A New or Used Car: Which Is Better for the Environment?

New versus Used Car being more green
There were 1.1 million new U.S. light-vehicle sales in January of 2015, up 13.7 percent from one year ago, states Market Beat's report by the National Automotive Dealers Association. Although electric vehicle sales were up 32 percent in that time, hybrids, natural gas and plug-in cars all experienced decreases in sales.

However, technological advances have made all cars more environmentally friendly once they hit the road. Newer vehicles (2010 and beyond) are typically exempt from passing state emissions testing for registration due to more rigorous standards for manufacturers set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). So, the question becomes: does the world need anymore new cars?

New Vehicle Argument

Henry Ford's techniques to mass produce cars in the early 1900s changed America and the world forever. But, the environmental impact of these assembly lines also changed the world as we know it.

Cars are made of several materials—including steel, plastic and paint—that create carbon footprints before the first mile is put on the odometer. Not to mention, all the different parts and materials have to be shipped to manufacturers by boats, trains and trucks. In other words, even though the finished products today are more environmentally-friendly, the production methods are not.

Mike Berners-Lee, in his book "How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything," estimates that the production of one car retailing at $35,000 produces upwards of 18 tons of carbon dioxide. That's more than the average U.S. home produces in two years, according to Forest Preserves. However, new EPA standards will require all cars produced after 2016 to get 34.5 mpg and 54.5 mpg after 2025, making this a great step to more environmentally-friendly driving, claims The Washington Post.

Recycling Old Cars

A car will continue to run for decades if it's properly maintained. Long Island teacher Irv Gordon made headlines in 2013 when his 1966 Volvo P1800 surpassed 3 million miles on the odometer. To put that number in perspective, that's nearly 540 round-trips from California's southern coast to downtown New York. Another example is Joe LoCicero of Maine, who reached the one million mile mark with his 1990 Honda Accord and the company arranged a parade in his honor.

A used car with meticulous maintenance records is just as sensible to purchase as a new car with less than 100 miles on it. And let's face it: many Americans cannot qualify for a new car loan. The average credit score for people with car loans in Q2 2013 was 761, according to Credit.com. And, as of October 2012, the average FICO score of Americans was 689.

Some consumers are understandably wary of buying vehicles from private parties due to potential title manipulation and other issues. Services like CarFax and Autocheck minimize that risk, but still don't make the buying experience foolproof. The advantages of purchasing from a used car dealership like DriveTime are two-fold: there are more loan options and reputable companies offer certified pre-owned vehicles that have been inspected to meet the manufacturer's standards.

Bottom Line

New car manufacturing is harmful to the environment, however, newer cars burn less fuel and emit less greenhouse gases. Overall, environmentally-conscious individuals can do their small part in keeping the environment healthy by purchasing used vehicles manufactured after 2005.

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