Understanding Alternative Fuels

In the simplest of terms, an alternative fueled vehicle is any vehicle that does not run on gasoline or diesel. Instead, its fuel comes from a non-petroleum based source – like natural gas, corn or another plant-based byproduct. Because most of these resources are renewable and produced domestically, the cited benefits are far ranging: leading to reduced dependency on foreign imports, extended oil supplies and reduced emissions.


This guide examines two of today’s more popular alternative fuel options: E85 Ethanol and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). Read on to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of each option.


E85 Ethanol

Ethanol fuel is an alcohol-based fuel composed of fermented and distilled starch crops. (e.g. corn). It’s important to note that this not a new technology.  In fact, about one-third of all gasoline currently sold in the United States contains some amount of ethanol. And most cars are capable of using a mixture that contains as much as 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline.


Advantages of E85 Ethanol: What makes an E85 engine standout is that the mixture is mainly ethanol based, with 85% coming from ethanol and 15% coming from conventional gasoline. This not only reduces the United States’ dependency on foreign oil, it stretches the earth’s current supply of oil (which is not renewable) and results in lower emissions.


Disadvantages of E85 Ethanol: Opponents of ethanol based fuel point to the fact that ethanol production requires the burning of petroleum based products to plant crops and operate refineries – which of course would seem to offset any environmental benefits. Additionally, vehicles using E85 get worse fuel efficiency when compared to their gasoline counterparts. E85 is also hard to find, with only about 1 percent of all the gas stations in the United States offering E85.


Because ethanol engines are not a new technology, there are a number of cars on the roadways currently capable of running on E85. Known as Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFV, these cars include:

  • Ford Focus FFV
  • Chevrolet Malibu FFV
  • GMC Terrain E85 Flex Fuel
  • Ford Ranger E85 FFV


Compressed Natural Gas 

Another alternative fuel that is slowly beginning to see increased popularity in the mainstream marketplace is Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). But even though automakers like Honda are touting these clean fuel alternatives as the next big thing in the world of green energy, it’s important to note that this is not a new technology. Instead manufacturers have been producing cars capable of running on natural gas as far back as the 1930s.


Advantages of CNG: Low costs and cleaner emissions are two of the primary advantages of CNG. Not only does natural gas cost about a third of gasoline, but it burns much cleaner, resulting in reduced carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Search For Your Next Green Car

Our Fuel Economy Search helps you find a car by minimum Air Pollution Score, Greenhouse Gas Score, and Fuel Economy desired.


Disadvantages of CNG: The major disadvantage of CNG is availability. In truth, natural gas fueling stations are hard to find; and in some areas, CNG is not available at all, even in the form of an at home fueling station.


Even though CNG is not a new technology, it has not been until recently that automakers have begun producing these vehicles for the general public. Examples of today’s modern CNG powered vehicle includes:

  • Honda Civic GX CNG
  • Chevrolet Silverado 2500 CNG
  • Dodge Ram 2500 CNG


Since their introduction to the marketplace, SUVs have offered the appeal of cargo space, passenger room and off-road capability. And now, due to an innovation in technology, lighter frames, and more compact designs, some SUVs are beginning to add the benefits of fuel economy to their list of advantages


Below you’ll find our listing of the five most fuel efficient SUVs on today’s market. Whether using hybrid technology or smaller engines with plenty of punch, this list of SUVs will help you save without sacrificing space, drivability or cargo space.


Nissan Juke

  • 2012 EPA Estimates: 27 City/32 Highway

Small and compact, the Nissan Juke offers some of the best fuel economy in its class. While many may define this funky little car as more of a hatchback than a SUV, its five seat design and cargo space, help to solidify its place on the SUV/Crossover market.


Lexus RX 450h

  • 2012 EPA Estimates: 32 City/28 Highway

Boasting power, acceleration and fuel economy, the Lexus RX 450h treats car buyers to a luxury driving experience, while offering the appeal of being eco-friendly. This Hybrid SUV, coming complete with a host of standard luxury features, also boasts the type of interior refinement not often found in other hybrids.


