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When you decide to buy your next car, you’ll probably want to get one that uses less energy and money to operate. Here are a few ideas to help you when you go to buy.

Don’t get ripped off.

If you’re looking to save money on fuel or electricity, your savings could quickly get erased by getting ripped off. Before you pull the trigger on a car purchase, check the market values. Here are a couple of links:

Kelley Blue Book

NADA Guides

For used cars, also check and see what that make and model is going for from both private sellers and dealers. Check online classifieds sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, but be cautious. If a deal seems too good to be true, it most likely is. There are quite a few fake ads on the web with prices too good to be true, and they’re there to lure you into sending a Nigerian scammer your hard earned money without getting a car in return.

There are lots of sites on the internet with tips for car shopping. Do your research before shopping and you’ll do much better than the average shopper.

If you want to buy a gas or diesel…

Don’t feel bad if you don’t want to drive a Prius or an EV. It’s OK. Whether it’s a money issue or your personal taste, you can still get great mileage and performance with lower emissions than ever before. But be sure to read the sections below on hybrids and EVs, because they’re more affordable and long-term serviceable than you might think.

Get Informed

When you’re trying to see what kind of car you want to get, be sure to check the available information on the car’s efficiency. After doing this course, you will get better mileage than the EPA ratings, but they’re still a good way to compare cars to each other and get other valuable information.

First, be sure to check out FuelEconomy.gov. There is loads of information on the page to browse through and learn, but eventually you’ll want to go to the Find a Car page. Pick your year, make, and model, then pick the options your car comes with. You’ll see a page like this:

Click through all of the tabs. You’ll find information on the fuel economy, emissions, safety ratings, and specifications. If you’re not sure about anything you see on the page, Google it.

If you’re concerned about pollution, the most strict anti-pollution folks around are the California Air Resources Board. They run a site called DriveClean that can give you information on particular cars.

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m using my Volkswagen Beetle for an example of a clean and efficient gas vehicle. While it’s relatively sporty, it gets good highway mileage (EPA says 33, I get well over 40) and carries the CARB PZEV rating, which is about as good as a gas vehicle can get.

The secret to efficient and sporty cars in recent years has been the smart use of turbochargers. Turbochargers can make a smaller engine make the power of a bigger one. When you take it easy, the car can still get great mileage by bypassing the turbo. Even crossover SUVs are starting to come with turbo 4 cylinder engines that give better power than a V6, but with better mileage.

Getting An Older Car

If you want to save a lot on a car or have a small budget, there’s nothing wrong with getting an older car. You can look up the same ratings and information for cars of any age, so start with that information.

Don’t expect to get the combination of power and efficiency you get from newer cars. Engine technology has come a long way in the last couple decades. Also, older cars’ safety ratings are very poor compared to newer cars. Be careful to not take a bargain with your life just to save a few bucks.

If you shop around, you can find cars with 35 MPG highway or better for well under $2000. I’d recommend checking out EcoModder’s “Efficient, cheap beaters!” thread to get started.

Hybrid Shopping

What To Watch For

Like all cars, you’ll need to check on the normal mechanical issues. There are loads of websites giving ideas on what to look for there, so I’ll suggest you do a Google search.

On top of that, you’ll want to ask about a battery health check. It usually takes specialized scan tools, so you’ll probably need to find a qualified professional. Or, if you can get access to the car for long enough and don’t mind learning a few new things, check out this DIY guide.

Another thing you’ll want to do when shopping for a hybrid is run it on electric only for a bit. This might require making sure the battery gets charged up a bit, but once it does, it should run on battery for low-speed driving. Some hybrids even have a mode that makes it stay in electric.

Either way, once the car is going on electric, it should be pretty quiet. If it’s making any strange sounds, it’s cause for concern.

Busting The Battery Myths

You’ll hear from people that hybrid and electric batteries are super expensive to replace and they’re worse for the environment than driving a truck and rolling coal. Neither of these things are true.

Yes, the battery will eventually wear and replacing the battery costs thousands of dollars to buy new. But batteries are also repairable. They’re made up of hundreds of small cells that can be tested, and just the handful of bad ones can be replaced at low cost. There are also many companies that will come and replace your battery with a refurbished one for just a few hundred dollars.

While it is true that battery production does have an environmental impact, it’s not as bad as the right-wing folks try to say. Careful studies have found that the benefit of reduced emissions outweigh the negative impact of battery making fairly early in the life of the vehicle, with at least several years of reduced emissions to go still.

Perhaps more importantly, this isn’t a political decision. YOU are buying a car. What you want to buy isn’t the Democrats, Republicans or anybody else’s decision. Get what you want and need. YOU are the one that has to live with the car in your daily life. Don’t let anybody else try to shame you away from one choice or the other–be it a hybrid, a gas car or a big diesel pickup. Anybody who tells you otherwise needs to get a life.

PHEV Conversions

There are shops that will put a bigger battery in your car so it can run more often on electric only. You can even charge it up at home and only use the gas engine when you have to drive more than the all-electric distance. They do cost several thousand dollars, but it’s something to think about as you decide.

Don’t dismiss the idea of an electric vehicle.

While hybrids are generally cheaper, you might be able to afford a pure electric vehicle. The used ones have been around for a few years, with many more on the way. I’ll show in the next section that even a small budget could get you one, so be sure to check out both while you shop to get the car that best fits your life.

Getting An EV

Highway drivable all-electric vehicles are a relatively recent thing on the market, but people of nearly all budgets can get one. Here are a few tips to finding one.

If you skipped the last section on hybrids, be sure to go over it. Much of what’s written there will apply here. Having a healthy battery and no funny noises are even more important when it’s your only source of power.

When shopping, you’ll want to look at range, charging options, and whether it will do the things you need it to do.

While EVs have shorter ranges than most gas cars, think about the driving you are actually going to be doing. If you almost always drive a short ways to work and back, and rarely drive more than around 100 miles, an EV may be a good fit. If you’re nervous about longer drives, check the charging options the vehicle has. Some can get an 80% charge in as little as 20-30 minutes.

One good way to check for chargers for your car is PlugShare.com. If you live in an area like Southern California, there are chargers all up and down the coast, making even an 85-mile range Nissan Leaf much more useful. If you live in Southern New Mexico like me, the high-speed charging scene is pretty barren unless you can afford a Tesla and use Tesla’s superchargers. Also, use the map to look at routes you might drive to see if it’d work for you.

Finally, keep in mind that the methods you learned in this course are useful for EVs, too. You are going to be able to beat the EPA estimated range of the vehicle, so it may be more useful than you think.

Compliance Cars

I’m going to let you in on a secret. I hope I don’t regret it, because I’m going to take advantage of it myself soon, so don’t spread the word too much! You and I need to get the deal before the floodgates open 🙂

California required manufacturers to make a certain number of zero emission and low emission vehicles each year, or buy “credits” from manufacturers that made them. Some automakers went the credit route, and didn’t make their own EVs. Others made their own EVs and only sold them in California and sometimes a few other states.

Some examples include the Ford Focus Electric, Toyota Rav4 EV, VW Golf Electric, and Chevrolet Spark EV. They didn’t make a huge number of these cars, but many of them are coming off lease and the prices are very good.

Used EVs are getting cheaper.

The more I look at EV buying options, the cheaper deals I’m finding. Small dealers and private sellers are selling vehicles like the Nissan Leaf for well under $10,000. Check sites like Craigslist to see what’s available in your area. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find, but be sure to do your research. Some of them are cheap for a reason!

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