Buying Green: The Ecological Impact of Buying a Used Car vs. a New Car

In a continuing effort to take better care of our planet, many people are considering the ecological impact of the items they purchase. Trees take in carbon dioxide (CO2) and expel oxygen (O2), which is useful to pretty much every living species on the planet, even those living in the water. Cars do the exact opposite – consuming O2 and expelling CO2 (among other toxins) – and it takes approximately 110 trees to counteract the carbon dioxide emitted by just one vehicle over its lifetime. To put that into perspective, there are 7.4 million vehicles registered in Ontario alone, so it would require 814 million trees to offset the 28 billion kilos of CO2 that those vehicles will produce over their 12-year (average) lifespan.

Buying Green: New Vs Used

Earth has a finite amount of resources, and it’s up to us to ensure that the planet will be able to sustain life for future generations. To that end, each of us can make more environmentally conscious decisions. One of them would be changing the type of vehicle that we choose to drive. But which would have a lower “carbon footprint”, a new car or a used car?

● Burning 1 litre of gasoline produces 2.3 kg of CO2
● A vehicle with an average fuel economy of 9.4L/100km produces 2,163 kg of CO2 every 10,000 km

The Ecological Impact of Buying New Cars

“Nothing ages your car as much as the sight of your neighbor’s new one.”
– Evan Esar

Burning fossil fuel releases energy used to propel a vehicle down the road, but it’s also used to manufacture the auto in the first place. Creating this energy releases carbon dioxide and other toxins into the atmosphere. These environmental affects create a vehicle’s “carbon footprint”, which is a measure of its impact on the planet. According to a study conducted in 2004 by Toyota, 28% of the carbon dioxide emissions emitted over a vehicle’s lifetime are produced when it’s manufactured. A separate MIT study found that producing the raw materials needed to make an average-sized car (steel, rubber, plastic, etc.) releases 1,580 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Another 810 kg of CO2 are released when processing recycled materials. That doesn’t even take into account the amount of additional greenhouse gases produced by the car company’s assembly plants, or the freighter ships and 18-wheel car transporters needed to deliver a new car to the dealership. So Toyota’s numbers seem to be spot-on.

Automotive Recycling

In the early 2000’s, over 14 million vehicles a year were being recycled in the U.S. & Canada. At the time, 75% of a vehicle’s weight was being repurposed as raw material to be used in other products. But instead of just melting everything down, automotive recyclers (aka salvage yards) remove reusable components (alternators, seats, airbags, etc.) from a junk vehicle, then they rebuild the part before re-entering it back into the supply chain. This auto part reuse keeps approximately 99.7 million kilos of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, because a brand new version of that part doesn‘t have to be made. The recyclability of new cars is expected to exceed 85% by 2015.

The other 15-25% of a junk vehicle’s weight is sent to landfills, resulting in nearly 5 million tonnes of unprocessable materials (foam, certain plastics, electronic components) being buried in the earth in North America. Given the skyrocketing popularity of features like big touchscreens and hybrid batteries, an increasing percentage of that waste increasingly includes heavy metals and toxic chemicals needed to manufacture such features. In the time since those figures were tabulated, automakers have begun to take steps to reduce the amount of toxins used to make a car. Hybrid battery recycling programs are also being “fast tracked”.

The Ecological Impact of Buying Used Cars

So before a new car even hits the road, its very existence has released thousands of kilos of CO2 into the atmosphere. Then after chugging through countless barrels of fuel throughout its life, that new car then turns into a junk car and pollutes the earth one last time in the landfill. But another option is the ultimate recycling program that rose to popularity long before ‘buying green’ was even fashionable – buying a used car.

In contrast to new cars, used cars have already expelled the largest part of their carbon footprint. In a sense, keeping a used car from entering the junk car phase prolongs its final landfill impact. Naturally, a used vehicle’s carbon footprint does depend on the emissions from its engine and its overall condition. But other than that, the additional carbon footprint of a used car is essentially limited to the emissions created by the vehicles driven to and from the place where the used car is purchased.

The Future

In an effort to reduce the car’s environmental impact, automakers are starting to use more recycled and biodegradable materials. They’re also spending fortunes on component recycling technology that will significantly reduce the amount of hazardous and non-biodegradable materials polluting landfills. In the meantime, you can make a difference by driving responsibly (i.e., conserving fuel), and picking the most efficient vehicle based on your intended use, and considering if a used car will fit your wants and needs just as well as a new one.


