Survey: What is Greener, Buying New or Keeping Old?

So do you pack in the old Charger for a Prius? Pablo says so- "Continuing to drive an older car with poor fuel economy is less environmentally friendly than getting a new car that gets drastically better fuel economy." However our commenters dissented: "A 1984 Honda Civic gets better mileage than a new one because it is smaller, lighter, and designed in an era when high mileage was king. Sure, it isn't as safe or as fast, but in many ways it is as efficient." UPDATE: Adria Vasil of Ecoholic (interviewed here) agrees with Pablo, in Now Magazine, copied below fold.

Q I have a 17-year-old Corolla. It's still very fuel-efficient and passes all the Drive Clean tests. Is it really that polluting?

A No doubt car manufacturing is a dirty business. Enormous amounts of resources and energy go into extracting metals and refining plastics, then shaping them into a driveable machine. But keeping an old beater around can be even worse.

First, pre-1988 cars make up only 18 per cent of cars on the road but create 50 per cent of car emissions! Old clunkers, no matter how well maintained, are serious air quality offenders. But it still passes emissions tests, you say? You have to keep in mind that a 1990 car is being tested according to 1990 emissions standards, "with an allowance for vehicle deterioration," according to Drive Clean Ontario. Old cars would never pass modern emissions standards.

And while the overall fuel economy of today's cars is, sadly, no better than 1980 models (thanks, Ford), tailpipe emissions have been subject to a massive clean-up op. According to Jim Kliesch, manager of, this improvement to newer cars makes your 17-year-old set of wheels an extra serious offender.

I understand your reluctance to support new-car culture (not to mention that they cost a hell of a lot!), but you'd be better off buying a five-year-old Corolla than puttering around in a car that remembers MC Hammer pants. Of course, if you're biking or busing most of the time and using the car only occasionally, my finger-wagging will be much gentler than if you're driving that heap every day!

For the record, in terms of greenhouse gases, extracting the metal to make a car and transporting its parts to the plant account for 20 per cent of its lifetime emissions. Building the actual car makes up another 12 per cent, but the stuff coming out of the tailpipe constitutes 68 per cent.