderful stats (I'd like to quote them!)

(And please forgive me if I'm wrong about the number above)

Chris chris, Fri, 26th Jun 2009

That's only the carbon dioxide. That's about 40000 km a year for 6.7 tons.

Also Chemistry4me, Fri, 26th Jun 2009

try this.

I suppose it depends on how much you use the car.

I note that they state the average per year is about 11,450 pounds of CO2. That is 5.1tons in a year so yes it is about one year and four months. Make it Lady, Mon, 29th Jun 2009

Where did you get the amount of carbon embeded in a car from I am still looking -do I smell conspiracy? tim, Sun, 3rd Jan 2010

You wrote: "How do I save carbon with a new car?"  First, you need a way to collect and store it. I don't think even JC Whitney has such a device. And what would you do with it once you had it? Put it in a safe deposit box?

I suppose you could use it to fire up the barbie, just like charcoal. litespeed, Tue, 5th Jan 2010

The Classic cars are the cars that are considered as the older cars that are having better utilities and future to get used further. The exact definition of the classic car is not stipulated as it varies in the opinions. The Classic Car Club of America has defined them as the cars that are 20 years to 45 years older. They have restricted the range and have offered the most quality oriented solutions for the old car lovers. They are wider in collection and have multiple options and varieties of manufacturers and models. There are many car manufacturing companies offering these classic cars. The leading names in this category are the Ford cars, GMC cars, Chevrolet cars, BMW cars and many more. Classic old cars are also the most demanding models of cars.
hims (aka Jahnavi) - Stop with the spamming! - Mod hims, Tue, 16th Nov 2010

Oh, I read about that...
A little box you could attach under your car to pick up all the CO2.


As far as whether buying a new vehicle is "more efficient" than an older one...

What should be the goal?  10% improvement?  50% improvement?  100% improvement?

I now have a 30 yr old PICKUP, Made in the USA, that gets 45 MPG.
It does give out a few puffs of smoke every now and then...  so a new one would run cleaner...

But, I'm having troubles finding a NEW pickup that I can legally buy in the USA that gets anywhere close to the mileage that the old one gets.   
I just can't justify paying $20K or $30K for a pickup that gets less than half the mileage as my old beater.  CliffordK, Thu, 2nd Dec 2010

There's one born every minute! peppercorn, Thu, 2nd Dec 2010

Did you remove the entire body and the bed, or are you always running downhill when you measure the fuel consumption. I know, you took off the original wheels and replaced them with ones from a motor scooter so you're really only covering half a mile when the odometer says you've travelled one.   

Please excuse my skepticism, but the only pickup I know of in the US that will get that sort of mileage is a diesel VW Rabbit. Ah, wait a minute. It could be a VW pickup. They did make them in the US thirty years ago and you didn't say it was a US make. Geezer, Fri, 3rd Dec 2010

There were several small Diesel pickups made in the Mid 80's.

Ford sold a Ford Ranger Diesel.  Mazda had a Diesel Pickup.  Chevy Luv Diesel Pickup.  Most of them got in the mid 30's for MPG. 

In fact, I believe the Chevy was actually made in Japan!!

VW had a little pickup called the VW Rabbit Pickup based on their Rabbit line.  Made in New Stanton, Pennsylvania from 1979 to 1982.  The factory ran from 1978 to 1988 at which point it was packed up and shipped to South Africa.  Or at least the American version of the Caddy and Rabbit ended up there.

It isn't very big, but for a little commuter work truck, 45 mpg isn't too bad.

While similar models have been made in Europe, South Africa, and Brazil (by VW), only the old ones are available in the USA. CliffordK, Fri, 3rd Dec 2010

At one point, I had three diesel VW Rabbits (the sedan versions).  Two were used by our children, and the third was a source of spare parts. They were ideal first cars. Top speed was was a bit under 70 MPH (if you could stand the incredible racket) and they went for ever on a tank of diesel, which cost about a dollar a gallon at the time.

I knew of a guy who lived in California who had the pickup version. He added additional fuel tanks. Once a month he would drive down to Mexico, fill it up on really cheap diesel, then drive around for a month without ever going to a gas station in the US. Geezer, Sat, 4th Dec 2010

And just this year VW finished production of the VW Golf/Rabbit, ending over 30 years of producing essentially the same vehicle. You can buy second origin parts for the entire vehicle, and build one up from parts except for the VIN plate.

Buying a new car is not a great idea, buy a 1 year old one, and you save up to 50% on the original price, plus in many cases you can still have the balance of a factory warranty if you buy from a reputable dealer. Let somebody else pay that initial massive depreciation, a car is very rarely something that goes up in value, though I do know a little old lady who drove the same VW Golf for over 20 years, and had no problems with it - the only issue was that it was one of the initial batch, and was hard to get certain parts as they were non standard, and not available as pattern parts. Not bad for a vehicle that probably was close to the million km mark. SeanB, Sat, 4th Dec 2010

If you are looking into an electric car then there is still a major polution issue producing just the battery due to the fact of the need to melt lead and anyone who has handled lead knows that when lead is melted produces toxic fumes. The same with Lithium. AlphaPiRho, Fri, 7th Jan 2011

This is wonderful,
sheikhjee, Fri, 11th Mar 2011

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