Choosing the greenest new car

Published Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, you can save money and energy by making it a green one.  Here are a few tips.

Official ratings

When it comes to fuel economy, the best single source of information is Natural Resources Canada’s Fuel Consumption Guide for cars and light trucks.  The 2014 edition is available at www.tinyurl.com/2014ratings or in paper format by calling 1-800-387-2000.

NRCan’s website is even better because it lists the fuel economy of every vehicle sold in Canada since 1995, and enables customized searches and direct comparisons.  For example, you can see how a Chevy Sonic compares to a Ford Focus or any other vehicle.  You can see how manual and automatic transmission options compare for a particular model.  You can see how different fuel types compare – increasingly useful as more diesel vehicles become available.  The address is www.tinyurl.com/EnerGuideRatings

If you can’t check fuel ratings before you go car shopping, look for the EnerGuide label affixed to every new vehicle sold in Canada.  It provides city and highway fuel economy plus an estimate of annual fuel costs.

Beware the faux-ratings

NRCan’s ratings are straightforward: they indicate how many miles a vehicle will go on a gallon of gas or how many liters of fuel it will take to travel 100 kilometers.  Other measures are far less useful.

For example, kilometers per tank has become a popular measure, but it’s largely meaningless because gas tanks vary in size.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could improve a car’s fuel economy simply by installing a larger gas tank?  As well, it takes no account of driving conditions.  When car manufacturers suggest out how far you can go on a tank of fuel, beware: they’re assuming 100% highway driving under perfect conditions with no pee breaks. 

Better ratings coming

NRCan’s ratings aren’t perfect, and many of us have experienced the disappointment of a vehicle that delivers less than its rated mileage.  That happens because vehicles have traditionally been tested under ideal, controlled conditions.  For example, past tests have ignored the impacts of winter operating temperatures, summer air conditioning or aggressive driving on fuel economy.  

That’s changing: those impacts will all be factored into a new, extensive testing procedure that’s being implemented starting with 2015 models.  So don’t be surprised if you see a 2015 vehicle with worse fuel efficiency than its 2014 version; the 2015’s rating will better reflect real world driving.

Added tips for buyers

Resist the common temptation to buy too much vehicle, whether a van, SUV or truck.  A bigger engine is a bigger drinking straw slurping your gas tank dry.  Instead, choose the smallest vehicle that meets your everyday needs – cheaper to buy and far cheaper to operate.  Then rent for those rare occasions when something larger is needed.

Consider two wheel drive over four wheel drive or all wheel drive.  The latter two consume up to 10% more fuel – a big premium to pay when you consider that NB gets only ten snow events a year.

Choose features that reduce weight, like aluminum wheels.

Avoid unnecessary features that add weight.  For example, power seats reduce fuel economy by 2-3% because of the weight they add to a vehicle.

Air conditioning adds weight and, when operating, can reduce fuel economy by 20%.  Consider an aerodynamic sunroof with a tilt function instead.

Avoid remote starters – they’re convenient but typically lead to unnecessary idling and wasted fuel.

Choose a manual transmission, a six-speed automatic transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Choose trip computers that display real-time fuel consumption; they’ll increase your awareness and challenge you to drive more efficiently.

Our vehicle is typically one of our larger expenses.  By choosing wisely, we can save on fuel and do a good thing for the planet.