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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Perfection? 1966 Volvo Nears 3 Million Miles

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One of the more familiar perceptions of green vehicles is that the energy they require to build outweighs any benefits they may have in use.

The reality couldn't be more different, but there's still plenty to be said for getting the most out of the car you have, and extending its usable life.

Some people take that to extremes. Among them is Irv Gordon, a 73-year old retired science teacher from New York State and Guinness World Record holder for most miles driven by a single owner, in a non-commercial vehicle.

How many miles? Currently, Gordon's 1966 Volvo P1800 coupe has seen 2.99 million miles pass under its wheels, with the 3-millionth mile expected some time in September.

Gordon bought the car new all the way back in 1966, and loved it so much his first weekend with the car already clocking up enough distance to require its first service on the Monday. He's had the car serviced with religious regularity, and over the past 15 years it's been looked after by the same Volvo technician, Nino Gambino at Volvoville in Huntingdon, NY.

While the P1800 has no doubt consumed its fair share of consumables in that time, as well as oil and other fluids.

And gasoline, for that matter. If we assume the Volvo is capable of 25 mpg, 3 million miles works out at 120,000 gallons of gas.

If you were to pick just one reason that Gordon's record will likely never be beaten, it's the cost of gas. At today's prices alone, assuming they never budge from an average $3.65 per gallon, those 120,000 gallons would cost you a mere $438,000. We dread to think what another four or five decades would add to that figure...

Re-use, or buy new?

We think Gordon's story is terrific, and envy anyone who can happily drive the same car for as long as he has. It is perhaps the ultimate tale of re-using what you have.

But without wishing to dampen his achievements--seriously, we're hugely impressed--there still comes a point when buying a newer, more efficient car is the greener thing to do.

According to M.A. Weiss et al., in their 2000 report from the MIT Energy Laboratory, On the Road in 2020: A Lifecycle Analysis of New Automotive Technologies, 75 percent of a vehicle’s lifetime carbon emissions come from the fuel it burns.

With Gordon's car having lived several times the lifespan of an average vehicle, fuel use will have contributed an even greater proportion of its overall carbon emissions--as well as other, non greenhouse gas pollutants.

Next to that, the large gas mileage savings of a newer vehicle and the relatively tiny environmental impact of its production make it a hugely greener option than continuing with the same car.

Not that we begrudge Gordon's efforts, and we're certainly not suggesting he should have sold his record-breaking car a long time ago.

He is, after all, just one driver in one car, and the combined efforts of millions of hybrid vehicles have offset his own vehicle usage many thousands of times over. And much as we applaud hybrids, no company has yet released one quite as pretty as a Volvo P1800 coupe.

But if anyone ever tells you it's greener to keep using old cars rather than drive an efficient, new car, tell 'em it's not even true for the highest-mileage driver on earth...

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Comments (28)
  1. Fun article, and a smart (but sensitive) analysis. Though I find the Porsche Panamera hybrid is as pretty as any car on the road.
     
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  2. That, and the Tesla S.
     
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  3. "But without wishing to dampen his achievements--seriously, we're hugely impressed--there still comes a point when buying a newer, more efficient car is the greener thing to do."

    That is a slippery slope, since ever year brings more efficient vehicles. By that logic, one would have to trade-in and buy a new vehicle every single year, which is not cost effective, not to mention that it would actually hurt the environment, since a used car from the trade or private sale would now be put into circulation.
     
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  4. The key to that quote is the part where it states, "there still comes a point."

    You obviously missed the point.
     
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  5. I do not think so.
     
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  6. If manufacturing a vehicle only accounts for 6-15% of the total lifetime emission, then keeping an old vehicles isn't all that efficient...
     
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  7. Manufacturing consumes 20-30 percent of the total lifetime consumption. Keeping an old vehicle, in most cases, is a very good "green" choice, especially if you limit trips.
     
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  8. @George: Source for that statistic, please?

    The MIT Energy Lab study that's linked in the article text says something quite different: Extraction of the raw materials that make up the vehicle is 4 percent of lifetime carbon, and only 2 percent is due to the manufacturing + assembly process.

    So I'd like to see a source for your "20 to 30 percent" figure. Feel free to drop the citation into Comments, here.
     
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  9. I believe the MIT study is for the car factory alone. I've recently heard that it was at least 20% in an article about problems with safety in Brazilian-made cars, and that if you take in the energy of mining, smelting, shiping oil to chemical plants, it approaches 30%. I would assume it is higher for Asian imports, which import far more raw materials and require long distance shipping.
     
