QOTD: Minding Your Mileage?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd minding your mileage

Without getting deep into the emotional weeds of a contentious scientific debate, one which many would argue we’re not even allowed to have, let’s instead speak in broader terms. Emissions are bad. Always were. They’ll get you in trouble with the EPA and force you to promise fleets of electric cars while funding ads featuring your competitors. They blanket China in orange gloom to this day and once nearly suffocated an entire Pennsylvania town.

The true harmfulness of these emissions, of course, depends on your own personal views — even more so these days. In the past two decades, possibly because of progress on the pollution front, the climate-altering ingredients of emissions (methane, carbon dioxide) quickly superseded the direct health impacts of airborne pollutants like nitrogen oxide, hydrogen fluoride, and sulfur dioxide in the minds of many North American citizens and policymakers. Smog? You can see that. Was that tornado or flood a natural occurrence or did it have “help”? That’s less tangible, more opaque. Easy to ignore.

Still, the effect of this switch in green priorities on discourse surrounding the automobile (and ownership thereof) remains the same. We’re often asked to choose sides.

1970s smog controls didn’t stop your Bonneville’s boat-anchor V8 from emitting pollutants born of fossil fuel combustion — it just reduced them. Nor has turbocharging, direct injection, and lightweighting turned automotive tailpipes into cornucopias spewing oxygen and vibrant ferns. Engines just burn less gas than before, though the advent of SUVs has kept average fleetwide fuel economy stagnant for the past several years.

Lately, I’ve noticed an undercurrent of dissent, in some cases outright rebellion, in the online automotive community directed at, oddly, the automobile. Auto journos aren’t immune to the same environmental activism that afflicts (for lack of a better word) a person from any walk of life or profession. Recent, increasingly dire pronouncements from large, intergovernmental climate bodies have only heightened the trend.

Again, your personal stance on this issue likely falls somewhere between “Get bent, commie,” and “I’m distributing cyanide capsules to my family members to save them from tomorrow’s apocalypse.” That pretty much spans the gamut, I think.

Unfortunately, the debate often ends up with people promoting visions of how they feel other people should live their lives, regardless of geography or circumstance. There’s a big difference, as far as transportation needs and options are concerned, between someone living in downtown New York or Chicago or Toronto and your random Flyover Country resident with two vehicles sitting in the driveway, each good for 15,000 miles of odometer exercise per year. Here, taking a bike or Uber or e-scooter or subway or VrtuCar or Car2Go isn’t a realistic or even possible alternative to owning and driving a car. A one-size-fits-all strategy espoused by a carless, single urbanite is bound to wrankle those on the other side of the lifestyle fence.

Yet choice remains in the type of vehicle you drive.

There’s drawbacks and benefits to owning a small gas sipper, just as there are with limited-range electric cars — saving money at the end of the week, or perhaps saving the planet by the end of your life, at the expense of go anywhere, do anything.

As our light bulbs move from incandescent to LED, and as our newer fridges and stoves consume less juice pumped out by the coal- or gas-gulping powerplant in the neighboring county, our cars remain the most conspicuous form of consumption. It’s understandable why they’re singled out.

Interestingly, in 2016 the U.S. transportation and electricity sectors were equal in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere (28 percent of total emissions, the combined amount of which is on a slow decline). Industry came in third with 22 percent, with residential fourth at 11 percent. Ironically, placing more EVs in driveways to reduce automobile emissions would likely increase overall electricity sector emissions. You’re not getting off scott-free just because you’ve purchased a Leaf or Model 3.

The only solution to this upstream annoyance? Drive less. Buy a vehicle with a downsized motor or electric assist (but not plug-in assist), unless, of course, your household power comes by way of a hydroelectric dam or nuclear plant. If paying at the pump hurts the wallet, as it does mine, you’re still doing your part by choosing a fuel miser, even if your dreams involve a Ram Power Wagon or 1958 Facel Vega.

So, let’s put this to you, the reader. Was the environment a factor in the decision to purchase the vehicle you’re driving right now, or in the amount of miles you drive? Does it impact the vehicle you plan to buy next? Or, is the automotive area of your life simply off limits, regardless of your stance on the environment?

(Please be respectful to others in the comments, all of you. None of you hold the rights to the *only* opinion.)

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC, EPA.gov]

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8 of 105 comments
  • Dan Dan on Nov 15, 2018

    I'm not a climate denier, I can read a graph, but I'm also not an idiot. All of the solutions that we're being presented with boil down to more taxes to pay for more crony capitalism while addressing the purported problem so trivially as to be discounted entirely. The Paris CO2 treaty amounts to pushing the year 2100 catastrophe all the way out to early 2101. The machine feeding us this propaganda 24/7 is the would-be recipient of these taxes. So no, I don't buy a single word of it. The people that say that they do are either paid shills or unpaid idiots.