Your Guide to Navigating North American Auto Shows

At the time of this writing, I’ve just gotten back from Montreal’s Salon de L’auto. This auto show is just as important for new car buyers as it is for those looking to buy a used car. The auto show is an excuse for many people to sample the looks and feels of new cars in person without the normal pressure of a dealership salesman. From there, they can move on to a test drive and, in many cases, manufactures will offer promotions at the event to test drive or on the vehicle itself. Whether you’re at the auto show for fun or to look for your new car, here is how to successfully navigate and get the most out of your auto show experience.IMG_2290

There are four major types of people that visit the auto show:

  1. Journalists.
  2. People that go in specifically to compare multiple brands for new car purchase.
  3. Enthusiasts that want to check out all the latest and greatest.
  4. And people who go in to get pictures of themselves taken in Audi R8s and Jaguar F-Types.

Journalists will for the most part be out of your way since the press periods are done before the public even get access. New car shoppers may be a little long to get out of that car you’ve been wanting to sample. Enthusiasts will either take an excessive amount of time in a car or be upset when you ruin their photo-shoots. The last group may have some false facts and armchair criticisms, so take what you overhear at an auto show with a grain of salt.

The first step to truly getting the most out of an auto show is to go in the off-hours if at all possible. In the middle of the day during the week, or at least in the mornings on weekends if possible. Most of the biggest upsets about going to an auto show involve having far too many people in a small space.

Next is to ensure that you are properly dressed for the occasion. The Montreal auto show takes place in late January, making coats an issue. They do offer a $2 coat check, but some are squeamish about that, so it pays to wear layers to shed and go with friends or family so you can all share carrying while one is trying a car. Next is shoes. Even if you speed run through it, the auto show can easily take 2-3 hours of standing and walking, and sitting, and getting up, and sitting again. Wear the comfiest shoes available.

Now, getting into the cars that you want can be tricky, especially for the more lavish or popular. Most of the crowded cars will have a line formed, but if there isn’t, be aggressive and keep yourself close. The entitlement is strong with some people, and they will jump forward at any chance. However, maintain politeness as no one wants to be “that guy” (or girl) at an event like this. Some people will take very long in the car and, while there is nothing more you can do than politely remind them that other people are there, you will have to wait. Once you are in the car, don’t linger and close your eyes but maximize your time. Get a feel for all the controls, primary and secondary. Adjust the seat (if possible) to your liking and see how the car makes you feel when you’re sitting in it. Are the radio controls comfortable to reach? Is the car easy to see out of? Take your time checking off boxes, but do it swiftly.

A lot of booths at the auto shows these days offer contests and such, which can lengthen your auto show experience extensively. Most of the contests are for free gas and miniscule discounts on new vehicles and are usually not worth the time. VW often has fun games and Ford usually has a driving simulator setup.

The number one tip I can provide, though, is to not let anyone ruin your experience. Try to avoid going with a pushy family member or getting caught up in a conversation with a representative. And, most importantly, most desperately, and most intelligently, walk past the giant room of merchandisers. If you’re an enthusiast, you’ll end up buying everything and having to lug it around for the rest of the show, so just say no (especially at the start of your visit).

Categories: ,

Troubleshooting: What’s That Rattle?

Cars and trucks contains thousands of individual parts, all designed to move in harmony with one another to propel you down the road. Naturally, noises will occur on a vehicle, but you will generally know when something doesn’t sound right. The following list is by no means definitive, nor is it intended to be a substitute for an actual mechanical inspection. When your vehicle is making a new noise or one that doesn’t sound right, it is best get it to a mechanic as soon as possible to avoid further damage or problems.

High-pitched Whine or Squeal when Accelerating

If you hear a high-pitched whine or squeal coming from the front of the engine (or side of the engine on vehicles equipped with front-wheel drive) when you accelerate, the most likely culprit is a failing drive belt, fan belt, or serpentine belt. These rubber belts, powered by the crankshaft pulley at the bottom of the engine, spin other pulleys on the various engine accessories (like the alternator, power steering pump, etc.). When the rubber teeth on a belt starts to go bad, the belt will start to slip as the crankshaft pulley tries to turn it. This slipping can create a high-pitched whine or squeal as you accelerate. This sound often signals that a new belt is needed or there is a problem with one of the engine accessories.

