220. Focus on a greener road ahead

ford focus 99999 miles by roadsofstoneMy car was ten years old last week. As chance would have it, 100,000 miles came up on the same day. That’s the most miles of any car I’ve owned.

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.

green car white snow ford focus guildford england january 2010 by roadsofstoneThe 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.

snow on the road horsham sussex england january 2010 by roadsofstoneIn 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?

ford focus lx green 2000It’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.

Ford Focus in the woods by ucouldguess flickrWill the car last? I’ve never driven a car this long before, but so far the car feels solid — touch wood.

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?

Ford Focus owners handbook by dullhunk flickr* 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.

a frosty drive winter morning ford focus oerlikon zuerich switzerland by CoreForce flickrThese are a little more expensive, but their lower rolling resistance offers a 2.5 % fuel saving.

That’s just 1 mpg. But there’s life in the old car yet. And in environmental terms, every little helps.

Related articles:
218. A turning tide – from Houston to Copenhagen
211. The price of oil: 4 – a rising road ahead
133. Tomorrow – Avril Lavigne and global warming
210. The price of oil: 3 – energy economics and the financial crisis
105. A crisis of energy
69. Running low on fuel
175. The price of oil: peak petroleum production and energy economics


6 responses to “220. Focus on a greener road ahead

  1. Pingback: Ford Focus Canada

  2. They had the same scheme here in France, Roads. My old wreck is nearly 16 years old and definitely on its last wheels …and now it will be ‘worth’ 3 000 euros which is great as it’s only really worth about 5.

    I’ll be getting one of those Romanian cars – a Dacia Sandero – for 7 000 euros. It won’t be delivered until May so I hope Nelly lasts out until then…

  3. Roads,

    I have been going through similar considerations. I am still using a little Corsa auto now 11+ years old. Whilst it has been fine to date it is a bit small for family (daughter, granddaughter…) use, not to mention IKEA shopping… However it has been amazing just what would fit in that car.

    We have only driven it locally, I suppose Epsom was the furthest, whilst the car has been to the Bristol area and Stratford. Overall the mileage is only half that of your car. In earlier days I had a Cortina 2 litre which clocked 110 thousand.

    However the family thinks it is time for me to get a new slightly bigger car… Choices – Diesel/Petrol, Auto/Manual etc. Then I have been thinking of the same issues that you raise here. Not easy to reach a conclusion or justify scrapping the existing car.

  4. I gotta say, Roads, I like the way you think. My car is 10 years old, too. But it’s only traipsed some 45,000 miles. I’d much rather walk than drive. Much rather bicycle than drive. Much rather motorcycle than drive.

    We’ve destroyed so much, despoiled waaaay too much in service to our “car gods” (particularly here in the States).

    We’ll be tallying up the true costs for decades to come. Our grandchildren will pay the true price.

  5. We have a BMW 520i Touring that’s 12 yrs old and in almost pristine condition, mainly because we bought it and moved to the far east a year later, parking it underground in London for most of the next 7 years. It was used for a few weeks a year. Now we use it about once or twice a month. It’s ridiculous from the insurance and road tax POV and we do have some environmental guilt about it BUT:

    It was a very green (low CO2 emissions) vehicle when made and replacing it another that gets a few more miles to the gallon will not make a big difference to carbon emissions even if the car were to be scrapped, which would be unthinkable. By the time you take manufacturing related emissions into account there’s just no ecological case for replacement. It would simply be good for the car industry, not the planet.

    What there is is a moral case for us to send it back, somehow, to the continent and to downsize, but the logistics deter us. The boy wanted to swap cars when he proposed moving to France and we agreed at once but his plans fell through, for now.

    Anything we do to replace it will cost us thousands we don’t need to spend. I’m including in “logistics” the depreciation loss we have no compelling need to eat and the extra funds needed to replace it.

    If there were a market for people moving to and from the UK and mainland to swap cars …

  6. What is the comparative “resource costs” and emissions of producing a litre of diesel versus a litre of petrol??

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