The Scorecard for Green Cars and Trucks

James Kliesch discusses the latest green cars and trucks, including suggestions for the top green cars and hybrids for the environment and those that have the best mileage.

| October/November 2003

An introduction to the most environmentally-friendly green cars and trucks on the market.

Before you hit the road, learn which cars get the green light.

When buying your next vehicle, you can make a better choice for both your wallet and the planet, if you shop with greener options in mind. Within every type of car and truck, you'll find fuel-efficient compacts for the commute to work; mid-size wagons to haul groceries; minivans to transport the kids; even trucks or SUVs for off-road farm work. As the chart on Page 49 shows, some models in each category are more fuel-efficient (up to 68 miles per gallon!) and pollute less than others. Here's a rundown of how we define greener vehicles and which models are your current top options.

The Green Cars and Trucks Environmental Score

To help consumers consider the environment in their car-buying decisions, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) annually publishes its Green Book, an environmental guide to cars and trucks (see MOTHER'S Bookshelf, page 120 of this issue). Every car, SUV, truck and van on the market gets a Green Score — an evaluation that encompasses the entire environmental impact of a vehicle. To determine this score, ACEEE uses "damage costs" associated with each pollutant. These estimates reflect the costs to society of illnesses and premature deaths associated with pollution. The Green Score is measured on a 0 to 100 scale — the higher the number, the better.

The list of vehicles on page 49 identifies the top-scoring nationally available vehicles within 13 popular classes. In many cases, even greener models than those listed are available in limited areas of the country, typically California and New England. Today's best have Green Scores in the high 40s and 50s. Overall, the average Green Score for model year 2003 is 22. Within that, the average 2003 car scores 28, while the average truck gets an 18. Some classes offer multiple high scorers, whereas the top-ranked models in other categories, such as standard pick ups and large SUVs, are inferior to the majority of new vehicles on the road.

How Cars Pollute

Carefully consider fuel economy and tailpipe emissions as you shop for your next set of wheels—these two factors contribute most to a vehicle's environmental impact. When a vehicle is driven, pollutants billow from its tailpipe. Particulates, carbon monoxide, and smog-forming hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides contribute to air pollution. Acid rain-inducing sulfur dioxide and the global-warming greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — pour out too.

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