Vail Daily column: Greener rides |

Vail Daily column: Greener rides

Cassie Pence
Greener Pastures
Vail, CO Colorado

The first time I bought a car without my parents’ assistance, I cried. And I cried. Maybe it was the symbolic nature of the purchase – I was finally on my own. Or maybe it was the monthly payment for six years that swung open the floodgates.

Buying a car has never been fun for me. Even at age 16, when it was my dad’s money and a car was my ticket to freedom, I hated the whole song-and-dance between dealer and buyer. My dad was king of the charade, which made it even worse.

First, my dad would play disinterested, so much that it was difficult to get someone to help us on the lot. Next, he would act like the decision was up to me, which it absolutely wasn’t, making the sales guy think it was a please-my-little-girl sale. Finally, as we sat behind closed office doors in fake leather chairs ready to sign, he would pull out his best trick as a last-ditch effort to lower the final price. Sometimes, he’d stand up and throw a fake “I’m-calling-this-deal-off” bit. And one time, he accused the dealer of flirting with his high school daughter. I blushed with mortification, while my dad sat very smug as the dealer wrote a substantially lower price on a piece of paper and slid it across the desk.

Regardless of shrewd tactics, cars are expensive. Their value depreciates the minute you drive away, which furthers my disinterest. If only cars could be more like jeans, growing more valuable (and more comfortable) with age. But there comes a time in everyone’s life when you need to buy a car. For my husband and I, this time is now.

What we’re looking for in a vehicle has changed quite a bit since the teenage years. Sustainability is at the forefront of our decision-making. We’re looking for fuel efficiency. Here are three greener automobiles to consider and why, recommended by a non-car person who would rather ride a high-speed train. Note: These aren’t the latest and greatest auto show hits, like the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid (basically an electric car with an onboard gas generator that can recharge the batteries to extend the total driving range), which costs about $88,000. These are smarter car choices for real people who are taking the environment into consideration. For me, I’m hoping the car’s feel-good sustainability features will make the purchasing process a little more enjoyable.

Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI

In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency required refiners and fuel importers to cut the sulfur content of highway diesel fuel by 97 percent, from 500 parts per million to 15, radically reducing emissions. One of the results was clean-burning diesel cars, like the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI. In addition, the TDI Clean Diesel engine uses a “common rail” direct injection system to decrease up to 95 percent of all sooty emissions, according the VW Web site. But the real highlight is the fuel efficiency – 30-41 miles per gallon. Already owning a 2003 Jetta TDI, I know that the vehicle has even more potential, since my ’03 gets a whopping 44 mpg, which is why I was interested in the SportWagen in the first place.

Aesthetically, the car is sleek for a family truckster, especially with the extra-large sunroof that opens up even above the backseat. It’s roomy enough for my 6 foot 5 husband and all the gear that goes along with mountain living. The only drawback to the SportWagen is its popularity. The 2010s and 2011s are hard to find, and I’ve heard from multiple people that they’re selling for above sticker price, which starts at $24,615, plus a $650 tax credit. That said, high demand cars usually hold their value, but at 41 mpg, why would you sell it?

Nissan LEAF

If it’s good enough for cyclist Lance Armstrong, then it’s good enough for … Armstrong recently Tweeted that his Nissan LEAF has arrived (limited sales for the rest of us start December.) The LEAF is a 100 percent electric car that can travel up to 100 miles on a charge with zero emissions. I haven’t personally tested it, but in reading reviews, the LEAF handles like any other compact car. But unlike every other compact car, everything in the interior of the car is made out of recycled water bottles, and there’s even an optional solar panel that doubles as a spoiler. Now that is cool. So is the fact that the LEAF is produced in Smyrna, Tenn., a new plant that created 1,300 jobs when running at full capacity.

The LEAF is definitely a step in the right direction away from gas guzzling cars, and it’s priced competitively at $33,720 with a tax credit of up to $7,500. But the 100-mile charge inflicts too much “range anxiety” on my husband. We would really have to analyze our drive habits before seriously considering a purchase.

Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius is the original green automobile, and eco-icon with a cult-like following of very happy, satisfied drivers. It’s a hybrid, which is basically a regular car that adds an electric motor and rechargeable batteries to a gas engine. Efficiency usually increases by as much as 50 percent, and the onboard computer does all the hard work of switching between gas and electric power, according to So it’s good for those who worry that electric only is just not enough power. The 2010 Toyota Prius is the only vehicle available today to offer 50 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving, and with a base cost of $22,800, it’s also a smoking good deal. The Web site says five adults can fit comfortably in the sedan, but you really have to test-drive it to see how it feels. My sister-in-law rented one while she was visiting, we all liked it, but there was one night it didn’t turn off. This could have been, however, operator error.

Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. She and her husband, Captain Vacuum, own Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company. Contact her at

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