Cars - including electric

Woman taking part in car-pooling opening the back door of a car

The facts about cars

  • There are approximately 750 million cars in the world
  • If the present trend continues, there will be twice as many cars in the next 30 years
  • Most cars are powered by petroleum-based fuel, a finite natural resource that is running out
  • Cars are one of the main sources of pollution, including greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change
  • Pollution is estimated to cause as many deaths per year as traffic accidents.

The good news about cars

With constant improvement and expansion of Victoria's public transport network, we no longer need to rely on cars as much as we once did. Add share-car services and carpooling opportunities, and many of us can happily do without a car, not to mention the costs associated with car ownership. Where you feel a car is unavoidable, we now have the option to buy electric and hybrid cars to reduce our impact on the environmental. There is even a car fuelled by sewerage-generated electricity being developed.

Cars and sustainability – your choices

1. Carpooling

Carpooling – the shared used of cars by people travelling in the same direction – is an excellent way to save money, save time, meet people and reduce pollution and the need for road infrastructure and car parks. Arranged informally or through ride matching websites, carpooling is used to commute to work, drop kids off at school, and for longer one-off journeys.

2. Share car services

Share car services are a type of rental where cars are hired for periods of time as short as one hour. Share cars have all of the benefits of reduced personal car ownership and use, together with the convenience of having access to a car to run errands, do your grocery shopping or visit family and friends.

3. Electric cars

Electric cars are powered entirely by electrical sources such as rechargeable batteries, and are therefore non-polluting zero-emission vehicles (ZEV). Both the engine and the battery are electric in these battery electric vehicles (BEVs), which get all of their power from sources external to the vehicle, such as electric recharging points. Electric cars are more expensive to buy than petrol-fuelled cars, but cost far less to run.

Remember to think about the sustainability of your electricity supply. Charging an electric car with electricity generated from coal or oil may result in more emissions than that of a hybrid or fuel-efficient petrol car.

4. Hybrid cars

Hybrid cars are powered by both an electric engine and a petrol engine. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) have gas engines and electric motors with batteries that are charged by the main engine while it is running. The Prius is an example of this type of hybrid car.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) also have gas engines and electric motors, but with batteries that get some of their power from recharging them at a standard household power outlet.

Hybrids, which are usually more expensive to buy than the equivalent conventional petrol engine vehicle, emit far less greenhouse gas than most standard petrol cars. Fuel savings may make up for the additional cost over time. Hybrid technology has also been introduced to trucks such as diggers, cranes and lifts, and public transportation such as buses.

5. Fuel efficient petrol, gas and LPG cars

New technologies are available to make cars running on petrol and gas more efficient, including automatic gearing, lighter body weights and braking systems that feed energy back into the car battery. If an electric or hybrid vehicle is not an affordable option for you, do your research to find the most fuel efficient petrol car possible.

6. Hydrogen fuel cell cars

Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells can be a sustainable form of transport if the hydrogen is produced from low carbon and renewable sources of electricity. The idea behind these cars is to use a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to create electric charge; the only byproduct being water. Hydrogen is not only extremely efficient in the production of electricity, it's also one of the most abundant elements on the planet.

Vehicle manufacturers have announced that hydrogen vehicles will become commercially available in Australia soon. As this technology develops and is powered by low emissions energy sources, it will become a more sustainable alternative to internal combustion engine vehicles.


Top 5 sustainable car use tips

1. Walk, cycle, or take public transport first

Wherever possible, walk, cycle or use public transport – it's better for you and better for the environment. Walking or cycling to a station or bus stop nearby is a great way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.

2. Meet online

Why drive to the office or meeting when you can save time and reduce emissions by attending from the convenience of your own home? A range of videoconferencing tools are now available online, many at no cost for smaller meetings.

3. Carpool to school

Save time and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change by sharing the school drop off and pick up with other parents. Better still, walk or cycle the kids to school – some studies suggest that childhood obesity is fuelled by children being driven to school.

4. Use a share car or take a taxi

Share cars can be hired for as little as one hour, and occasional taxis work out far cheaper than owning your car.

5. Save fuel

When a personal car is the only option, save fuel by:

  • always letting your car warm up before driving
  • accelerating gently
  • looking ahead and braking early (keep rolling if possible, minimising complete stops)
  • regularly servicing and changing the oil in your car
  • buying a car with good fuel consumption.

Useful information and resources

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