Did you see the recent Scotsman headline – Motorists face £20 ‘pollution charge’ to drive in Edinburgh by 2020?

In summary, Motorists face a fine if they don’t drive a car that is ‘clean’ or in other words if you drive a car that’s not relative new – and definitely not diesel.

Whilst I’m definitely not against the idea that we need to have lower emissions and that pollution should be reduced. I am concerned about the impact on our family. We currently own a diesel ‘family-sized’ car that will need replaced to avoid fines. I also own a relatively new VW Polo – and whilst it was billed as low emission when I bought it – will that be the case in 2020? Would I be better to replace it with an eco model even though that wouldn’t make financial sense right now?

With all that in mind, I’ve begun to investigate the various ‘eco-friendly’ options. Please bare in mind I am NOT about to offered a job with Top Gear. My requirements for cars are largely centred around the coffee cup holders. But I do not want to be fined for driving my car around Edinburgh so it strikes me that this is something I do need to learn more about:

What’s so bad about diesel?

When we first bought a diesel car I was actually under the impression it was better for the environment. The government had so many ‘pro-diesel’ policies – including a lower rate of tax – that I think this impression could entirely be forgiven. It might actually be that this mistake can be excused given VW fudged the figures on their emissions tests; but either way it seems that diesel is actually bad.

Whilst they produce 15% less COs than their petrol counterparts they emit 4 times more Nitrogen Dioxide. NO2 is bad because it damages the ozone, thus exacerbating global warming and leading to things like acid rain. So not exactly what we’re looking for. It also results in tiny particles that penetrate lungs, brains and hearts – so probably not what we want for our kids.

What’s the difference between a hybrid and electric?

Obviously, one alterative to diesel is to get an efficient petrol car. But my worry is that as technology improves the cars we currently describe as efficient will be deemed as environmentally damaging as diesel. Hence I’ve started to look at other options.

The current options seem to either be a hybrid or an electric car. A hybrid has a petrol engine as ‘back up’ ready to kick in if the batteries run out. Whereas an electric car gets all of its power from electrical sources – the plus side being the car itself therefore has zero-emissions.

But I do wonder about the time they take to charge. An electric car can take as little as 30 minutes to charge or up to 12 hours. The 30 minutes being at a specific charging station rather than a home charging point. On the one hand, breaking up a long journey with a 30 minute stop isn’t the end of the world – but it’s not exactly the 5 minutes we currently stop for either. I also wonder how much it would cost to charge a car at home? Our electricity bill has already risen a huge amount in the last 5 years so what effect would adding a car be?!

Are there any ‘big’ electric cars?

My other problem is the size of car – quite often we need to transport 4 kids. So we need a car as minimum to have 3 seats that can accommodate high back boosters and we need to be able to turn airbags off in the front.

Some electric cars definitely look cute – in a weird space age type way – but they are definitely not family friendly. The Renault Twizy looks like it could be out of Wall-E but given it only seats two – it really wouldn’t work for us. And whilst some cars – like the Renault Zoe – do look like feasible replacements for the Polo – you have to pay considerably more if you want to avoid monthly rental charges for the battery. It really seems quite expensive.

From my initial research, it seems like 7 seater options are very thin on the ground. The space needed for the battery seems to take up the space in the boot where the two extra seats would normally go. But there certainly are some spacious 5-seater hybrid options. The Toyota Rav 4 has always seemed popular on the school run and is available as a hybrid. As is the VW Passat estate – if you have a spare £36,115.

I’m wondering that as technology advances, whether these types of cars will just become cheaper. As the market increases and more options emerge, I’m going with the theory that prices will just have to become more competitive. The government will also surely have to provide some kind of incentive beyond just charging people for owning older cars too.

It does make me a little uncomfortable that the environmentally option is tied to such a big price tag as well. If emissions really are a problem, then surely they should be making this an option that is possible for everyone?

4 thoughts on “Design: Would you drive an ‘eco’ car?”

  1. We’re in a similar position – we bought a diesel when it was touted as the ‘eco-friendly’ option but now we’re thinking of changing cars we want something more *actually* eco-friendly!! At the moment we’re weighing up hybrid vs electric – with electric cars the technology is advancing so quickly it might be better to get a second hand hybrid for now then buy electric next, but it’s finding the right hybrid at the right price. Plus there’s the issue of needing a family car as you say!

    1. The general consensus seems to be it’s too early to join the hybrid market right now. Logic would dictate that if it’s the ‘future’ they’ll get better at making them and fast!

  2. This really bothers me! We currently have a diesel car and am blown if I have a spare £50 let alone thousands to invest in a new car!

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