July 02, 2008
Car Talk
Posted by Fred Tung

A couple of car-related items:

First, about hybrid cars . . . . 

Christine and Gordon's recent hybrid car postings (Highlander for Christine; Prius for Gordon) got me thinking. You see, my family lives in a Prius-rich environment.  Literally about a third of our friends have at least one Prius in the family, and one family has two--and they are Prius proselytizers as well.  We, on other hand, drive a couple of relatively old, relatively guzzly cars.  The efficient one is a 12-year-old Volvo, which gets about 15 mpg in city driving.  The other is a 10-year-old Lexus SUV (the big one), which gets about 10 mpg (with a tailwind).  When I get self-conscious about our old guzzlers, my defense mechanisms cause me to speculate about whether buying a new hybrid is as green as generally believed.  Specifically, the manufacture of a new car--even a really fuel-efficient one--must leave a pretty big carbon footprint, right?  All that steel and shipping!  Is it possible we'd be better off just keeping our old cars forever and repairing them as needed, as they do in Cuba?   

Turns out, building a new Prius requires 113 million BTUs of energy.  So compared to an existing car, in carbon footprint terms, a new Prius has already consumed 1,000 gallons of gasoline before it rolls off the showroom floor!  Instead of a new Prius, buy:

i. a 1998 Toyota Tercel, which gets about 35 mpg.  You'd have to drive the Prius 100,000 miles before you broke even with the old Tercel.


ii. a 1994 Geo Metro XFi, which gets the same 46 mpg as the new Prius, but without the carbon overhead.  In terms of carbon footprint, the Prius will never catch up.

Of course, odds are that you won't be getting that new-car smell.  As one analyst concludes, "You might feel better driving a hybrid, but you won't necessarily be greener."

Second, about road rage. . . .

Did you hear that bumper stickers cause road rageThis study's been out for a few weeks now, and actually that's not what it said.  Apparently, bumper stickers signal the driver's territoriality.  Bumper stickers personalize the car, marking the driver's territory.  These drivers are quicker to perceive a threat to their territory by the actions of other drivers, and they are correspondingly more lively at defending against these perceived incursions.  And this is independent of any substantive message on the bumper sticker:

It does not seem to matter whether the messages on the stickers are about peace and love -- "Visualize World Peace," "My Kid Is an Honor Student" -- or angry and in your face -- "Don't Mess With Texas," "My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student."

So watch out for those bumper stickers!

Environment, Miscellany | Bookmark

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