Going Green to Save Green

Diesel for Any Driving Situation

Drivers who spend most of their time on the highway should consider clean diesel. Diesel fuel economy gains are consistent for both city and highway driving, and are big enough to more than offset higher fuel costs.

The bigger the car, the bigger the benefits. The full-sized Mercedes-Benz GL320 sport-utility vehicle averages 17/23 mpg city/highway when equipped with the clean diesel engine, versus 13/18 for the gas-powered model. The smaller M-Class sport-utility vehicle gets 23/32 mpg with the diesel engine, compared to 13/18 mpg for the gasoline model.

Chrysler offers a V6 diesel engine on the Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicle: it averages 18/23 mpg city highway. The Grand Cherokee with a gasoline-powered V6 averages 15/20 mpg city and highway; the V8 gas engine averages 13/19 mpg.

Tax Credits

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 rewards buyers of hybrid, fuel cell and alternative fuel vehicles with a tax credit, ranging from $250 to $3400, depending on the vehicle's weight and fuel economy. But there's a catch: the tax credit disappears in stages after the automaker sells 60,000 units of a particular model.

Future Prius buyers are out of luck. But shoppers considering the new VW Jetta TDI may save some money come tax time. A good source of information on federal tax credits is Edmunds.com's Green Car Advisor.

Small Car Carbon Footprints

Buyers who can't afford a hybrid or clean diesel can still go green and save gas by driving a smaller car. The Nissan Versa, Scion xD, Kia Rio, Suzuki SX4, Volkswagen Rabbit and smartfortwo all have MSRPs under $16,000, and all average 30 mpg or better on the highway. Cars that use less gas pollute less: it's as simple as that.

Do the Math

Despite a recent drop in the cost of fuel, the general trend in the future will be towards more expensive gas. The myriad of green car options gives buyers with different budgets and lifestyle needs the ability to minimize their fuel expenditures, and do something good for the environment at the same time.

New car shopping is all about doing the math: green cars are no exception. One place to start is by creating a log to record important information about current driving habits, including average annual mileage, and city versus highway driving. Keep track of the number of passengers who typically share the car to see if downsizing is a possibility.

Buyers considering alternative fuels need to make sure that their local infrastructure supports those types of vehicles. Clean diesel is widely available, but supplies of biodiesel and E-85 are more limited.

Find out whether any of the cars on the short list qualify for a federal tax credit. And don't forget to factor in the trade-in value of the current car. Kelley Blue Book is a reliable source of information on resale values. Edmunds.com has a new tool to help big truck owners determine how much it will cost to go green.

More: 10 Water Conservation Tips to Try at Home

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