See the Real Cost of Your Gas Guzzler

A new interactive tool comparing 125 car models details how vehicles emitting less carbon cost less in the long run.

Nissan LEAF, an electric vehicle, charging; Chevy Silverado trucks. (Photos: Miles Willis/Getty Images; Kim Kulish/Getty Images)

Oct 2, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Check the sticker price on an electric car or a plug-in hybrid on the market today, and you’re likely to find a bumped-up charge for zero- or low-emission models compared with internal combustion vehicles.

But take into account the fuel, operating, and maintenance costs over the life of a vehicle, and the low-carbon-emitting cars end up being among the least expensive while also contributing the least to climate change, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers.

The new study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, evaluates 125 cars.

The purpose, according to study lead author Jessika Trancik, is to give consumers straight answers on which personal vehicles available today will help the United States meet emissions-reduction targets set for 2030, 2040, and 2050—with a mid-century goal of reducing carbon emissions by at least 80 percent, to be compatible with keeping global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius.

“Providing information to drivers that want to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing more climate-friendly cars and driving less is one step that may encourage car-purchasing decisions that are more consistent with climate goals,” Trancik said.

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Researchers designed an interactive app called Carbon Counter that allows anyone to see how much each car—ranging from gas guzzlers such as the Chevy Suburban to the battery-powered BMW i3—will cost and contribute to climate change.

In true MIT fashion, the chart allows for tweaking of nearly any variable, permitting buyers to analyze how altering fuel costs, electricity costs in their state (for plug-ins and electric vehicles), and tax rebates can affect car prices and emissions levels.

The big takeaways from the report:

  • To meet the 2030 goals, we need to get moving. The average light-duty vehicle bought in 2014 had carbon emissions 50 percent higher than the levels needed to reach the 2030 target.
  • A majority of the hybrids and all the electric car models available today meet the 2030 emissions targets.
  • No cars on the market today meet the 2040 or 2050 emissions targets. That’s because the energy sources on the country’s electric grid remain heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

“A near complete electrification of personal vehicle transportation and the decarbonization of electricity would likely be needed to meet climate policy goals,” Trancik said.