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Passenger cars are still the most popular transportation mode. In 2014 nearly 68 millon were produced globally. They’re not only a vital part of our economy and our personal lives but also an important social and cultural tool, used to present a certain image and status – real or imagined.

Our entrenched reliance on – and attachment to – this method of travel means that, even if we shift away from such widespread car ownership, we need to change our perception of what cars are if we want to mitigate their high environmental costs.

This doesn’t just mean moving to electric vehicles. Just at the resource extraction level, roughly five tons of materials are needed to produce a 1.2 ton car, creating ten tons of effluents and 2.5 tons of emissions. Processing these materials into components, assembling and distributing the cars around the world – and then using, servicing and disposing of them generates even more emissions. In total, a typical mid-size car is responsible for around 17 tons of CO₂.

The total embodied emissions for alternatively fuelled vehicles such as hybrids, electric and fuel-cell vehicles may even be higher than normal internal combustion engines – even when they produce no tail-pipe emissions (based on the as-yet unpublished study). This is perhaps because such technologies are more energy intensive to produce due to the materials that compose them.

New ideas needed

So what is the alternative to the current system? If car travel is going to remain common, perhaps we need to be smarter about how we build and use them. Our cars currently spend 92% of their time parked – and, when driving, most of their weight is used only to carry one person most of the time.

Cars could be produced in fewer numbers, to be smaller, longer-lasting and shared by more people. And instead of focusing on turning out as many new cars with relatively short lifespans as possible, manufacturers could provide more services to keep vehicles on the road for longer and deal with their disposal.

The role of car designers could also change. First by designing simpler basic cars, without “gimmicks” such as mood lights or massaging seats. Timeless lines rather than subject to the fads of the day. Instead of working on one project after another, the designer could be involved in an upgrading process that would see each model evolve through re-manufacturing in a more direct interaction with consumers.

Other changes in the features of the cars themselves could also produce more sustainable models. For example, safety standards today are driven by electronic systems such as collision-avoidance and pedestrian-detection systems. These could be upgraded during service life more easily than physical features. Based on my own (as yet unpublished) research, I believe that if these systems prove to be highly reliable, there will be no need for low-speed impact structures, reducing the use of materials.

This model might be easier to move to than it first sounds. So-called millennials are less interested in cars than previous generations, applying for driver’s licences later in life and more likely to live in highly congested cities where access to public transport is easier. They are also used to sharing or renting services, for example with taxi-hailing or liftsharing apps such as Uber. Owning a car, on the other hand, is seen as an expensive liability.

Industry turning point

The car manufacturing industry is also at a cross-roads. Powertrain options are multiplying, driverless technology is poised to make big changes and non-automotive companies including Google want a share of the market. As materials become more expensive, relying on cars with relatively shorter lifespans to flood the market is not in anyone’s interest. Not even the car makers, who at best can only make 5% annual profit.

The current business model may not survive in the longer term. It may naturally make more sense for manufacturers to build and service cars as long-lasting rental products. Some electric vehicle manufacturers have already introduced rental schemes for their batteries, which are likely to need replacing far quicker than the rest of the car.

Extending the lifespan and the product life cycle will impact on production. Fewer cars means that the return on investment may take longer. But it could also mean less need to update costly manufacturing tools – and factories could be made more modular and flexible to produce different types of cars in one assembly line. Plants could be more localised to meet the different needs of the different megacities of the future. And redundant assembly workers could be retrained into servicing and maintenance or other car-related services.

This model would require us to think differently about cars, redefining terms such as “old” and “used” and educating consumers, especially those from older generations who are unfamiliar with sharing systems. Not all cars will survive into the future, but if we are better stewards of what we have now and learn to cherish products in a more subjective way than the market does, cars can definitely last for longer.


New tire brands you've never heard of.

Of course, unless you took delivery of a brand new car yesterday, we are all driving around on used tires.

If you haven't replaced your car tires recently, your wallet may be in for a surprise. Tires can be pricey, even if your car is an 'econobox.' You could be tempted to save money by buying used tires. Doing so can be a safe choice, if the tires are in good condition and have a side wall name that you recognise.

Garages, junkyards and sometimes tire shops and even internet tire shops will sell tires that are used but still have plenty of tread on them and are not showing signs of obvious wear, as an alternative to consumers who experience sticker shock over replacing their worn tires.

 It's not uncommon for these tires to be priced at half the cost of new ones, and sometimes less. Tire shops and mechanics may also sell tires that are brand new but manufactured more than a year ago at small discounts of 10 percent to 15 percent. Discounts will vary widely depending on the tire's age, condition and type, and the business selling the tire, among other factors. No matter how appealing a discounted tire may be, consumers should be cautious about buying either gently used or older unused tires.

Tires are made of rubber compounds, which age over time even if they are unused or barely used, but there is no agreement on exactly how long tires can provide safe transportation before the rubber deteriorates to the point where it fails. Automakers' and tire manufacturers' recommendations for tire replacement, regardless of wear, range from five to 10 years, depending on the conditions. Exposure to heat, sunlight, humidity and salt air are just a few of the factors that affect how quickly rubber compounds in a tire break down.

Due to these issues, it makes good sense for anyone buying tires, even consumers buying brand-new ones, to check when the tire was manufactured who it was manufactured by and consider refusing any tire that was not manufactured within the last year. Determining the age of a tire is quite easy. Tires manufactured after 1999 have a four-digit code on the side wall that represents the week and year the tire was made. For example, a tire with the code "DOT 4211" was made in the 42nd week of 2011.

The biggest problem when buying used tires, even those that appear to be brand new or in very good condition, is that you don't know their history. Their life span may have been diminished in numerous ways such as by hitting curbs or potholes, getting punctured, becoming exposed to high temperatures or enduring harsh weather. You have to rely on the judgment of your honest independent technician to make your choice.

There are several reputable manufacturers of high quality tires. Michelin springs to mind as the inventor of the radial tire and Bridgestone as the manufacturer that produced the Blizzak winter tire that made tire studs obsolete. On the other end of the scale, are the brand new tires bearing names that you have never heard of. Mostly Chinese tires, they are difficult to balance, are sometimes oval in shape and wear out pretty fast.

If you are in the process of changing your car for a newer, or even new one you may not want to shell out $1000 or more for new tires.

In which case, I would opt for a set of good quality used
tires from a well known brand, rather than a set of unknown, unrecognised, new tires.

Other blogs worth reading

40) Treat your car battery with respect, or it can kill you.

41) In praise of the good old station wagon.

44) Future shock, the unending complication of electronic devices in you car.

45) Overheating engines.

47)  The case for annual safety inspections.

50) Rusty brake rotors (or discs)- no easy solution.

51) The piston engine is going to be with us for a very, very long time.

52) Avoiding rip offs in the car repair business.

58) Electronic brake force distribution.

61) Hydrogen vs electricity - no contest.

63) Why flushing brake oil makes sense.

64) When should I change my oil?

66) W/W antifreeze and long term warranties.

67) Nitrogen

68) Recirc A/C

70) Electric car radiation danger

71) Fuel saving devices that don't

75) Scheduling appointments.

78 Modern design of alternators and batteries.

79) Autumn leaves.