See the Real Cost of Your Gas Guzzler

Check the sticker price on an electric car or a plug-in hybrid on the market today, and you’re likely to find a bumped-up charge for zero- or low-emission models compared with internal combustion vehicles.

But take into account the fuel, operating, and maintenance costs over the life of a vehicle, and the low-carbon-emitting cars end up being among the least expensive while also contributing the least to climate change, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers.

The new study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, evaluates 125 cars.

The purpose, according to study lead author Jessika Trancik, is to give consumers straight answers on which personal vehicles available today will help the United States meet emissions-reduction targets set for 2030, 2040, and 2050—with a mid-century goal of reducing carbon emissions by at least 80 percent, to be compatible with keeping global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius.

“Providing information to drivers that want to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing more climate-friendly cars and driving less is one step that may encourage car-purchasing decisions that are more consistent with climate goals,” Trancik said.

Researchers designed an interactive app called Carbon Counter that allows anyone to see how much each car—ranging from gas guzzlers such as the Chevy Suburban to the battery-powered BMW i3—will cost and contribute to climate change.

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