PhotoEnvironmentally conscious consumers tend to look for more in a car than horsepower and aesthetic appeal. An increasing number of consumers want to know how their car will impact the environment before they choose to buy it.

But factors such as where you live and how much you can afford may rule out an electric car as your best choice. For those who want an affordable car that will contribute the fewest emissions, a new web app may prove to be a handy guide during the car buying process.

CarbonCounter, the brainchild of a group of researchers at MIT, is an app that can help you see how different cars fall on the spectrum of greenhouse gas emissions. It works by factoring in mileage and fuel type, as well as the greenhouse gases emitted during the car’s production.

Cost versus carbon emissions

On a graph, consumers can see a car’s environmental impact and how it stacks up to its price. The app can even take into account certain region-specific factors that may influence a car's impact.

While the app often shows that electric cars are your best bet, there were a few surprises. In some cases, electric cars were found to be worse for the environment than hybrids. Toyota’s Rav4 electric vehicle, for example, uses more energy than many hybrids.

Low cost of going green

In a paper on the study, which led to the creation of the app, Jessica E. Trancik, a professor of energy studies at MIT, pointed out that the cars with the lowest emissions also happened to be the most affordable.

The study found that smaller hybrids and electric cars, such as the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf, were among the cheapest per mile driven.

“Consumers can save money and save emissions at the same time,” Dr. Trancik told the New York Times.

Trancik's colleague and fellow study author, Geoffrey Supran PhD '16, a recent graduate in MIT's Department of Materials and Science and Engineering says the app could help steer consumers away from large, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs -- eventually. 

"[W]e’ve got a long way to go," Supran said. "Obviously the best option is to use public transport and, when possible, to not drive at all. But for those who have to, hopefully our work can help inform a generation of more climate-conscious car buyers.”

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