Choosing between an old and new vehicle for your business

August 17, 2022

Welcome to the CarbonTrail blog - On The Trail.

I'll write here to keep you up to date with our goings on, and interesting stories that come out along the way.

Let's kick things off with an interesting dive into vehicle emissions!

A CarbonTrail beta customer wrote to me last week and asked a question that I hadn't really considered before...

"I am interested in purchasing an older van, like a 1990's HiAce for deliveries. Which is the most sustainable choice for my business - new or old?"

You may think that the answer is straightforward - go for used - right? We know that is is far greener to recycle and repurpose than to go and buy something new. But things get a bit more interesting with vehicles.

Emissions Factors for Vehicles in New Zealand

Let's consider the emissions for the vehicle. According to the Emissions Factors posted by the NZ Ministry of Environment, a pre-2010 vehicle will emit roughly 10% more Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) than a post-2015 vehicle:


Terrapass states that about 75% of a vehicles lifetime emissions are associated with  driving and maintenance. It stands to reason, then, that an older vehicle emits more so it's less environmentally sound.

Well, not so fast. In some cases, it may actually be the better choice. It really comes down to a balancing act between the higher emissions of this older vehicle and the cost to the earth to manufacture a brand new vehicle.

New vehicles have far more technology in them then your average older Hiace, which means more precious metals, fabrication and logistics on top of the already high emissions costs for putting the body together. The overall impact of new vehicles, especially electric and hybrid, can be high - a Tesla actually has 65% more GHGs associated with it before it's even rolled off the line!

Which is more green, an old or new vehicle?

The tables start to turn, though, when you get out on the road...

For this customer's use case, deliveries, it's likely that they'll be clocking up some serious miles delivering their goods around Auckland. Remembering that 75% of the emissions associated with the vehicle are emitted "on the job", as it were, that inefficiency has a multiplier effect, which makes it far less green in the long run.

That means that a less efficient van is likely to be emitting more over its useful lifetime for this purpose than a newer, more efficient ICE or even Hybrid vehicle. Add in the fact that you'll likely be idling the vehicle in one of Auckland's famous jams - that tailpipe is likely to be contributing more negatively to the air quality for citizens.

Based on our research, we believe that a newer vehicle would likely have a reduced impact on the environment over its useful lifespan.

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