Greening the Family Car – Our Top 5 Features

Fuel Economy (MPG)

For us, the reduced green house gas and other emissions are more important to us than the fuel cost savings, but they go hand in hand.  Our annual combined driving distance for both vehicles is about 15,000 – 16,000 miles thanks to things like occasionally e-bike commuting, trip chaining and working close to home. Our 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid had an EPA rated fuel economy of 34 MPG, though we only got that in the summer.  In the winter, our observed fuel economy was closer to 28 MPG which I think has a lot to do with my short 7 mile commute where the engine doesn’t get up to temperature until I’m almost at work, thus reducing the hybrid usage.  We wanted something that was at least 40 MPG.


Having just been in a major accident that I still count my blessings of being able to walk away from it virtually uninjured, safety was really important to us and our family.  Look to the IIHS crash test ratings for good comparisons.  Keep in mind that the ratings are within the class, so a 5 star rated sub-compact may not fair as well in a collision compared to a 3 star rated SUV.


We like things that last and last.  Durability is one of the most important green features of any product in our minds.   We do not want to deal with the hassle of needing to frequently repair the car and have to deal with loaners, rentals, etc. while it is in the shop.


Being comfortable in your car is important.  We feel very passionately that being green is not about sacrificing the joys of life, but rather about making wiser choices to get the same or better while using less energy, etc. I am a big fan of leather (or leather-like) seats.  I find them more comfortable to sit in, create less static cling and are easier to clean up from spills.  Alicia has said to a couple of friends that she is lucky that I insist on getting leather because she would not splurge for it.

Comfort is also about fitting our family of five in the vehicle without being on top of each other.  A number of our friends are big advocates of smaller, very efficient traditional internal combustion cars instead of hybrids.  I’d rather pay more and get a vehicle that we don’t have to use a shoe horn to get into each time we try to put 3 kids with boosters and car seats across the back.  I would recommend getting the smallest and most efficient car that fits your needs.  We have the advantage that we also have the 7 passenger minivan for when we need to transport a lot more gear and 2 more people like grand parents or friends.  If you make one or two trips a year that needs the extra space consider getting the smaller car and then renting a bigger vehicle for that trip.


I don’t think any of us wouldn’t want more money.  As I mentioned earlier, you can spend $100,000 or more for a family car.  Personally, I’d rather spend that money on other green things like eating more organic foods and natural mattresses for us and the kids.  Also, keep in mind that buying a used car is a very green and frugal decision. Reusing items is even better than recycling them and you can now get used hybrids and other fuel efficient family vehicles.

As you are deciding to purchase a vehicle, be sure to consider how much you expect to spend on fuel, repairs, insurances and car payments.

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