car culture and the environment

posted: March 22nd, 2017 | by:
in: culture, philosophy

At first glance, car culture appears to be at odds with environmentalism—burning fossil fuels and producing carbon emissions, often purely for entertainment. Does this mean that the two must be mutually exclusive? Isn’t it possible to both love cars and care about the environment?

I like to think so.

Enthusiasts often embody the spirit of reuse and recycling. For some, its enjoying and driving an old car. Keeping an old car running involves knowledge, skill, and ingenuity. Many old cars don’t have a thriving aftermarket, which means that many parts have to be repaired, pulled from a junk yard, or sometimes fabricated in order for the car to continue running. Through this, though, there is little additional impact on the environment since there is no new manufacturing. But what about emissions? And fuel efficiency?

Well, those are always an issue.

A benefit of buying, and driving, and old used car in the fact that the individual emissions of sourcing the raw materials for and manufacturing that car are not new—the environmental impact of that has already taken place. The daily emissions and fuel consumption of the car are still ever-present. This doesn’t mean that the car has to have higher emissions and lower fuel economy.

There are plenty of options for reducing the emissions and fuel consumption of old cars. First and foremost: perform regular maintenance on the car. Changing the oil, making sure the transmission and differential are in good working order, and cleaning the fuel system are all ways to help get the most out of an old engine. At the very least, you’ll ensure that the car is in good running order. If that’s not enough, though, there are more expensive, and adventurous, options—upgrading the engine control unit (ECU), replacing the fuel system, rebuilding and refurbishing the engine, or replacing the engine all together (which can both improve emissions and increase performance if you choose the right donor).

On the other hand…

There is always the risk that keeping an old car on the road is doing more harm than good. Some cars were never efficient to begin with. These probably shouldn’t be used as daily transportation anyway, fuel for these becomes prohibitively expensive. There is also the issue of a car that hasn’t been well maintained. It not only loses its efficiency, but it can become actively dangerous.

When done properly, driving an old car that you love can go hand-in-hand with caring for the environment. Whether its keeping cars, and their parts, out of landfills or mitigating the emissions created by manufacturing new vehicles, having a vibrant car culture that celebrates old cars can have a positive impact on the environment.

This isn’t the end-all, be-all of car culture’s relationship with environmentalism. It’s a good start to understanding how well these two concepts can work in tandem.


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