    • See 5 previous
    • Vulpine Vulpine on Nov 16, 2018

      @chuckrs: " It bears repeating that, alone of the western signatories, only the US met its commitments so far..." --- It might bear repeating but it's still irrelevant to the discussion at hand. We're not talking politics here, we're talking the environment itself and what WE, the People, can do about it. "CO2 is a pretty good proxy to get rid of the other stuff, but there are always unintended consequences in the competition between efficiency and pollution." --- Yeah. To the point that commenters arguing for elimination of regulations use CO2 as the basis for their argument--in that plants and trees need CO2 to survive. They insist our world is 'greener' than ever before BECAUSE of increased CO2 while totally ignoring its greenhouse effect AND all associated pollutants that come from burning anything by any means. In other words, so-called 'deniers' are targeting one single component of fuel consumption as the ONLY component under discussion. In that one-chemical argument, they may be correct but when taking the other pollutants into account, that one chemical is only an indicator of one aspect of a problem that is far, far, broader. " Yes and no. A pure EV lacks an engine or prime mover. The upstream part of that prime mover (supplying the energy) is mostly going to be a power plant. You need to factor in its efficiency and transmission/charging losses." --- This is where some commenters and discussions go astray. While I agree that EV use does relocate the emissions, too often that argument suggests that the total effluvium remains intact, which is NOT true. Studies have proven that even by transporting the "prime mover" to a power plant somewhere, a given BEV still produces less than half the emissions on a vehicle-to-vehicle basis than an equivalently-sized and -performing ICEV •at worst!• Moreover, those power plants themselves are becoming cleaner--at least in the US--while renewables such as wind and solar are proving less expensive to build and operate than an equivalent coal or even natural gas facility. Natural gas is proving cheaper than coal at least partially by rebuilding the existing coal plants to use gas turbines in place of steam while also demonstrating an ability for rapid spooling up or down to keep up with demand, rather than steam's need for constant output due to slow warming and cool-down rates. So not only is natural gas cleaner than coal, it's also more efficient than coal, while renewables are cleaner yet, if not quite so dynamic in adapting to load changes. https://www.utilitydive.com/news/even-in-indiana-new-renewables-are-cheaper-than-existing-coal-plants/540242/ This link is just one among many demonstrating how the cost of renewables is proving cheaper despite a growing demand for energy. This also shows that the transferred emissions will continue to drop while we have nearly come to the effective limit of internal combustion engines IN the vehicles. ICEs have too many inherent inefficiencies. But worse, your own statement includes a fallacy: "Numbers from the internet suggest EV efficiency of 80-90%. Multiply that by roughly 35%-40% efficiency of the power plant and distribution. (Got no idea what the losses are from warming up the batteries during charging.) Now we’re down to 28%-36% real efficiency for an EV." This statement is simply not true. Here's an article showing the efficiencies of different power generation methods vs power distribution: https://www.mpoweruk.com/energy_efficiency.htm To make it simple, energy generation that uses no fuel has a very high efficiency rating while distribution losses are well below 20%. And while the first chart on this link appears to support your argument as to power plant efficiency for solar and wind, keep in mind that both solar and wind require no fuel, so while their energy conversion ratio from one kind of energy to another (sun/wind:electricity) may be lower, the cost of that conversion is lower still--by several factors. All told, we can see that the costs of renewable energy generation AND the pollution factors of going renewable for our transportation (electrified) are lower across the board than burning fossil fuels.

  • Dividebytube Dividebytube on Nov 16, 2018

    Given my previous fleets of V8 cars - and my short spell with turbocharged 4-cyls (that consume waay more gas than I expected - no. Heck I'm lucky to break 16mpg (city) in my Mustang, and it only has a 3.7L V6. It's just that all the fun power is up in the higher RPMs, so I'm spinning that engine a lot!

  • SCE to AUX I charge at home 99% of the time, on a Level 2 charger I installed myself in 2012 for my Leaf. My house is 1967, 150-Amp service, gas dryer and furnace; everything else is electric with no problems. I switched from gas HW to electric HW last year, when my 18-year-old tank finally failed.I charge at a for-pay station maybe a couple times a year.I don't travel more than an hour each way in my Ioniq 1 EV, so I don't deal much with public chargers. Despite a big electric rate increase this year, my car remains ridiculously cheap to operate.
  • ToolGuy 38:25 to 45:40 -- Let's all wait around for the stupid ugly helicopter. 😉The wheels and tires are cool, as in a) carbon fiber is a structural element not decoration and b) they have some sidewall.Also like the automatic fuel adjustment (gasoline vs. ethanol).(Anyone know why it's more powerful on E85? Huh? Huh?)
  • Ja-GTI So, seems like you have to own a house before you can own a BEV.
  • Kwik_Shift Good thing for fossil fuels to keep the EVs going.
  • Carlson Fan Meh, never cared for this car because I was never a big fan of the Gen 1 Camaro. The Gen 1 Firebird looked better inside and out and you could get it with the 400.The Gen 2 for my eyes was peak Camaro as far as styling w/those sexy split bumpers! They should have modeled the 6th Gen after that.