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It’s My Way or the SmartWay

Everybody is making the “green” claim these days, and it’s hard to know who’s for real and who’s merely using the environment as a marketing tool without taking the steps to back up the claim. There are agencies that can proclaim things certified organic, but how do you know if one car is really and “greener” than the next?

Luckily, the EPA has come up with a system to designate “good environmental performers” called SmartWay. The agency measures each vehicle’s air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and gives it a score. Those that score the best -- about the top 20 percent -- are awarded the SmartWay designation. The “best of the best” are given extra credit and named SmartWay Elite vehicles.

The cleanest vehicles rate a 10 on the air pollution scale, meaning that they emit no tailpipe emissions, like the all-electric Nissan Leaf. It doesn’t even have a tailpipe. The greenhouse gas score is based on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the vehicle. Cars with better gas mileage burn less fuel over the course of a mile than cars with rotten gas mileage. Less fuel burned is less CO2 in the air, so cars with better fuel economy get higher scores.

The requirements for 2011 and later vehicles are on the EPA web site, as is an easy-to use widget for finding SmartWay and SmartWay Elite vehicles. You can look up the greenest vehicles by state (mostly because California has a lot more alternative-fuel options that most other states right now) and get a list that can be sorted alphabetically, or by fuel type, engine size, fuel economy, and more. There are dozens to choose from, and you can compare up to three directly.

When you’re ready to buy a new car, SmartWay or otherwise, don’t forget you can Research New Autos on this web site.