Reduce, reuse, recycle: words to save the Earth by. But how can you apply this ethos in your driveway? The shiniest new battery electric vehicles will draw a lot of attention from your neighbors, but a humble pre-owned Toyota Prius might offset more negative consequences than plopping down cash on a new GMC Hummer EV. And not just in terms of carbon emissions, but also to your fiscal wellbeing.
Consider this: Every new car produced carries a carbon and materials penalty from its production and transport. It can take years for a green car’s reduced “well to wheel” emissions to zero out that figure—not as long as the haters will have you think, but it’s a non-zero number just the same. Many green cars also lose considerable value the moment they’re driven off the lot. Buying used helps with both issues. Plus, in some states, you still get carpool lane access, depending on the car and its age.
It’s not all sunshine and carbon-absorbing roses, though. Geography greatly affects availability, battery degradation is a minor but real issue, and there are significant infrastructure challenges. Many older EVs are not able to handle modern fast-charging tech, so pack a lunch. Want to refuel a Toyota Mirai with hydrogen outside of greater L.A. or San Francisco? Good luck!
But with a little forethought and some careful shopping, a used green car can give your impact on the climate crisis an extra boost while saving you money in the process. We scoured national pre-owned availability and pricing using CarFax’s classifieds and came up with some ideas for you—from economical, practical transportation to some surprisingly fun choices. But our guiding principle here is bang for the buck.
A quick note: Many of the cars listed here have battery packs, which can be fairly expensive to replace if they’re damaged or degraded. A pre-purchase inspection by a dealer or specialist can help avoid expensive issues down the road.
Green Choices for Everyday Use
2004-2009 Toyota Prius: Drive Beige to Be Green
We love horsepower as much as brilliant engineering. Our 2004 Car of the Year packs the latter into a convenient and affordable package.
- Fantastic gas mileage
- Cheap to buy and cheap to run
- Spare parts (and battery packs) galore
- It’s a great hybrid but still uses gasoline
- Lacks modern conveniences
- As fun to drive as a bag of wet gym socks
Average Price: $3,000-$13,000
2016-2017 Nissan Leaf EV: Value Champ
The Leaf’s limited range and funky looks make it a budget-friendly choice with hatchback utility and smooth, quiet driving manners.
- Geek (and green) cred
- Cheaper to recharge than a gas station coffee
- Affordable EV entry point
- Robot-frog looks aren’t for everyone
- Real-world range limits it to commuter duty
- Risk of costly battery pack replacement
Price Range: $7,000-$15,000
2011-2016 Chevrolet Volt PHEV: Greening the Distance
We called our 2011 Car of the Year “a car of the future you can drive today.” A decade on, that’s still true—and it’s a smart buy.
- Drives like an EV until gas engine needed
- Long overall range
- Way more fun than a Prius
- Tight rear seating
- Pack light; there’s not much cargo room
- Still needs gas engine maintenance
Price Range: $5,000-$16,000
2013-2020 Ford Fusion Energi PHEV: Conventional, Not Boring
Ford prioritized EV range and drivability for the Fusion Energi, and those are priorities we can get behind.
- Convenient sedan form factor
- Good all-electric range
- Gets up and goes (for a PHEV)
- Less common, more expensive than the hybrid model
- When the battery’s depleted, mileage is mediocre
- Not much junk fits in trunk
Price Range: $7,000-$30,000+
2005-2012 Ford Escape Hybrid: Built Ford Tough
Millions of miles of fleet duty have proven the original Escape Hybrid (and its Mercury Mariner Hybrid twin) to be rugged, reliable, and reasonably efficient.
- Value factor is high
- NYC taxi duty proves durability of Prius-like powertrain
- Reasonably efficient for an early hybrid SUV
- Many have high miles
- Watch out for ex-fleet and -taxi examples
- Wasn’t all that fresh in 2005
Price Range: $4,000-$13,000+
Cadillac Escalade/Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon Hybrids: Big Green(ish) Machines
Expensive and misunderstood when new, at used prices these big SUVs can save buyers who need full-size capability a lot at the pump.
- A big, honkin’ SUV for full-sized lives
- Legit 30 percent (or more) fuel savings over non-hybrids
- Depreciated pricing compounds savings at the pump
- Only green compared to a non-hybrid
- Fuel economy still lousy
- Do you really need something this big?
Price Range: $8,000-$25,000
2018-2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: So Long as You Love Me
You would think there would be more of these, and there will be. But if you want a used plug-in-hybrid-SUV, this is your best bet.
- Want a used compact PHEV SUV? This is it.
- Solid numbers: 22 miles of EV range, 74 mpg-e
- Has enough space to do SUV things
- Disappointingly dated interior
- Oldest models are still relatively new, expensive
- Not that efficient when the battery is depleted
2013-2017 Ford C-Max Energi PHEV: Not a Penalty Box
Ford’s very first PHEV has a lot to offer, with a great combination of driving manners, utility, and EV-only range—at very attractive prices.
- Surprisingly fun to drive
- Great utility and all-around visibility
- 20 miles of EV-only range
- Relatively poor fuel economy when battery depleted
- Less cargo room than regular hybrid version
- Looks like an abnormally swollen hatchback
Price Range: $5,000-$20,000
Green Cars That Are Actually Fun
2010-2016 Honda CR-Z Hybrid: CRaZy Fun
The CR-Z didn’t live up to contemporary expectations, but in retrospect we can appreciate its focus on fun—and its superbly slick gearbox.
- Honest-to-goodness manual transmission available
- Very rare breed: a fun green car
- Funky appeal could translate to collectability
- It’s no CRX, and that is not a compliment
- CVT model is a total bummer
- Uncommon, to say the least
Price Range: $5,000-$16,000
2017-2019 Volkswagen E-Golf: The Golf of EVs
Almost everything we like about the Golf, baked into one green package—and you don’t have to be a die-hard EV nerd to understand its appeal.
- Looks, feels like a Golf
- 2017+ models have decent 125-mile EPA range
- Few typical EV driving quirks
- Less range than contemporary alternatives
- Eco mode is excruciating
- 0-60 time of 9+ seconds. Fun-ish?
Price Range: $13,000-$25,000
2017-2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV: The First Affordable, Proper EV
The Bolt is the first mass-market EV to come close to the sweet spot of price and range. Used ones offer even more return on investment.
- First affordable long-range EV
- 238 miles of real-world range
- Drives like a hot hatch
- Be sure it’s had battery-recall
- Goofy styling
- Old Bolts can’t abide fast charging
Price Range: $12,000-$35,000
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