Power Points | Fuel: The Driving Force Behind Buying a Car

by Elisabeth Monaghan, Editor-in-Chief

I have been thinking about trading in my 2007 Honda Civic for a newer, more energy-efficient car, but it seems that cars have gotten way smarter than most consumers. I don’t know whether to be thrilled with or overwhelmed by all of the options. Today’s cars feature in-car internet capability to conduct hands-free searches for music or news; find the nearest coffee shop; discover what traffic jams are ahead, or get directions to that meeting on the other side of town. We also can carry on telephone conversations without taking our eyes of the road. Most recently, we have seen cars that self-park as well as a few that, even more remarkably, self-drive. Flying cars also have hit the scene, but because it will be awhile before they wind their way into the mainstream, I don’t expect to be driving one anytime soon.

I ended up with my Honda because the dealer no longer had inventory of the hybrid in which I was interested. Not wanting to wait for the car to come in, I drove off in my new Accord. Ten years later, my Honda is showing wear, and I would like to have a plan in place for a new car before any important parts need replacing.

I would prefer it if my next vehicle were a hybrid or ran on something other than gas. While I have a friend who drives a Prius, and another who drives a Jetta that runs on diesel, I don’t have a go-to subject matter expert. I am still in the “discovery” phase of my research, but I have learned a few things that I am passing along in case they come in handy.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC), there only 198 public biodiesel fueling stations in the entire U.S., which means if I were to own such a car I would probably need another that runs on gas or some type of fuel that is readily available. Because the biodegradable fuel used in biodiesel can be made from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled grease, I envision the people behind me in traffic developing a sudden craving for French fries. It may be a myth that biodiesel fuel smells like fried food, but the thought of smelling grease from my car on the hottest days of summer is enough to steer me away from biodiesel engines for now. Besides, biodiesel fuel may also be problematic for me during the winter, as, there’s a chance it could gel on cold days, and I do not relish the idea of being stuck in a blizzard because my car won’t start.

Electric vehicles are promising, with their clean fuel and energy efficiency. Chargepoint.com claims there are 628,260 EVs on the road in the U.S. and Canada, which is an indication these cars are gaining popularity. The price tag for electric vehicles can be significantly higher than cars that run on regular gas. For example, the MSRP of a 2017 Fiat 500 starts at $14,995, while the MSRP of a 2017 Fiat 500e (electric version) starts at $32,995. A Honda Accord starts at $24,455, while a Honda Accord Hybrid starts at $29,605. There are thousands of charge points available for electric cars but owning one would require better planning habits, as it can take at least 30 minutes to charge an EV.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are an intriguing concept, but according to the AFDC, there are only 36 fueling stations in the United States, 33 of which are in California. Until there is a greater demand for the vehicles and an established delivery system for the hydrogen, the asking prices for these vehicles will remain high (A Honda Clarity, the automaker’s new hydrogen cell-fueled car, starts at $60,000. Compare that to the Accord mentioned above that starts at $24,455.) Further, the number of fueling stations will remain few and far between, so a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is off the table, for now.

Once I am ready to take the leap and purchase a new car, the availability of automobiles and alternative fuel types will be a key factor in my decision, but there are a few more issues I need to think through. Tax credits may currently offset the higher costs of some cars, but as more people begin driving these alternatively-fueled vehicles, the tax credits may either decrease, or go away all together. It’s probably a good idea for me to examine if I’m committed enough to a cleaner environment that I’m willing to pay a higher price for an alternatively-fueled car, whether or not I receive a tax credit.

Another consideration is if I buy a battery-powered car, what are my plans when the battery no longer works? If I truly want to drive a car that is better for the environment, I had better take the time to find out how to recycle its lithium battery. It would defeat my goal towards a greener lifestyle if I just toss it into my dumpster, without giving a second thought to added waste in landfills and the fact that the battery contains toxic materials.

Based on my preliminary findings, combined with the fact I’m not an early adopter, I am leaning towards the latest model of that hybrid I’d considered a little more than 10 years ago. I’m not ready to rely on a vehicle that runs solely on a charged battery or on fuel that is difficult to come by. With a hybrid, I’d be able to use conventional gas, while also driving a vehicle that is less harmful to the environment. I still have some research to do, but as I continue to educate myself on the topic, I am open to recommendations, if you have them.

If you would like to contribute an article or if you have an idea about interesting technology, solutions, or suggestions, please email me at Elisabeth@ElectricEnergyOnline.com.


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