Subaru Begs Me To Ask The Question: Higher MPG Or Less Emissions?

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As I have mentioned somewhere along the line before, we only own one car and it is a 2008 Subaru Forester. Because we bought it in California before moving to New Mexico, it is the PZEV version of the car, which stands for “Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle”. This version of the engine and exhaust system reduces regular emissions by 90% over non-PZEV models, emitting close to zero smog-causing pollutants. So why aren’t all the models made this way? It costs more, and many people would not be willing to pay the extra amount. We didn’t have a choice buying in California, but I sure am glad that is the model we got! And now, Subaru of Canada has just announced that they will be selling PZEV versions of their Legacy and Outback (and some pogo sticks, it appears) in Quebec and British Columbia, which stands to help out some of our environmentalist friends up north:

Pogo sticks? Clever I suppose, but I wish they would just force the sale of PZEV’s everywhere that their cars are sold. But it got me thinking about which is better for the environment: a car that spews 90% less pollutants over a standard car or a car that gets better gas mileage? Because even though we are currently getting between 27-29 MPG in our all-wheel-drive Forester, there are many cars that get better mileage that aren’t even hybrids. Granted, those cars would not be doing so well on our many dirt and rock-filled roads around here (never mind our winters in the mountains), but still…which is better to shoot for if you cannot have both? Sure, the Prius gets great gas mileage and low emissions, but if you cannot pick up a hybrid but rather need another form of car, is it better to get one with higher MPG or one that emits less pollutants? In a perfect world I would be able to have am AWD Forester plug-in hybrid that gets charged up from solar panels on my roof, but that day is pretty far off. What do you guys think? Better MPG or less emissions? I want to go with less emissions, as I view that as more important than using less gas, but I am curious what you think…

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  1. Well, I think I need more information to decide. So how does your Subaru reduce emissions by 90%? Does it have a second catalytic converter? Whatever method it uses, does it require more frequent exhaust system maintenance such as replacing the catalytic converter? It seems like we have to take this into account in order to determine the answer to your question. If the reduction in emissions is truly 90% over the non-PZEV version of your car, it seems that the PZEV version must generate ten times as much solid waste in the form of whatever is capturing the pollutants to keep them from becoming emissions (or perhaps the same number of pieces of waste, but ten times more potent). I’d be interested to learn more about how the PZEV system works. It’s hard for me to believe that capturing the emissions in a catalytic converter is any better at all that letting them spew into the atmosphere. It still generates the same amount of pollution it’s just that it is all concentrated in one place. It might make for easier disposal, but do we have systems in place for handling the solid waste in the form of used up catalytic converters or do they simply sit in landfills and then does that same CO2 that would have gone into the atmosphere then contaminate our water and ultimately end up in the ocean and contribute to ocean acidification? I really don’t know, but I’m glad for the post as now I will look into it.

  2. Look forward to whatever you find out Jaimie, but I have to think that if they are capturing emissions and then somehow dealing with it in the end, that is better than just emitting it all into the air over the life of the car. That being said, I have no idea what they are doing and will look into it as well…

  3. Perhaps it has changed since we last bought a car (5 years ago), but at that time, I was told I could NOT buy a car with California emissions standards unless I lived in California. I wanted to, but the car dealer said it wasn’t possible. I don’t know–and don’t recall how much I asked about it–the extent to which this was law, difficult for the dealer, or what. But I did ask about (and was prepared to pay more for it) and couldn’t do it.

  4. That may still be the case, I don’t know AnnMarie, but there are 11 states that have those rules as well now: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, and there are several more working on adopting them: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Utah. Soon enough, I imagine most states will have PZEV or equivalent available.

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