By European standards, it’s a middle of the road kind of vehicle. A 2000 Ford Focus with a 1.8 litre petrol engine, which has delivered 39.8 mpg over the life of the car.
The UK government launched a scrappage scheme last April, and extended it in September. My car qualifies. If I scrap the car, the government and dealer will each give me £1,000 off the full list price of any new vehicle I buy.
At first sight that’s good, but a new family car still costs £15,000. The cynic in me also noted that before the scrappage scheme began, dealers were offering discounts of £2,000 to drag buyers from the street. Those offers aren’t available within the scrappage scheme.
The result is that the taxpayer is writing a cheque for £2,000 to manufacturers for every new car sold, while the real savings to buyers are minimal. I’d be better off buying a one-year old model and saving £5,000 off the list price that way.
In addition to supporting the car industry, the scrappage scheme aims to offer environmental benefits by taking older, thirsty cars off the road and replacing them with modern, more fuel-efficient models. But does it?
My next car will be more fuel-efficient and likely smaller. I’ve seen a new Ford Fiesta Econetic claiming 76 mpg, and the equivalent Focus will do 66 mpg. Even a basic 2009 1.6 Ford Focus diesel gives 60 mpg. So is there a clear environmental case for scrapping my 10-year old car and buying a newer model?
It’s not easy to be sure. 10,000 miles a year in my present car burns 1140 litres of petrol. Every litre used produces 2.31 kg of CO2, so that equates to around 2.6 tonnes of CO2 added to the atmosphere.
A litre of diesel produces 2.68 kg of CO2. At 60mpg, a year’s motoring uses 760 litres, contributing only 2.00 tonnes of CO2.
There’s an embodied energy cost in building a new car, but the figures vary according to who publishes them. The Society of Motor Manufacturers claims that 1 tonne of CO2 is produced in building a new car, but most analysts see this estimate as far too low. Volkswagen’s Life Cycle Analysis for the new Golf indicates an energy cost from manufacture approaching 6 tonnes of CO2.
If I extend my car’s life by 50% by running it for a further five years, this will save half a new car from ever being built. Let’s say this will save 3 tonnes of CO2. That means that in driving 50,000 miles in the next five years, I’ll add 13 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere. A new car would add only 10 tonnes, but the energy cost of building half an extra car pushes the total back up to 13 tonnes again.
These equations take no account of the waste of finite materials incurred in building a new car when the old one is still running well. So although I’m keen to reduce my carbon footprint, overall the environmental case is hardly made.
Nearly all the common faults in Focuses have already happened. I’ve had two new wheel bearings. A new link arm. The car over-revs in car parks when it’s half warm and it stutters now and then. A speedo failed. And the central locking doesn’t ever work in winter.
The car isn’t as shiny as once it was. There’s a dent where the plumber drove into it while delivering our new and greener boiler. But I can live with all of that.
Reviewers say my Focus should be good for 150,000 miles. One determined optimist wrote that at 100,000 miles the car was only halfway through its life. The highest mileage car I found on sale had 146,000 miles, although scrappage gloss and pitiful resale values may deter folk from going further at the moment.
So decision made — now what more can I do to cut the carbon cost of driving?
* Avoid short journeys where the engine is run from cold
* Stick to speed limits
* Keep the tyres fully inflated
* Have the car regularly serviced and maintained
* Turn off the engine at traffic lights (like the Swiss do)
* Eliminate excessive acceleration and minimise braking
* Remove junk from the boot and seat pockets
I do all these already. I drive like a granny, and I walk or cycle my local errands. But there are two more things that I can do.
Most importantly, I need to drive less this year. And finally, at the car’s last service in December I switched to Michelin Energy tyres.
That’s just 1 mpg. But there’s life in the old car yet. And in environmental terms, every little helps.
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