Buying a Car in California

The state of California leads the way for the rest of the United States when it comes to environmentalism and air quality. It has the toughest automotive emissions controls of all states and after the U.S. Government balked at signing the Kyoto Protocol, California enacted Assembly Bill 32 which mandated hefty reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite this, people have been slow to buy hybrid cars. As long as gas was relatively cheap, Californians could pay lip service to environment and still drive their gas guzzlers. Americans pay a third of what Europeans pay for gasoline, primarily because they don’t pay the “true cost” of gasoline. Americans go crazy when the price of gas gets above US$3.00 per gallon but even at that price it is not covering the cost of ensuring supply (Iraq War) or the full cost of cleaning up the environment.

2010 Toyota Prius
2010 Toyota Prius
It’s been said that depending on where you live in the United States, there are different questions that define you. In the Northeast, with its surplus of great universities, it’s “Where did you go to school?” In the South with its emphasis on family heritage, it’s “Who are your people?” and in southern California, with its car culture and extensive freeway system, it’s often “What kind of car do you drive?” After being out of the country for a year, our family tried valiantly for 3 months to get by with one car, but the demands of an active family’s schedule were too much for a single vehicle so we bought a second car. We bought a hybrid Toyota Prius for environmental considerations but we got an added bonus as well. 

We had long ago decided to buy a hybrid Toyota Prius when we returned back to the United States even though it takes too long for the gas savings to offset the hybrid vehicle’s larger price tag (A hybrid gets about twice the miles per gallon as standard cars and costs about 30% more). This economic equation means that you really have to pay more if you want to be green.

What’s nice is that after having been out of the country for a year I have seen more acceptance of hybrid and electric vehicles and there are many more on the road here in northern California. I think it has crossed a tipping point where now a hybrid is almost like a status symbol. At dinner parties people make sure to insert the adjective “hybrid” when talking about their new car and there are more hybrid SUV (sports utility vehicle) options available now. The first day our Toyota Prius was sitting in the driveway, three neighbors stopped by to admire and praise it.

While it’s nice to have a car that is starting to become somewhat cool, I don’t want to lose sight of our environment motives for buying it. It’s good that hybrid cars are becoming more mainstream here in California because it means that the rest of the USA is not far behind.

Read more:
Nano – India’s contribution to the environment?
Ride like a local in Metro Manila
A different kind of hybrid from Toyota and Japan Rail

About the author

Jason Malinowski
Jason is back from living abroad with his family for a year, volunteering in Peru and travelling around the Mediterranean. He's originally from California and has lived most of his life in the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles and San Diego.
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  • I think Californians could teach Texans a thing or two about environmentalism then :)

  • Interesting post! So is public transport not popular in California then?

  • Sean Oliver

    Hi Jason. Great post. California is definitely a major car-culture state. Illinois is too, but to a lesser extent due to the public transit available in the Chicagoland area.

    I think one thing that gets overlooked in the whole hybrid/electri car discussion, is the fact that any internal combustion engine that can only transport 4-6 passengers is still really inefficient. Public transit is by far the most environmentally friendly way to travel, but Americans are so individualistic and independence-minded, and hung up on the idea that driving is the natural and normal way to get around, that public transit receives a ridiculously low amount of funding, with the exception of a few major cities. That being said, something like 1/6 of the US economy is somehow related to the auto industry, so it’s not likely to change anytime soon.

  • Ana,
    Most people would agree with you. Texas has benefitted greatly from the oil industry, so it is tough to be green when it hurts your wallet.

  • Liz,
    Correct. Rapid transit is not as popular in California as say New York, Boston or Washington DC.

  • Sean,
    You are correct and it will be hard to change, given our dependence (some would say addiction) to cars and oil. It doesn’t help that by not paying the true cost of gasoline (the price we pay does not cover the Iraq war or the environmental cleanup), we are in effect subsidizing it and make it easier to have the luxury of being “individualistic and independence-minded”.
    Thanks for commenting.

  • Congratulations on the Prius. Besides environmentalism, buying hybrid is the socio-politically responsible purchase. You win for the environment, lower dependence on foreign oil, (critical since 9/11), save tax dollars from funding wars…..the list goes on.

  • Kim,
    The socio-political angle is indeed important. It feels good to lessen our reliance on the political status quo.
    Thanks for commenting.