Everyday Enviro with Elise: how I approached buying a car

Everyday Enviro with Elise: how I approached buying a car

By Elise Catterall  April 28th, 2022

Elise discusses her thought process while buying a new (or not so new) car.


When we are contemplating any purchase in our home, the emphasis is always on mindful consumption. But when it comes to cars, it’s a bit more complicated. As buying a car is something most people face at some point, myself included, I thought it was appropriate to do some research.

The first thing I did was lay out the options: new car or second hand, a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE), hybrid car or electric and plenty more. Not to mention, this was before even factoring in make, model, country of origin, and, importantly, colour.

The second step was to understand how each of the three types of cars (ICE, hybrid and electric) impacted the environment. I read and read and learned that both hybrids and electric cars were actually responsible for more carbon emissions during their manufacturing process (mainly due to the lithium-ion battery).

However, accounting for the life span of a car, they came out well above ICE cars, which have the greatest environmental impact in the long run due to their reliance on fossil fuels. Coming from that environmental perspective, electric cars produce less emissions than a comparable hybrid car, and far less than an ICE car.

Electric cars aren’t perfect yet though – at least not in Australia. Our infrastructure for charging electric vehicles needs improvement (which impacts long distance driving) and, because Australia doesn’t have the focus on low carbon energy that you see in countries like Sweden, there is still an impact from charging the vehicles. Right now (depending on where you live), hybrid vehicles are a good bridging option if you are looking to move away from ICE cars but need a fall-back option for when the infrastructure doesn’t meet your needs. And, even outside of the electricity, they are a big step up from ICE cars in terms fuel efficiency.

The question is, if you are planning on buying a new car, wouldn’t it make more sense to future proof yourself and invest in a fully electric car? After all, a hybrid is only (partly) solving a problem that exists right at this present time. If you’re planning on having this car for years to come, an electric car makes more sense – especially as the infrastructure is only going to improve, and hopefully the type of energy mix used to charge them too.

But then I began questioning whether we even needed to buy a new car? There are very mixed opinions on whether a brand new, but ‘greener’ car (operationally speaking) is better than an already made, less efficient car. As we know, a new car requires more natural resources and energy to be produced, and its manufacture is responsible for a huge percentage of a car’s lifetime carbon emission, so this had to be seriously considered. We also know that a newer car will have less impact going forward.

In the end it was something that had stuck with me from my reading - a quote from a piece in Forbes magazine that said “to get closer to the goal of carbon neutrality, not only do we need to switch to zero-emission vehicles, we also need to manufacture fewer cars in general”. That resonated with me and ultimately helped me decide a second-hand car with good environmental outcomes was the best option for me. Neither a brand new nor second-hand ICE car was an option, so it was about exploring options for second-hand hybrids and second-hand electric vehicles.

There were far more options for nearly new 2nd hand hybrids than equivalent electric vehicles and across the board they are far cheaper. So, that is where the decision-making process sits now. Though I believe the future is fully electric, I’m trying to find that balance between efficiency, affordability, functionality, environmental sustainability, and future proofing. Life is always about finding balance and striving for sustainability is just another example of that.

It is also worth noting another decision I faced in this process was whether to buy or to lease, but that is a whole other topic worthy of discussion at another time.

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


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Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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