Eco Car Comparison

Mark Snyder
Do It Green! Minnesota

One of the first things to consider is what kind of vehicle meets your everyday needs. Many people choose a larger vehicle on the basis that they will need the extra room or towing ability for something like a family road trip or other infrequent need. However, you then must drive that same vehicle during your work commute or other errands while paying for the extra gas it consumes, and the larger vehicle is meanwhile producing extra greenhouse gases (GHGs). If you do not need a larger vehicle on a regular basis, it may make more sense to borrow or rent one for the occasional family trip, and instead own a more fuel-efficient vehicle for your everyday use. You can find SUVs, cargo vans or pick-up trucks at the car rental companies when you need one. You may find that you can go “mostly” car-free and it may make sense for you to join a car-sharing program such as HOURCAR.

Once you have a vehicle in mind that is suitable for you, you can look at different fuel or engine types and decide what makes the most sense for you based on your driving habits. Here are some options:

Standard gasoline vehicle

Wide range of vehicle choices and for those on a budget, generally cheaper than other options

You’re burning gasoline and emitting GHGs.

Gas-electric hybrids

Some range of vehicle choices, though you’ll have to be aware that not all “hybrids” are created equal.

Generally provides better gas mileage than standard gasoline vehicles.

May make the most sense for people who have to drive a lot.

They cost more than comparably-sized standard gasoline engine vehicles and you may not recoup the extra investment through spending less on gasoline.

Flex-Fuel Vehicles (FFVs)/Ethanol (E85)

Some range of vehicle choices, though there are more truck/SUV options than cars.

Produces 30% fewer GHGs than gasoline.

May make the most sense for people who do not drive a lot, but still need a car.

Ethanol is largely made from corn in the U.S. and growing corn can contribute to water pollution through agricultural runoff.

FFVs can get fewer miles per gallon than gasoline vehicles. May require some effort to find service stations with E85 pumps.

Petroleum diesel engines

Better gas mileage than standard gasoline vehicles.

Diesel is a “dirtier” fuel than gasoline and has higher particulate (soot) emissions.

Biodiesel—available as B5 (5% biodiesel blended with petroleum diesel), B20 (20% biodiesel) and B100 (all biodiesel)

Can be used in any diesel engine with few or no modifications.

Cleaner than petroleum diesel and reduces net GHG emissions by up to 78% compared to petroleum diesel.

Can be very hard to find, especially for the general public.

Can cost more than petroleum diesel.

Used Vegetable Oil
(see the Resource Box for details on how to do this)

Can be used with diesel engine vehicles.

May be available “free” if you can find the right supplier and are willing to do some work.

Requires some modifications to the vehicle to add another fuel tank.

May require a strong stomach if you go in search of your own used veggie oil.


You do not actually “own” a vehicle, so no costs for insurance, maintenance and all that other stuff.

Not quite as convenient as having your own vehicle.

Not available everywhere.

The future:• plug-in hybrids

• hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

Plug-in hybrids would allow people to make trips ranging from 25-40 miles using little to no gasoline.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would have no tailpipe emissions besides possibly water vapor.

They are not here yet.

Plug-in hybrids may be here in 2010 if battery design issues can be worked out.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are still more in the design/testing stages and could become available in five to ten years.

If you decide to switch from your current vehicle to something different, you will have to figure out what to do with your old car. Generally, reuse is favored over recycling and disposal. Try selling, trading in or donating your car versus disposing of your car at the local junk yard. There are a variety of organizations that take older cars with little trade-in or resale value and repair them for families that might otherwise not be able to afford a vehicle. Do a web search using the key words “donate car Minnesota” and you will find many options.

Read Up
Act Locally

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Green Book

U.S. Department of Energy Freedom CAR and Vehicle Technologies (FCVT) Program,

Winning the Oil Endgame: Innovation for Profits, Jobs and Security

Amory B. Lovins,, Rocky Mountain Institute, 2004.

From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank: The Complete Guide to Using Vegetable Oil as an Alternative Fuel,

Josh Tickell,, Tickell Energy Consultants, 2000.

Clean Air Choice

(where to find E85 and biodiesel service stations)


Car-sharing for the Twin Cities,

Eco Car

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