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  10. @George: I'd very much like to see that study, and compare it to the MIT one, if you can find me a link, a title, a citation, or anything else I can use to track it down.
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  11. http://www.triplepundit.com/2007/07/askpablo-time-to-get-a-new-car/

    This is kind of a good review. If you drive an awful car, like an H2 and trade if for a new Prius, it will still take three years to "break even" on fuel use. If you drive a car that gets decent mileage, like Mr Gordon's 25 MPG Volvo, it will take, I'd guess, about double that, or six years.

    These complex questions are really hard to calculate, but I still think that if you have a 25mpg or greater car, and keep it, you're at least competitive in fuel use with that new car, and possibly better. If you just cut your driving a bit, you can make up any difference, if there is one.
     
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  12. Good article indeed!
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  13. @George,

    I don't believe that 20% is true. But let us say if it is true. What if the new car is 4x more efficient? 25MPG vs. an Electric car that is 100 MPGe? Which one is better?

    Even at 2x the efficiency, that additional 20% cost to build a new car can easily be covered with the additional efficiency.
     
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  14. I think when you're dealing with a full-electric or plug-in hybrid, the calculation changes. With a high mileage gas car or even a conventional hybrid, I'm not sure trading cars is going to reduce carbon emissions.
     
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  15. Well, with today's technolgy, he can buy a new plugin instead...
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  16. I'd be REALLY impressed if Irv converted it to run on electricity.
     
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  17. When it comes to the 3 Rs, autos don't apply. Why? It's called air pollution. Older vehicles pollute exponentially more than newer one. I heard that in Japan, any vehicle with an engine older than 10 years is not allowed on the road (would love to know if this is true). But it is true that older cars lack pollution controls - and even when they pass their smog checks, there is simply no comparison with newer cars. The best R is to reduce - as in the amount of driving, then Recycle. But Reuse is clearly inappropriate.
     
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  18. Hi Irvin,

    To my knowledge, it's legal to drive cars over 10 years old in Japan, but their roadworthiness and emissions checks are very strict and by the time a car reaches 10 yrs the chances of it passing such a yearly check become all the less likely. So by process of elimination (literally), the majority of vehicles in Japan tend to be relatively young.
     
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  19. It seems to me that NO ONE thought of the excellent gas mileage he was getting all along. I had a 1964 P1800 with a 108 HP engine and the dual carburators and consistently got 35 MPG or better...5 speed electric overdrive made that possible...Compare that to our newest vehicles barely getting that!
     
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  20. Beautiful car. I'm surprised that it's gas. I thought only diesels had the potential to make it past the million mile mark. How much of the car is original? I mean, there'd have to be significant servicing every so often, like rebuilding the engine, worn suspension systems, and so forth. Still, another car I'd love to see reborn with modern lightweight materials and an electric drive system.
     
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  21. Very cool and the car looks mint -- but the amount of pollution and CO2 that thing has put into the air for decades is staggering.

    Garage it as a museum piece or drive it to car shows in the summer.

    But for heavens sake, buy a safer, modern car with a catalytic converter... Or an EV.
     
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  22. A new car that got the same mileage, and 25-35 mpg, which is better than the average for the US, and better than a Prius if all highway, would put out the same amount of CO2.
     
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  23. there isnt a car in the world that cannot go any distance - provided it has not been mashed in an accident. Repair and replace and things live forever.

    My volvo is a vehicle that consumes hundreds of dollars in repairs yearly. Over 16 years that has now totaled $4,000. Without that, it would have been scrap a decade ago.

    But, it is worth $800 and still gets 27-32mpg. It's a car of economical means.
     
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  24. I have a '73, with catalytic converters intact. 160,000 miles, and going strong.
     
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  25. Let me see, 47 years, 3 million miles. My calculator states an average of over 63,000 miles per year? 120,000 gallons of gasoline means 2,280,000 lbs. pollution? And this report is in this website for what "green" aspect? Sorry, but I just do not get this. I have a 2001 vehicle that now has 79,000 miles.
     
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  26. Ramon - did you read ANY of the article?
     
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  27. I bought an used Hyundai gets with 70000 kms on the odometer, I got it retrofitted to run CNG. Not. only I got t cheap but my fuel costs are half that of what I would have spent on petrol. Also retrofitment cost me only rs 20000
     
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  28. Is it green?

    How about not driving over 65,000 miles every year for 47 years! That would be more green. 15,000 miles per year for 47 years would only total 705,000 miles, and 15,000 is on the high side of avarage.
     
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