Deisel and sustainability
July 30, 2013 4:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm will be looking for a car soon. A USED car, as I simply can not afford a new hybrid or anything like that. I have heard of TDI Jettas being as few efficient as Prius's. I am aware that diesel is not so awesome environmentally. But I want to know if it evens out. I'm looking for links to reputable information on the topic. NOT - opinion of hear say. If you know enough to talk my ear off about it then you know where to find the information, then do so and send me a well resourced link to back it up.

If you are aware of another vehicle type that is USED and nicer to the environment/fuel efficient please feel free to suggest
posted by misformiche to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
What is more important to you more MPGs or fewer emissions? Just curious because efficiency can mean different things to different people.

What year of vehicle were you looking at purchasing? What country are you in?

These are all helpful things to know to help you find relevant information.
posted by dottiechang at 5:05 PM on July 30, 2013

Look up biodiesel. Also, now that ultra low sulfur diesel is being used (in the US, anyway), diesel is much cleaner than in the past. And even then, it was more environmentally friendly than gasoline in some ways.
posted by gjc at 5:06 PM on July 30, 2013

If you are aware of another vehicle type that is USED and nicer to the environment/fuel efficient please feel free to suggest

As I imagine you already know, motorcycles and scooters are (often, not always) more fuel-efficient than cars, and bicycles are, of course, human-powered.
posted by box at 5:23 PM on July 30, 2013

See this article from Slate.
posted by scalespace at 5:26 PM on July 30, 2013

Previously: Should I buy a used Volkswagen? with a handy flow chart in the comments.

Short version: if you can't afford a used hybrid, you probably can't afford a used VW.
posted by deanc at 5:35 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is a great example of efficiency meaning different things to different people.

Someone has suggested motorcycles as an alternative, but while they get more MPGS, they can pollute more than a giant SUV because their engines have not been regulated in the same way as cars. For this same reason, many lawnmowers are also more polluting than SUVs.
posted by dottiechang at 5:45 PM on July 30, 2013

Have you priced used hybrids? I recently picked up a low mileage 2008 Prius for way less than I would've supposed, and we've been driving it hard for the last 6 months with no trouble at all. Prior to that I had 2 TDI Golfs that were fun to drive and about as fuel efficient as the Prius, but that were not very reliable. One got totalled when I was sideswiped by a drunk driver and rolled 3 times down a ravine, a wreck that my passeneger and I both crawled out of and walked away from unscathed due in large part, I believe, to the Golf's safety systems. Its successor was totalled in my absence or I'd still be driving it probably, regular repair bills and all.

I personally feel like the extra emissions of the diesel engine on the Golf are probably more than offset by the environmental cost of building a massive hybrid battery system for the Prius, but once you get into the fine details it becomes hard to determine how to weigh the various factors.
posted by contraption at 5:57 PM on July 30, 2013

Are you wanting to be efficient to save money or as a purely ethical thing? I ask because really, to save money, get a Honda or Toyota at your price point. VWs may be slightly better mileage (maybe) or be better appointed, but they're really a motherfucker to fix. Japanese cars seem to be *made* with fixing them in mind. Plus replacement parts are much cheaper than for German cars.
posted by notsnot at 6:05 PM on July 30, 2013

Response by poster: I have been carless for a year, riding a bike or busing. I live in the US.. Texas to be specific, where statistically people drive like idiots and the mortality rate is high. So safety is also on the mind. I have and will continue to drive less than the average american.
My price point is under 10k. My fiance drives a Mini Cooper which I love but after being around it for a while the maintance is just too costly and pain-in-the-a@@ for me. I like to at least have the option to figure out how to fix something. Minis are to ass backwards and finicky for that for me.
The earlier versions of hybrids that are probably going to be in my range of spending are likely to be at the ... almost need a really expensive new battery stage, so i am leary of them.. also the its a matter of its less likely of a find in the demographic i live in.
posted by misformiche at 9:19 PM on July 30, 2013

My Scion (made by Toyota, but not a hybrid) gets about 30-35 mpg, which is pretty good. You can probably get that type of MPG with a used Honda Fit or something along those lines? I'd feel quite comfortable buying a used Toyota or Honda, as far as reliability. And I believe you can get either one for about 10k.
posted by hydra77 at 11:34 PM on July 30, 2013

Consumer Reports: Best in used car fuel economy (and overall) -- first list is 2012, second list is 2013.

The TDI Jetta hasn't been offered in years, but it did get 34mpg according to CR, so there's that. It's still about 20% less than a Prius, but high for the class (and model year).

It's also worth considering that the greenest thing you can do, car-wise, is not to cause another one to be built. Buying used instead of new is the easiest way to do that without actually going to a car alternative.

I would consider your budget constraints first and geographic/availability constraints second, and only after that make fuel efficiency a dealbreaker. You're probably going to have a much easier time working the problem from that direction. Your most important consideration, under these limitations, would be a car that runs and reliably. Now, mid-2000s used vehicles will meet that a lot more easily than even 1990s vehicles, but still, any vehicle may be on the market because it's been run into the ground rather than babied.

I've personally heard too many horror stories about the TCO for VW vehicles -- they are great "driver's cars" and often spacious and well-equipped, but tend to have a lot of finicky issues. This is also generally true of diesels. You'll want to be sure you have easy, close access to a dealer with a good mechanic who can handle them if you go that route.
posted by dhartung at 2:47 AM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: How old are we talking? CR drove a 200,000 mile Prius and still got 46mpg on the highway.
posted by ftm at 7:41 AM on July 31, 2013

Not joking: four-cylinder, five-speed, two-wheel-drive Toyota Tacoma or Ford Ranger.

Mileage will probably be in the mid-20s (yeah, I know, but hear me out), repair costs will be infinitesimal (parts will be dirt-cheap and widely available everywhere from the AutoZone to the Pick-and-Pull, and many repairs will be of a DIY nature), safety decent (if you buy a new enough one to get airbags and rear ABS, it will be better). The selection of such vehicles in Texas will be pretty good (and you're not under pressure to buy immediately, so you can wait on the right one). Environmental friendliness will be decent, as you'll buy something manufactured ten years ago or more, and keep it running with minimal maintenance for a long, long time (in the words of Murilee Martin, you'll be this truck's final owner). Worth a thought, anyway, maybe.
posted by box at 8:49 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

For a decent, low priced, practical used car box's suggestion is spot on. Nothing beats a used two wheel drive mini truck for cost of operation, and getting stuff home from home depot or costco becomes so much easier with one of these. And really, they are the easiest thing to work on. Plenty of room in the engine bay, very simple interiors, and so on. Even better if you can get a manual transmission. And you definately want to stick to Toyota, Nissan, or Ford Ranger (or Mazda B series-they are identical to the Fords).
posted by bartonlong at 9:48 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you can throw Nissan and Mazda in there too. And, honestly, there are some decent GMs and Isuzus and Mitsubishis and stuff out there as well. Reliability and parts availability aren't as good, though.
posted by box at 6:17 PM on July 31, 2013

Response by poster: I had a manual 93 Ford Ranger for years. It had 4WD but I lived in blizzard country.
I loved that thing. Sold it to move.
If i came across a decent priced one I may not pass it up.
But I am looking for more of a car, hatchback. fold-able seats.
My fiance has a Mini which while it has back seats is not very practical or comfortable for more than 2 beings. So I'm looking for something with a little more of an abilty to bring others or more stuff along.

Though I feel I've got a good start now. Thanks All.
posted by misformiche at 10:12 AM on August 3, 2013

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