What Car to Buy?

oil-drillingGlobal warming. Peak oil. America is dependent upon foreign oil, but demand is weakening here and prices might fall. So what is the right choice I should make when buying a new car?

Today I drive a 2009 Toyota Prius (see my 2008 post here) and now I’m torn about what to buy next. Another Prius that gets 50MPG? A plugin hybrid Prius that gets 99MPGe? A Chevy Volt that, like my neighbor who has driven over 12,000 miles and still has 25% of his first tank of gasoline, uses electricity for most driving?

We know climate change is happening and that total oil production by the big producers has fallen 25% since 2004 while global energy demand is expected to double by 2050 (see 2013 World Energy Issue Monitor (PDF)), so the obvious choice is to buy the most efficient vehicle I can afford (and fit in to).

But it’s not so simple. Since CAFE standards are focusing car manufacturers on ensuring the average mileage of their fleets increase fairly dramatically to 2025, if prices fall and mileage rises isn’t the net impact of a larger vehicle justifiable? 

lnavigatorI thought so until this past week when I was behind a woman driving a Lincoln Navigator at the gas pumps. She asked me what kind of mileage I got in the winter and what it cost to fill my tank. “42-44 mpg and a full tank is about $38,” I replied. “How about you?

Um…I asked because my husband and I measured it over the last few months and it’s supposed to get 14 in the city and 20 on the highway but we were getting about 8mpg driving around town and 12mpg when we drove up to Duluth to see my mother.” She went on, “…and it costs about $115 to fill the tank.”

Well, that’s what happens in the winter when we run our heaters, electric seats and it’s harder to efficiently burn fuel. What she and I DIDN’T talk about was an ugly truth I discovered later: That $115 would fill her 33.5 gallon tank and take her about 396 highway miles. My Prius (at the 44mpg highway amount) would go 462 miles for filling my 11 gallon fuel tank for only $38! A savings of $77 and for not using 22 gallons of gasoline.

I know, I know…it’s a helluva lot better to drive a Lincoln behemoth vs. a tiny little Prius. But what a waste of fuel—not to mention the extra carbon I’d be spewing in to the atmosphere—when I’m just hauling my own ass around. Do I really need something like that Lincoln Navigator? Nope. Regardless whether gas prices fall to $2/gallon since it’s just an inefficient waste of energy.

So now the questions: regular or plugin Prius or Chevy Volt? 

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1 Comment

  1. Steve Borsch on April 21, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Jack — Thanks for the articles! I know the Prius well so that would be an easy transition (and cheaper) but the Volt is so compelling. 95% of all of my car trips could easily be on electricity.

    One thing that isn’t discussed much though: In a bizarre turn the Prius is actually more comfortable inside for me than the Volt, though it visually appears to be smaller than the Volt.

    Still thinking…



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