I have never been a girl into cars. I didn't know anything about cars, all I knew is that they get me from point A to point B. My current car is getting old. Realizing that I will probably need a new one soon, I have decided that it's important for me to understand my future carbon footprint of this long-term decision.
I remember a year ago when my friend told me that diesel cars are better than electric. He is a country boy with a big truck, so of course I assumed some biases. But he and I did some minimal research. Just at glance, I saw it took way more carbon emissions to produce an electric battery than what it would offset with use. And, against popular belief, although diesel cars produce black smoke, that smoke is actually more efficient and cleaner. My mind was blown! But, I was in no place to look for a new car, so I forgot about it.
As more of my friends are buying cars, I decided it's time to look for the truth and the science. I am no car guru, but I hope this will help you understand the environmental cost of your current or future vehicle.
There are more electric car brands than the famous Tesla, but the research I found was based on this company. It was difficult for me to find unbiased information on blogs or numbers on Tesla's website, so I just gave them a call.
Tesla advertises that the average battery lifetime is 20 years or 1 million miles at about 300 miles per charge. They also have super charging stations that will charge the car 80% in 20-25 minutes. This all sounds super impressive.
I found a study with data from hundreds of Tesla users in 2018. They found that there is about a 2.5% battery health loss within 15,534 miles. Another 2.5% loss within the next 46,603 miles. Then a 1% loss with every additional 31,069 miles. The average battery end of life was about 497,097 miles, about half of what they advertise. It is important to keep in mind that the study was done two years ago, and a lot of growth has occurred since.
This number is low compared to that advertised, but gas cars tend to only live to about 200,000 miles, showing Tesla's with double the lifetime.
Several websites try to debunk the old Swedish study on how unsustainable electric cars are, due to the amount of carbon emitted in battery production. I have no true science, but after looking at several sites, it averages out to take about 3.5 years to offset the carbon emitted from battery production. Considering the car should last about 20 years, it will do more good than harm to the environment.
Heat affects electric car batteries, so leaving a car under the hot sun can degrade the battery faster. Also, charging electric cars quickly may overheat the battery. Battery depletion begins to occur after about 500 charges (150,000 miles. Not too bad). Most makers provide a warranty for batteries if they die within a certain number of miles or years.
It is difficult to find any studies that compare diesel to electric cars. But there are several comparing them to regular gas cars. Based on this information, I have been able to conclude that a diesel car is much more efficient than a gas car.
Diesel fuel is so combustible it ignites under cylinder pressure. This means it has a simpler engine and does not need spark plugs. The parts for a diesel car are more reliable than that of a gas car. These cars do weigh and cost more than gas cars, but they produce much more energy, making them way more efficient. The fuel is also more expensive at first, but will last longer. Overall, diesel is the cheaper option.
When it comes to the environment, diesel cars emit:
- less carbon monoxide
- less hydrocarbons - benzene (causes cancer, sleepiness, and cerebral pain)
- less CO2
- but more nitrogen oxide and ash
None of these compare to the minimal emissions from electric cars.
What about these in-between cars?
These cars combine a regular gas engine and electric. They have increased efficiency and decreased environmental emissions, but they have a much lower performance. They tend to be around the same price or close to that of an electric car.
Electric cars are best for the environment and will continue to get better. But they are very expensive. This is where you need to do your own research with the exact electric car you want, to see if it will be worth the initial large investment (I believe it will pay off).
Hybrids are almost as expensive as electric vehicles but worse for the environment. I think a little bit more for an electric will be worth it because you won't be paying for gas at all.
If you need to choose a non electric car, diesel is 100% the way to go. If your life requires pickup truck or you often carry a heavy load, diesel is the way to go. Right now there are no electric pick up trucks on the market.