We often hear that old cars are more “polluting” than new cars. They are often singled out and accused of emitting too much CO2. Using my 4L as an everyday car and caring more and more about my environmental footprint and sustainable development issues, I therefore asked myself: do I really pollute more by driving in an old car than by car? new or electric? The answer: it seems not! And it could well be that it is even the opposite … Here are some explanations!
An old car consumes more than a new car, but is it really more polluting?
First observation: we hear everywhere and it is commonly accepted (in France at least) that new cars or recent cars pollute less than older cars. Why do we hear this? Because technological progress is such that a modern vehicle consumes less on average than an old vehicle. Obviously, when we base ourselves solely on fuel consumption and the CO2 emission which is directly linked to it, it is clear that modern vehicles emerge as winners when compared to older vehicles. From there to draw the conclusion that modern vehicles are less polluting than the old ones and that it is therefore necessary to change your car as soon as it is “obsolete”, there is only one step… that many take, without there. look further. In any case, that’s the message they’re trying to get across to us.
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Replacing your old car with a new one to pollute less: an aberration?
The making of a new car and the deconstruction of an old one: a disastrous carbon footprint
The environmental footprint is not just about the CO2 emissions of the engine! The production and dismantling of a new car has an absolutely disastrous carbon footprint. So disastrous that it sometimes makes the possible additional CO2 emissions of an old car derisory compared to a modern car. Thus, it is necessary to drive hundreds of thousands of kilometers to “cushion the carbon footprint” of the construction and then the dismantling of a new car. Because if the manufacture of a car is an extremely polluting activity, automobile recycling, contrary to what one might think, is a process also extremely greedy in energy.
Be careful, I am not saying that we should not recycle, I am simply saying that it is not the solution to always produce more cars on the pretext that they are 90% recyclable. And here, we are only talking about the release of CO2. We are not talking about the phenomenal release of toxic substances into nature during the manufacture of cars. We are not talking either that if 90% of the car is recycled, most of the “synthetic” components, which are very harmful to the environment, are not. Can we still say that buying a new modern car is more “ecological” and less polluting than keeping your car for a long time or driving old? Difficult to hold as a speech …
What do the studies say?
The problem with studies on this subject is that it is extremely difficult to obtain reliable results on the life cycle assessment of a car, we will see that shortly after. Despite this, some studies have been carried out (to be taken with hindsight, these are only estimates) in order to compare the carbon footprint of a driver who keeps his old car and a driver who replaces it with a new one.
1st study, source ADEME relayed by a MEDIAPART article: “Deconstruction of its old car and construction of the new one = 12 tonnes of C02 emitted”
You can consult the full study by ADEME (French Environment and Energy Management Agency) here . I also put you the link to the article Letting our cars age, by Jacques Cuvilliers on his Mediapart blog, of which here is an excerpt:
This is a good argument which undoubtedly dispenses the seller from also explaining to the potential buyer that the deconstruction of his old car will devour an energy of the order of 1500 Kwh, than the construction of his new one. , an energy of some 20,000 kWh, and that the whole reduced to the European average of 490 grams of CO2 emitted per kilowatt hour of energy produced [see the endnote], will ultimately lead to an emission of 12 Tons of CO2! Assuming that his new family car emits, as is likely, some 40 grams less CO2 per kilometer than his old one, he will have to drive within 300,000 km with this new car to make up for the excess CO2 production necessary for the replacement. ”
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12 tonnes of CO2 emitted, therefore, to “recycle” his old car and produce a new one. 300,000 km to offset this excess CO2 production. So, is it ecologically viable to replace your old one? This is what we will see with a second study.
2nd study, relayed by Caradisiac: 18 tonnes of C02 emitted for the construction of a new car worth € 25,000
If you want to read it in full, here is the link to the article Scrapping bonus: producing a new car pollutes more than keeping an old one . Here is an exerpt :
“According to a study carried out a few years ago, the production of a new vehicle would be equivalent to 720 kg of CO2 released for every 1000 euros spent. Clearly, a Peugeot 308 sold for € 25,000 will have already released 18 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere before it has even been delivered. So let’s do a simple calculation, based on a total of 200,000 km:
First case – you change your car at 100,000 km thanks to the scrapping bonus
Your vehicle, which has 100,000 km, and which you wish to replace, consumes 8 liters per 100 km (in real conditions). This corresponds to 185 g / km, or 18.5 tonnes released since you drive with it. You are targeting a Peugeot 308 petrol Puretech 130, automatic transmission, advertised at 106 g / km, or 4.5 l / 100 km. The first (obvious) thing to know is that the French compact will be far from this value in real conditions, certainly around 6.5 liters, or 150 g / km of CO2. Over 100,000 km, we arrive at a total of 15 tonnes released.
Total CO2 emissions over 200,000 km: 18.5t (old vehicle over 100,000 km) + 19.2t (production of the new 308) + 15t (emissions from the new car over 100,000 km) = 52.7 tonnes.
