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Shopping Tips for Pickups

The Issues

Your choice of a vehicle is among the most important buying decisions you will make in terms of your overall environmental impact. Private transportation accounts for over 17% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US; only home energy use is as significant a contributor to your global warming footprint. Passenger cars and light trucks are also important contributors to local air pollution problems like smog. Over 175 million people—roughly 58 percent of the US population—are exposed to pollution levels that are too often dangerous to breathe.

While motor vehicle fatalities have steadily decreased over the past decade, driving remains a relatively dangerous activity—the lifetime risk of dying in a traffic accident is 1 in 80. Consumers have been demanding safer vehicles and manufacturers are responding with a variety of crash safety features as well as accident avoidance technologies.

What to look for

Choose vehicles with the highest fuel economy (highest MPG). Make sure that the fuel efficiency of your choice is substantially better than the average for its class: 22.5 MPG for small cars, 22.4 MPG for midsize cars, 19.0 MPG for large cars, 19.4 MPG for SUVs, 19.2 MPG for minivans, and 16.4 MPG for pickup trucks.

Look for EPA’s SmartWay certification mark while shopping. To earn a SmartWay designation, a vehicle must be among the best environmental performers in terms of its greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions.

Choose the safest vehicles—these get 4 or 5-star safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Opt for additional safety features, including electronic stability control (ESC), side air bags, and lane departure and front impact warnings.

All-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are generally environmentally preferable to gasoline-fueled vehicles. But remember that the scale of environmental benefits associated with such vehicles differs significantly based on how electricity is produced in your area. Charging an electric vehicle in a state where a large portion of the energy mix comes from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) will significantly increase the amount of greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions associated with vehicle use. Charging in a state where a large portion of the energy mix comes from renewable sources (hydro, biomass, wind, geothermal, solar) or nuclear power will result in the lowest amount of greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions associated with vehicle use. The following graphic illustrates the generating mix in different states. Electric vehicles operating in west coast states will generally have lower greenhouse gas and air pollution impacts than vehicles operating in the rest of the country.

What to avoid

Avoid vehicles with poor fuel economy. Don’t buy a larger size or higher horsepower car than you need—these features have major impacts on fuel efficiency and pollution levels. Smaller is usually better. Even if you need a larger car, there are an increasing number of substantially greener choices within most vehicle classes.

GoodGuide recommends

Remember that your fuel consumption and pollution load are not determined solely by the type of car you have. How you drive and maintain your vehicle are also important:

  • Avoid speeding to save fuel, as well as to prevent accidents. Avoid rapid accelerations and braking, which burn more fuel. When you aren’t in traffic, turn off the engine rather than idle for more than 30 seconds.
  • Take care of your vehicle. Avoid skimping on regularly scheduled maintenance. Missing routine oil changes will ultimately shorten the life of your engine, and cost more money for repairs or a new vehicle. Poorly maintained vehicles burn fuel less efficiency and lead to more air pollution. Keep tires properly inflated and replace your air filter regularly. Low tire pressure or clogged filters can reduce fuel economy significantly.

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Our scientists have rated 392 Pickups

Our highest rated cars deliver exceptional fuel economy, which reduces their impact on climate change as well as local air pollution. They are made by companies that operate with strong environmental programs and socially responsible supply chains. The lowest rated cars have very poor fuel economy and relatively high pollutant emissions. They are made by companies that are not focused on reducing their environmental and social impacts. To find the safest vehicles, look for cars that get 4 or 5 stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Read More

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