MIT app tells you what impact your car will have on the environment and your wallet

nissan leaf
CC BY-SA 2.0 vetaturfumare

When trying to make the most environmentally friendly car choice, there is a lot to consider. While it may seem that an electric car is the obvious best choice, depending on where you live in the country, you may be charging you car with pure fossil fuel power. Also, price is a huge factor. Not everyone can afford the higher prices of electric cars, but they still want to make choose a car that will contribute the fewest emissions throughout its life cycle.

Researchers at MIT have created a web app that could help you make that decision in just a few minutes. The app called CarbonCounter plots a wide range of cars on the road today on a graph showing you just where they fall on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions versus their price. The app factors in mileage, type of fuel they use, the greenhouse gases generated in the making of the car and, for electric cars, the emissions from the power plants that provide their electricity.

The app is set to the U.S. average for things like driving distance per year, gas price and more, but you can easily customize thirteen different settings to show the cost and carbon emissions for your region and your driving needs. For example, if you live in the Midwest where coal-fired power plants make up more than the national average in a utility's energy mix, then selecting that region will negatively impact how electric cars compare to the best gas-sippers.

On the other hand, if you select the California region for electricity emissions, you'll see electric cars become an even better choice.

carbon counter appCarbonCounter/Screen capture

In general, a large number of electric cars stand out as the best choice for the money, but there are surprises too. There are a few electric cars that contribute more emissions than hybrids and a handful of hybrids are responsible for more emissions than the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered cars. Large hybrids, essentially SUVs, are both expensive and less fuel-efficient.

The good news is that if you're on a tight budget, you can still find a low life-cycle emissions car that you can feel good about. In fact, the study that the app is based on found that the lowest emission cars, also tended to be the cheapest in each category.

“Consumers can save money and save emissions at the same time,” said Jessika E. Trancik, a professor of energy studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lead author of the study to the New York Times.

The next time someone argues that living a more eco-friendly life is more expensive, show them this app.

MIT app tells you what impact your car will have on the environment and your wallet
The tool shows you the life cycle carbon emissions of 125 cars to help you make the best buying decision.

Related Content on