Second case – you keep your car up to 200,000 km
Your vehicle, which was purchased new, therefore consumes its 8 liters every 100 km. Over 200,000 km, this is equivalent to 37 tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Your car consumes a liter and a half more every 100 km than a newer gasoline car, but despite that, you emitted 15 tonnes less than the person who switched to a cleaner vehicle. “
This is what the few studies carried out on the subject show. So of course, you will have seen it, the values are approximate: a study estimates at 12 tons of CO2 emitted for the recycling and the construction of a new car while another estimates at 18 tons of CO2 emitted the only construction of a new car valued at € 25,000. It depends on too many factors and unknowns to get a reliable value.
But in both cases, the person who will have kept and driven 100,000 km more with his old vehicle will have emitted several tonnes of CO2 less than the person who will have changed his vehicle earlier to replace it with a new one. Indeed, this does not apply to a broken down old car, which would consume a lot of oil or whose mechanics poorly adjusted or in poor condition would consume much more fuel than normal. But in this case again, it would be enough to repair …
So why do we continue to hear this every day, and why do we never talk about the ecological disasters of the intensive renewal of the vehicle fleet?
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Why do we continue to say that old vehicles are too polluting?
1st reason: it makes the economy work
Logically, this suits the manufacturers and the State: sending cars to the scrapyard and replacing them with new ones, it makes the economy work. At the time, sales were in decline, manufacturers at bay: it was necessary to renew the vehicle fleet in France. The government intervenes with sudden measures, in particular with the famous scrapping bonus, then diesel-bashing, more recently. Cars deemed too old or too polluting (sometimes gasoline, then diesels) and even those that still worked, are scrapped, in favor of the purchase of new cars. New cars in perfect condition that will be considered obsolete 5 years later, and will still be scrapped to be replaced by the latest generation. It’s a vicious circle. Produce, always produce more. An economic success,
2nd reason: the impossible life cycle assessment of a car
The other reason is that it is impossible to establish a reliable eco-assessment of the life cycle of a car because it depends on many factors. Environmental assessments are only estimates. And the more complex the object (eg at random, a car), the more difficult it is to get a reliable estimate. A car is 180,000 components, I’ll let you imagine the difficulty. Suddenly, even if we know full well that the CO2 emission of the production of a vehicle and its “recycling” is disastrous, we simply prefer not to talk about it, as if it didn’t matter. It suits everyone. And all this does not take into account the 3rd component, which is the release of toxic substances during the manufacture of the car, which is not included in the famous “carbon footprint”.
“Focused on climate change, our governments invite us to change cars regularly in order to save energy and thus reduce CO2 emissions. But this policy is reductive and dangerous for our lives. We are talking in this article about cars only because that is what interests us, but this is valid for other objects and devices. ” Source TEDxGeneva.
The electric car, the solution in all this ? Not for the moment !
Is the electric car the solution to all of this? Indeed, in operation, electric cars emit no CO2 emissions. Therefore, if we take the calculations mentioned above in the studies, electric cars should emerge victorious from the “duel” with old cars on CO2 emissions and should, in the long term, be less polluting!
And yet, this is not the case … First, because the current carbon footprint of the manufacture of an electric car is 1.5 times larger (!) Than the manufacture of a thermal, the fault especially the batteries they contain. Then, because the question of recycling lithium batteries (a very difficult material to recycle) poses a problem. Indeed, lithium is not recycled today (or still very little) for a simple reason: Research for its recycling is extremely expensive while the price of lithium on the markets is low and fluctuates too much. The business is not profitable, for the moment.
To continue, the life cycle of an electric car is extremely short today, due to the fact that these technologies are not yet sufficiently developed and that they evolve extremely quickly, in particular on the question of autonomy. As a result, the renewal of electric cars is very fast and the low CO2 emissions linked to its use do not sufficiently compensate for the very large carbon footprint linked to its production and destruction.
Finally, the production of electricity required to recharge the batteries is not neutral. So certainly, in France, electric energy mainly coming from nuclear power (emitting little or no CO2), the carbon footprint of the use of an electric car is on average extremely low. But that’s without counting its manufacture and recycling.
In conclusion: let our old cars age !
From now on, you, old car enthusiasts, will know what to answer when you are told “old cars are good, but they pollute!” 😉All kidding aside, the purpose of this article is not to prove that old cars are less polluting than new cars. The title, deliberately provocative, was simply intended to draw attention to an assertion that is largely refutable and yet one hears everywhere, that old cars are polluting, and that it is better to drive a new car for the respect the environment. We have seen that this was far from being the case, and that it could well be the opposite, if we take into account all the elements that make up the life cycle of a car. .
So, do yourself a favor: keep driving old, fix them, and don’t have to blush when you pass a shiny new Prius in the street!