Since it's summer break and I can no longer walk everywhere like I could at university, I've been having to drive my car a lot. For a 2001 model, it gets excellent gas mileage (or so I assume, I've never driven anything else; I can drive it for about a week and a quarter and then refill for $20), yet I feel awful driving it. It's like the same feeling if I knew I left the stove on, but I can't go back and turn it off. I just hate knowing that I am directly pumping literal gallons of greenhouse gases into the air.

I've done as much as I can do reasonably to bump up my gas mileage. I don't use air conditioning and I use cruise control whenever possible, I don't trail other cars, etc...

Anyways, recently I've been looking into EVs in my price range, like the smart EV. So my question is this: do the costs of buying a used or new EV outweigh the benefit of not producing emissions? When would the carbon footprint of getting a new car be matched by how much I save in not polluting? If that makes any sense... is it worth it?

  • I haven't had a chance to browse the form for similar questions like I normally do before asking one, so if there is a similar one I'm sorry. Could you point me in the right direction? Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 19:02
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    I think the answers at this similar question will help you: What has a lesser carbon footprint? Continue to drive my current car until it is no longer useful or to buy a new car?.
    – THelper
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 7:38
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    Depending on the distance you need to cover you could ride a bike or an E-bike.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 14:04
  • Some additional pieces of data that will be needed to answer this question: Where do you live (so we can see what fuels supply electricity to the grid)? What car do you drive (to look up the exact fuel mileage)? What type of driving (mostly highway, mostly city, or a mix)? How much do you drive per year?
    – LShaver
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 17:08
  • I see the Tesla 3 is a little over $ 50,000 ( out the door price) , so you need to decide for yourself if it "worth it". I don't know the charging cost , but they may not be high as EV do not pay road taxes like other vehicles. Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 22:04

3 Answers 3


I've gone through the same dilemma recently, and what made my mind up was the relatively cheap cost of offsetting my emissions from driving - around US$100 for a whole year's worth or 15,000 miles.

Of course the drawbacks of carbon offsetting are well known - you're not undoing the damage that you've caused, and you're still burning a non-renewable resource with all the problems that entails. However, the projects that such schemes typically fund really are worthwhile.

So, rather than spending $15k+ on an electric car, my strategy would be to

  • Fund carbon offsetting projects (for several/many times my actual emissions)
  • Get an eBike
  • Use public transport/lift share where possible

Electric car is a good idea from climate perspective if you can charge it with 100% carbon-free electricity. Then the benefits do outweigh the increased cost, but that applies to the whole society and not to you. If you consider only your own benefit, the benefits don't outweigh the increased cost.

Note you need 100% carbon free electricity. If 90% of electricity is coming from carbon-free sources and 10% from carbon-producing sources, everyone is equally guilty of the rest 10%.

If the carbon free electricity is coming from solar, can you charge your car during the winter? Probably not, so you need a battery that lasts for >100 days of driving. No electric car has such a battery.

If the carbon free electricity is coming from wind power, can you charge your car during an extended 10-day non-windy period (statistically speaking, non-windy periods don't usually last more than 10 days)? Probably not, so you'd better have a battery that lasts for 10 days of driving. Most electric cars don't have such a battery or the cost is absurd.

If the carbon free electricity is coming from nuclear, eventually the plant will be decommissioned and you can't charge your car anymore unless you can afford to fund your share of the construction of a new nuclear plant. Nuclear is ridiculously expensive today, so it probably doesn't make sense to fund the construction of a new nuclear plant.

What about hydropower? There is not enough hydropower to cover all needed electricity use, and it can't be constructed anymore as resources are nearly 100% utilized.

My choice? I have an electric car charging station in my house, but I don't have an electric car yet. I'll continue to drive with gasoline and the next car I'll purchase will probably be a plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle. Because of the absurd taxation in my area (electricity tax is ridiculously low, gasoline tax is ridiculously high), it makes sense to drive using electricity even when it's not windy.

Electric car when charged with coal-fueled electricity doesn't make sense, so if coal generation is still used in your area, it's a good idea to drive using gasoline during the periods when the coal plant is actually turned on. So, I actually recommend a plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle instead of an electric car.


The best battery-powered electric-vehicle is the BMW i3. The i3 mitigates the weight of the batteries with a carbon-fiber bodywork. Also the i3 limits the size of the battery pack to a reasonable commute range.

Compare the fresh design of the i3 to a flood of very dull electric-vehicles that are just adapted from standard folded-sheet-metal cars.

But a reasonable choice in internal-combustion-engine cars is available. There are premium rear-wheel-drive coupes and sedans with 2.0 turbocharged engines. These cars are available from Alfa Romeo, BMW, Cadillac, Genesis, Infiniti, Jaguar, Lexus, and MB. Now these cars also are just folded-sheet-metal cars.

A lighter-weight coupe is available in the Toyota 86. And a very small sports car is available in the Mazda MX-5. These lighter weight cars have four-cylinder engines but are not turbocharged.

I wouldn't consider hybrid cars because the hybrid system increases cost, weight, and complexity. Also, the all-electric range of a plug-in hybrid is only about 14 miles or so. But that is 14 miles of driving at reduced performance levels. Then the short all-electric driving range of the plug-in hybrid is producing desperate demand for plug-in stations set everywhere. Actually, the correct use of a hybrid is the mode where the hybrid system just reduces the demand on the primary engine.

But now note the cars that are not folded-sheet-metal cars:

Alfa Romeo 4C, BMW i3, BMW i8, Chevrolet Corvette, and Lotus Evora.

The point being that cars can be easily built that advantageously reduce weight.

And so the BMW i3 is an all-electric vehicle that is worth the cost for those car buyers that want to be early adopters.

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