Clicking Noise or Rattle when Turning a Corner

On front-wheel drive vehicles, a clicking noise or rattle when turning a corner is usually caused by bad CV joints (joints that help the driveshaft turn your vehicle’s wheels).

Light Tapping Sound Coming from the Top of the Motor

A faint tapping sound coming from the engine could indicate serious problems related to engine oil pressure. The problem could be as simple as the engine needing a quart of oil. But if the oil level is sufficient, the trouble could be a failing oil pump or a bad lifter. Either way, you’ll need to consult a mechanic immediately.

Knocking Sound Inside the Engine

A pronounced knocking sound usually means that you’re about to spend a whole bunch of money repairing your engine. This noise often means that your engine has “thrown a rod” (piston rod), meaning one of the rod bearings has failed, allowing the piston rod to jump around inside the cylinder.

If you hear this type of noise, shut the engine off immediately. A good mechanic can usually save the engine, provided the damage isn’t too severe. However, if you try to drive the vehicle with a rod knocking, the pressure that builds inside the cylinder can actually force the piston through the side of the engine block. Should this happen, you’ll have to buy another motor.

No matter what type of knock or rattle you hear, it’s always best to avoid driving the vehicle until you drive it or tow it to a mechanic to determine what the problem is.

Categories: ,

SUV Buyers Guide

Sport Utility Vehicles, commonly known as SUVs, are a fantastic way to travel. They combine the cargo room and seating capacity of a station wagon or MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) with the ground clearance and towing ability of a pickup truck. Sport Utility Vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, so there’s lots to consider when buying one.

What Is an SUV?

An SUV is essentially a wagon that can go off road and tow heavy loads. They’re often based on the underpinnings from a truck, which means you can get either rear-wheel drive (RWD) or 4-wheel drive (4WD). Most use body-on-frame construction (the body is bolted to a full-length ladder frame). By contrast, a crossover vehicle (CUV) is usually based on a front-wheel drive (FWD) car chassis. Thus SUVs give up some off-road and towing capabilities to receive a more car-like ride and handling.

How Big?

These days, you can find everything from a mammoth 9-seat Chevrolet Suburban to the (considerably smaller) Jeep Wrangler. Full-size SUVs offer loads of room for people and stuff, but they’re not very easy to park or maneuver through traffic. Most of them can be ordered with driver aides like blind spot warning systems and cameras to help when backing up. You’ll definitely want to get those features if you plan to drive around in something that’s bigger than your first apartment.

Smaller SUVs also can be challenging to drive, thanks to their tiny windows and huge pillars (the body parts on the corners of the interior that hold up the roof and surround the windows). Nonetheless, they still are easier to thread through traffic than a ‘BargeUV’. The smaller footprint of the smaller SUVs also makes them easier to place off road and control in the snow. Better fuel economy is another advantage of their reduced mass, but you’ll need to make sure that a small-midsize SUV will be able to meet your needs.

2-Wheel Drive or 4-Wheel Drive?

The advantage of driving a truck-based SUV is its off road capability. Thanks to their stiffened platform (the aforementioned truck-like ladder frame), the wheels and axles are able to maneuver over serious obstacles. Real transfer cases (basically the part that transfers power from the engine to the wheels) can also be used to deliver low range, crawl-through-anything torque. The ground clearance typically is much better than that of smaller SUV or car-based CUV.

Depending on where you live, the number of driven axles can be very important. By dividing the engine’s torque between both front and rear axles, a 4WD system can keep your SUV moving forward in deep snow or on muddy tracks. A true 4-wheel drive system uses a transfer case to provide maximum torque in low-speed crawling situations. This allows your SUV to claw its way through deep muck or up steep inclines. On the other hand, an all-wheel drive (AWD) system can only engage the front axle when slippage at the drive axle is detected. This isn’t ideal for serious off-roading, but AWD will certainly help you get the kids to school on a snowy day.

With 2WD or RWD, only one axle receives power from the engine. When wheel slippage occurs, the traction control (or stability control) system will attempt to intervene. However, those systems can only help you to maintain the amount of traction that’s currently available. Whether you choose 4WD, AWD, 2WD or RWD will depend on your needs. If you routinely encounter situations or weather that requires additional traction, you may want to consider an SUV equipped with either AWD or 4WD.


