How Green Are Green Cars

Is a hybrid or plug-in electric car on your wish list? Make sure the green vehicle you want is truly green. Before you purchase, consider the start-to-finish environmental impact of making and powering these cars:

Check the emission classification.

Car companies don't market these government classifications much since they involve a confusing system of tiers and bins. But if you buy a Super Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV), it will discharge only about one pound of smog-causing hydrocarbons in 100,000 miles compared with 10 pounds of emissions for a conventional vehicle. Most hybrids get this designation and also cut greenhouse gases. A study by the U.S. Department of Energy showed that between 10% and 20% of a vehicle's greenhouse gas emissions come from manufacturing. The study also found that—even including its manufacture emissions—a hybrid on the road for 15 years would generate about half the greenhouse gas emissions overall of a gas-only vehicle of similar size.

For electric cars, check your power sources.

Power-plant pollutants and greenhouse gases vary greatly depending on where you live. For instance, Indiana and Kentucky get more than 90% of their electricity from heavily polluting coal plants. But California has reduced its coal generating to 1%, with 48% in low-emission natural gas and the rest from no-emission hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, and solar generation. To see the balance in your area, visit

Check when you could charge your car.

Some electric-car dealers plan to help buyers set up at-home charging stations. Charging at off-peak hours when rates are low would save money, and limit the need for new power plants. But you won't have to wake up late at night to plug in the car — so-called "smart charging" can program the vehicle to charge at those off-peak hours.

If a new car — green or otherwise — is in your future, Harvard University Credit Union can help with your auto loan needs. For more information check out our Auto Buying Help Center or view one of our Interactive Coaches. You can also stop by any of our branch locations, email us or call us at (617) 495-4460.


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