Students at the University of California Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management have created a useful tool to help consumers shopping for a new car evaluate the financial—and environmental—benefits of purchasing a more efficient vehicle.
The Clean Car Calculator allows the consumer to compare two new vehicle models. Whereas the federal government’s website fueleconomy.gov tells you how much you’ll spend on gasoline in a year depending on your choice of car, the Clean Car Calculator provides a more comprehensive evaluation. Using either a preset or customized value for mileage, gas price (tailored by state), type of driving, how long you expect to own the car, likely resale value and other factors, the calculator performs both a financial comparison and an environmental comparison of two vehicles.
The last time my husband and I were car shopping, I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations to try to figure out the lifetime ownership cost of the cars we were considering. The Clean Cars Calculator would have been a much easier way to make this comparison, and much more precise. The assumptions behind the model appear strong and the results are easy to understand. I can imagine environmentally aware and budget-conscious car shoppers might find this tool very useful.
The only drawback I see to the tool is that it does not specify the model year of the vehicles being compared. That’s fine for the moment, when the cars in the list are the same as new cars at dealerships, but next year the tool may be outdated as manufacturers continue to improve the fuel economy of their vehicles. It would also be great if the list of vehicles were expanded to include common, recent model year vehicles to help consumers evaluate a potential used car purchase.
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Elizabeth Ridlington is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. She focuses primarily on global warming, toxics, health care and clean vehicles, and has written dozens of reports on these and other subjects. Elizabeth graduated with honors from Harvard with a degree in government. She joined Frontier Group in 2002. She lives in Northern California with her husband and son.