With such a vast array of options available, it’s important to decide what you actually need your SUV to do. Whether you need a truck that can carry you deep into the Yukon, or just a family truckster that can pull a boat and get the kids to school on time, there’s an SUV out there for you. If before you buy you decide on the features that are most important to you, you’ll know what kind of SUV to look for.

How to Jumpstart a Car

If you drive a car with any regularity, chances are that eventually you will have to jumpstart a dead battery. You might have left your headlights on, or an interior light, or maybe somebody else did and they need a jump. In any case, it’s good car knowledge and safety to learn how to safely jumpstart a car. That way you can get back on the road with both your car and person intact.

From zero to hero: how to jump start a car

Step 1: Determine if a Dead Battery Is Actually the Problem

Important note: You cannot jumpstart a hybrid. Hybrid vehicles use a different type of battery, and only a dealer or repair center with the proper equipment can restart a dead hybrid.

On a petrol vehicle, if the motor easily turns over without starting, turn on the headlights and see if they dim when you try to start the vehicle. If they don’t dim, it’s likely that the battery is not dead and something else is preventing the engine from starting.

On the other hand, if you try to start the car and hear only a soft clicking noise, or even no sound at all, it is possible that your battery is dead.

Step 2 – Park the Two Cars in Front of or Beside Each Other

Most vehicle’s batteries are located in the engine compartment under the hood, but even if the vehicle’s battery is located elsewhere there will be battery terminals in the engine compartment (refer to the owner’s manual if you are unsure). The battery terminals are the clamps that connect to the battery’s connection points (also known as poles) on the top of the battery.

The jumper cables need to reach the batteries in both vehicles, so park them accordingly. You will find it best to park the car with the working battery in front or beside the car with the dead battery, depending on where under the hood the battery terminals of each vehicle are located.

Step 3 – Inspect the Battery Terminals

A bad connection not only can drain a battery’s charge, it also can prevent a car from starting. If there appears to be corrosion on the dead vehicle’s battery, remove the terminals and clean them and the connection points with a wire brush or a knife. Battery corrosion looks like a white or gray ash-like substance. You can also use baking soda mixed with a bit of water to clean the terminals and connection points. If the terminals are loose, tighten the bolts. In the event that the terminal bolts are stripped, you can secure (tighten) the connection by wedging a metal screw, washer or nail between the battery terminal and its connection point on the battery. This however, is only a temporary fix, and the battery terminal should be replaced as soon as possible.

Step 4 – Connect the Jumper Cables (Leads)

Red goes on the positive (“+”) battery terminal and black goes on the negative (“-”). If the battery connections aren’t color coated, then look for a ‘+’ and ‘-’ stamped into the battery casing. Connect the leads to the dead battery first. Connect the positive cable first, then the negative cable second. Keep the opposite ends of the jumper cables from touching by clamping one of the clamps to the cable itself, clearly away from the other clamp. If they touch, sparks will fly, and the vehicle’s electrical system could get shorted out.

When connecting to the good battery, again connect the red (positive) lead to the positive terminal on the battery first, then connect the black lead to an unpainted metal surface under the hood (NOT the negative battery terminal of the good battery). The negative battery terminal is connected directly to the alternator, and when the dead vehicle starts a small amount of current will be sent back through the negative wire. If there’s a short in the dead vehicle’s electrical system, a large amount of current could be sent back through the jumper cable that can short out the entire electrical system on the vehicle that has the good battery.

Step 5 – Attempt to Start the Dead Vehicle

With the vehicle with the good battery shut off, attempt to start the dead vehicle (this will protect the electrical system on the good vehicle). If the dead car fails to start, turn on the good vehicle, then hold its gas pedal at ¼ throttle for 3-5 minutes. This will send a charging current from the running vehicle’s alternator directly to the dead vehicle’s battery. Once you’ve done that, try starting the dead car again.

Once the dead vehicle starts, remove the jumper cables in the opposite order you attached them. Again, be sure to prevent the clamps from touching. Let both vehicles run to recharge both their batteries.

If the dead vehicle fails to start after following these steps, have the vehicle towed and diagnosed by a mechanic.

Categories: ,