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As you may have noticed, I’m a girl.  And as a girl, I tend to read Cosmopolitan magazine.  Maybe I’m hoping for the perfect no-work hairstyle.  Or maybe great advice on how to wear skinny jeans and not look like a goofball.  Anyways, Cosmo is kind of a girl thing.

Cosmo

An unlikely place for car info, huh?

But Cosmo does include worthwhile, conscientious articles that are fun to read.  In the most recent April issue, Cosmo had an article called “Rethink Your Green Routine.”  There was advice about shopping for groceries, taking showers, and what to do with your appliances when they’re not in use (unplug them!).

What surprised me was Cosmo’s advice on buying a new car.  The author said that instead of buying a new hybrid or energy-efficient car, it makes more environmental sense to buy a used, fuel-efficient car if you’re only going to be driving it for a few years.

To be honest, this took me aback.  I thought, “How could they be recommending we drive our old clunkers around?  How can that be better for the environment?”  So I decided to look into it a bit.

This article gives lots of numbers about how much it takes to make cars converted to oil and energy units and all kinds of things.  But what I got out of it is that the average car uses about 10% of the energy used in its lifetime during its construction.  That number seems to be about right, although here’s a place that said about 20%.  Even so, the energy used to produce a car decreases as technology improves.

Beater car

Is this really better to drive around than a new Nissan Leaf? Maybe!

I can buy that; it certainly takes energy to gather materials, ship them, and turn them into something worthwhile.  But does it really make more sense to buy an old car rather than get a more efficient one?

Well, that’s where Cosmo’s advice gets more specific.  They say if you’re looking for a new car to last you more than five years, to spring for a fun hybrid or small, fuel-efficient little car (or maybe that gorgeous Porsche…assuming they put it into production).  But if you’re looking just to get around for the next few years, then it makes more sense to get a car that’s already made.

Really, this all comes down to using what we already have.  The cars on the road have one thing going for them: they’re already there.  We don’t have to put more energy into producing them.  Funnily enough, eBay is a powerhouse in the reusing field (take a look at this article).  I have to admit that in the race to be green, we tend to overlook the solutions that are right in front of us.

And as far as cars go?  Maybe it means getting a few more miles out of that Tercel.  Or keeping that old Malibu going for a couple more years.  There are a million ways to skin a cat, and greening up our cars is no exception.

I guess I should tell you what this Supermileage Vehicle (SMV) thing is all about.

Before I get into it, let me warn you: something you’ll get to know about me is that I have very little knowledge about cars.  My brain simply doesn’t work that way.  I think spark plugs are magic critters that make engines run.  I just don’t get it.

But I understand the idea behind SMV.  It’s a program run by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) for college students studying engineering or technology.  These kids are given a four-cylinder Briggs and Stratton engine, a few safety specifications, and turned loose on the automotive world.  They have to build a one-person car that gets the best miles per gallon possible without bursting into flames or falling apart.  The teams compete against each other in June, and then it’s “let the best tiniest skinniest driver win.”  Remember, they’re going for gas mileage here, no holds barred.

That’s a little technical stuff.  What drives SMV isn’t the dinky little engine, though; it’s the man (or woman) power, the literally countless hours the team spends scheming and designing and building and crying (at least inwardly).

And really, that’s what innovation is all about.

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