Buy an energy efficient car

With the emergence of peak oil and climate change as hot issues, car manufacturers have been focusing on fuel efficiency, aerodynamics, hybrid and electric technology. So when you’re next in the market for a new set of wheels, consider buying an energy efficient car.

Cars are the primary mode of transport in Australia with most households having at least one. The current generation of cars emit greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. For every litre of petrol used in a motor vehicle, 2.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) is released from the exhaust.

The new breed of efficient cars and hybrids are increasing fuel efficiency by significant margins and with electric cars emerging onto the market, we have cars with zero net carbon emissions.

As one of the major investments for most families, car efficiency also means lower running costs, better insurance rates and even green loans.

How to do it now!

The efficiency of the vehicle (design, engine, weight, etc) determines the fuel consumption and the amount of greenhouse gases and airborne pollution released per kilometre, so there are many factors to consider when aiming to reduce the emissions you create.

Buying a new efficient car

Fuel efficient cars have a number of benefits:

  • They produce fewer CO2 emissions, lowering their impact on the environment and contribution to climate change.
  • They consume less fuel and are less expensive to run. With peak oil, carbon taxes, and climate change concerns pushing the price of fuel up, the savings derived from increased fuel efficiency will only increase.
  • They highlight and focus the economy and community on the value of our efficient use of energy.

As the following table demonstrates, an efficient car reduces both your annual CO2 emissions and the amount of money you pump into your car at the petrol bowser.

CO2 Tailpipe Emissions from Petrol VehiclesCosts and Dollar Savings from Efficient fuel consumption
Fuel ConsumptionAnnual CO2 EmissionsPetrol cost per 1,5000km (@$1.50 /litre) – 10 yrsAdditional cost (VS most efficient)
6 L/100km2,160 kg$13,500$0
8 L/100km2,880 kg$18,000$4,500
10 L/100km3,600 kg$22,500$9,000
12 L/100km4,320 kg$27,000$13,500

The Green Vehicle Guide rates new Australian vehicles based on greenhouse and air pollution emissions. Anyone buying a car can use the guide to identify the vehicle which best meets their needs as well as one that reduces the impact on climate change and urban air quality.

You can use the Fuel Consumption Label on new vehicles to compare the fuel consumption of different vehicles and estimate how much it will cost to run various models and makes.

To give an indication of potential savings, a difference in fuel consumption of just one litre per 100 kilometres will cost the average motorist about $215 a year. This is based on the motorist travelling 15,000 kilometres during the year with petrol costing $1.50 per litre. If the price of fuel per litre increases by 10 cents, the difference in annual fuel costs increases by $15.

Emissions from different fuels

Click on the Federal Government’s greenhouse gas emissions calculator to find out what your car is costing you and the environment.

Fuels differ in the amount of carbon and energy they contain as well as other characteristics, with implications for fuel economy and greenhouse emissions. The table below lists the amount of CO2 emitted from the exhaust for each litre of a particular fuel covered by the calculator.

The reason the weight of CO2 emissions is greater than the weight of fuel is because of the addition of oxygen from the atmosphere to the fuel during combustion to form CO2.

CO2 Tailpipe Emissions/Litre of Fuel Consumed
Fuel TypeCO2 Emissions
Petrol2.3 kg
LPG1.6 kg
Diesel2.7 kg

It’s also important to know, how much fuel is consumed to travel a given distance. LPG has lower greenhouse emissions per litre of fuel consumed than petrol, but also has a lower energy content. Therefore equivalent vehicles tend to consume more of LPG than petrol to travel a given distance. In the case of diesel, its greenhouse emissions per litre are higher than petrol, but engines designed to operate on diesel tend to be far more fuel-efficient than petrol engines. To be sure that one vehicle has lower greenhouse emissions than another use theGreenhouse gas emissions calculator.

Hybrid Cars

A new generation of hybrid car technology is combining electric engine and battery technology with super efficient combustion engines to further reduce emissions and increase the effectiveness of hybrid vehicles. These new hybrids are on sale in Australia now.

Electric cars

In the push to reduce our carbon emissions, the combustion of fossil fuels will eventually focus on a new way to power our cars. The most likely successor is the electric car, which is becoming increasingly popular. They are fuelled by charging electric batteries or by using Hydrogen as a fuel and converting the hydrogen to electric power via a fuel cell.

Combined with renewable electricity, an electric car is an emissions-free solution that is cheaper to run than fossil fuel varieties.

Some of the issues to consider with electric cars include:

  • the distance the car will travel before requiring the batteries to be recharged
  • the availability of quick recharging stations
  • the environmental cost of their construction
  • the source of the electricity used to charge (does the power come from burning coal or from renewable sources?)
  • evolution speed of the electric car technology – how quickly will the technology change and evolve and when is the best time to purchase an electric car?

Mitsubishi, Honda, Toyota, Nissan and many other car manufacturers will be rolling out electric cars over the next few years. To stay informed visit The Australian Electric Vehicle Association.

Additional resources

Why is this action important?

Sustainable living guide