When purchasing a new vehicle, you may be concerned about emissions. We now know that carbon dioxide (CO2) and other emissions can be hazardous, which is why more and more vehicle manufacturers are moving toward cleaner fuel, hybrid engines and electric vehicles as a means of curbing harmful emissions.
There's more to the story, though. As a responsible consumer, you need to know that there are two main considerations when it comes to vehicle emissions: directemissions and lifecycle emissions. What do these two terms mean and how can they impact your next car purchase?
Direct Vehicle Emissions
Direct emissions are the ones most consumers are aware of—those that your vehicle emits through exhaust. When your car draws fuel into the combustion chamber of the engine, it is compressed and burned to create a reaction that propels your car into motion. The remains of this process are released as exhaust, much like the smoke from a fireplace escapes through the chimney.
These emissions contribute to the formation of smog and air pollution, because of harmful substances like nitrogen oxides, CO2, and other greenhouse gases. In states with smog requirements, vehicles must test below certain levels of pollutants to remain eligible for registration and operation on the road. In most cases, it's easy to discover the emission levels for new vehicles.
Hybrid vehicles have lower emissions because they run on electric power part of the time, and electric vehicles technically have zero direct emissions, because they burn no fuel for operation. That said, even electric vehicles have lifecycle emissions. How is this possible?
Lifecycle Vehicle Emissions
Lifecycle emmisions are essentially comprised of all the emissions related to a vehicle during its life cycle, whether it has a gas-powered (or other fuel), hybrid, or electric engine. Consider, for example, how vehicles are made.
Metals are mined in processes that produce considerable pollution, and factories that manufacture vehicles require significant energy, sometimes created by burning fossil fuels (and emitting pollution in the process). It's true that electric vehicles are more efficient and create zero emissions during their lifetime, but the lithium batteries required for operation are responsible for substantial energy draw and emissions during production. Plus, you must consider the source of energy that fuels the battery, so to speak.
Still, studies have shown that over the life cycle of a vehicle, electric cars create significantly lower emissions. It is estimated that emissions related to production will be virtually "paid back" within 2-3 years of use, and emissions for the entire life cycle of an electric vehicle are estimated to be 35% lower than gas-powered cars.
If emissions are a major factor in your car-buying decision, it's important to understand not only the direct emissions resulting from exhaust (or lack thereof), but the lifecycle emissions created by your vehicle.