Sustainability Recipe: Fuel-Efficient Cars

November 26, 2017

Cornell Campus Sustainability Office | Fall 2018

What practical things can we do in our daily lives to protect our living environment, save money, and contribute to good jobs for people in our community?

We’ve done the research alongside our partner (formerly) Get Your GreenBack Tompkins, and these 13 steps in the areas of local food, building energy, waste reduction and transportation are a great place to start. The Sustainability Life Recipes series will focus on ways to save money, go green, and learn about resources to support your journey. Have an idea? Send us a note at 


Did you know that an average driver will save more than $4,000 over five years in fuel savings by upgrading from an average car to a hybrid or electric vehicle, and reduce their carbon pollution by over three tons a year?

While hybrids and electric vehicles typically cost more than their gas counterparts, there are currently federal tax credits for up to $7,500 for those who purchase these vehicles. NYSERDA also offers a rebate of up to $2,000. These incentives combined with the fuel savings can make up for the additional cost, and end up saving you money in the long run.

So if you can’t go car-free by walking and bikingriding the buscarpooling, or Carsharing, the best thing you can do is drive an efficient vehicle. Read on to learn how.

HOW TO CHOOSE is an excellent place to learn about high-mileage vehicles, including all-electric vehicles, hybrids and plug-ins. There you can compare models, calculate fuel savings, and learn how to drive more efficiently. NYSERDA also has a calculator to help you compare potential savings.

Sources:, GYGB modelling. *Compared to average new 2015 car. Based on driving 15,000 miles a year, $2.50 a gallon. **Depending on the source of electricity. 0 grams/mile for electricity from renewable sources, 80 grams/mile for electricity from our local utility (compared to 480 grams/mile for gas-powered vehicles).


  • For used cars, there are many local dealers that can help you find a fuel-efficient model that works for you. There are a number of online marketplaces, including Craigslist where you can look.

  • For new cars, check out our two local dealers.

  1. Maguire carries several models of all-electric vehicles (Chevy Volt, Kia Soul, Nissan Leaf, and Volkswagon e-Golf), as well as a number of plug-in hybrids and hybrids.

  2. Honda of Ithaca also carries a plug-in hybrid, and several other fuel-efficient models.


While everyone who drives should consider upgrading their vehicle to cut down on fuel use, people who drive a lot (say, over 15,000 miles a year) and those who are in the market for a new vehicle are the best candidates for a fuel-efficient car.

  • If you mostly use your car for local trips, commutes and errands, then an electric vehicle will work for you.

  • If you regularly need your car for trips over 100 miles, then you may want to consider a hybrid.


  1. What's the difference between a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, and an all electric vehicle? A hybrid contains an internal combustion motor (run on gasoline or diesel) and an electric motor powered by a battery. The battery charges automatically during normal car use and does not require being plugged in. A plug-in hybrid, however, does require plugging in the vehicle to charge the battery. An all-electric vehicle only has an electric battery and thus requires no fuel. It must be charged regularly.

  2. How long does it take to charge an EV's battery? Between 4-20 hours, depending on the outlet and the model of the car.

  3. Where can I charge my electric vehicle? A map of charging stations can be found here and here.

  4. How much does it cost to charge an EV? On average, EV batteries can power a car for 100 miles with 30 kWh of electricity. At 11 cents a kWh, that's $3.30 for 100 miles. 

  5. Since electricity is made from coal, etc, aren’t cars that run on electricity just as polluting as gas-powered ones? No. Plug-in cars reduce greenhouse gas emissions and most other pollutants compared with other vehicle types. 

  6. Even if I don't buy a fuel-efficient vehicle, are there things I can do to improve my gas mileage? Absolutely. Regular gas or diesel models can get you mileage over 40 miles per gallon, especially if you use smart-driving techniques.

Read more FAQs here.


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