Ford Escape Hybrid

  • 2012 EPA Estimates: 30 City/27 Highway

As one of the best-selling SUVs of all time, the Ford Escape is a safe choice for the car buyer looking for that combination of room, comfort and styling. Add in a hybrid engine that has resulted in this being the most fuel efficient SUV in its class, and you will be hard-pressed to find a better option on the SUV marketplace.


Toyota Highlander Hybrid

  • 2012 EPA Estimates: 28 City/28 Highway

With its large interior and impressively powerful engine, it may be hard to believe that this SUV offers superior fuel efficiency. Boasting a third row of seats, the Highlander offers the driving dynamics of a sedan, but with the cargo space and ride height you would expect from a midsize SUV.


Hyundai Tucson

  • 2012 EPA Estimates: 23 City/31 Highway

For price, affordability and fuel economy without sacrificing room and driving experience, the Hyundai Tucson offers it all. Capable of seating up to five passengers and with a number of interior features, the Tucson is a great SUV that just so happens to be fuel efficient.

Types of Fuel Efficient Vehicles

The definition of the fuel efficient car is changing. At one time, consumers were taught that the most efficient way to save at the pump was to invest in a hybrid. However, modern technology has changed the landscape and made room for a number of practical options. Below is a listing of some of the more popular and practical types of fuel efficient vehicles.


Gas Powered

Your car does not need an electric motor to offer maximum fuel efficiency.

In fact, MSN.com  just released a listing of five gas powered cars that average over 40 MPG on the highway. Even if the car you are thinking about buying is not one these mega misers, there are a couple of key considerations that can help you save, including:


  • Four-Cylinder vs. V6

The general rule of thumb is that the smaller the engine the better the fuel economy. Of course, when you do choose a smaller engine, you may also be sacrificing things like speed and power.


  • Standard vs. Automatic

Not only do automatic transmissions increase sticker price, they also increase what you pay at the pump – meaning that if you want to save, a standard transmission may be your best choice.



Not all hybrids are created equal. Different types of hybrid cars use different technologies – the following are two of the most common examples:


  • Strong Hybrids

These cars have separate gasoline and electric engines; and depending on driving conditions, these engines either work together or separately to power your vehicle. Some examples of strong hybrid cars include the Toyota Prius and Nissan Altima Hybrid


  • Power Assist Hybrids

In a power assist hybrid engine, the electric motor never operates alone. Instead, the gasoline engine is always engaged, and the electric engine is used to complement its power. The Honda Civic Hybrid is one example of a power assist hybrid.


Other Fuel Efficient Choices

As our technology expands, so has the choice in fuel efficient technologies. A few additional fuel efficient options include:


  • Clean Diesel

With many newer model luxury cars being offered with a clean diesel option, clean diesel engines are quickly becoming a popular choice among car buyers looking for better fuel efficiency without sacrificing room, power and comfort. On average, diesel engines are more powerful and fuel-efficient than similar-sized gasoline engines (about 30-35% more fuel efficient).


  • Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles are propelled by an electric motor and powered by rechargeable battery packs – Meaning no gasoline. While current technology still limits the driving range of these vehicles, many of the newer models are capable of traveling from 50 to 100 miles on a single charge.


Your Guide to Understanding MPG

In today’s landscape of escalating gas prices, fuel economy consideration have become a major part of the car buying process. Buyers are using the estimated Miles per Gallon (MPG) rating to help them decide between two otherwise similar vehicles. By knowing what this rating means and how to find it, you will be better equipped to start saving at the pump.


Finding the MPG

When shopping at the dealer, locating the EPA estimated MPG is a relatively straight forward process. All new cars and many used cars have their fuel efficiency rating listed right alongside the window sticker price. These fuel economy numbers are broken into three parts:


  • City MPG: The EPA estimate of gas consumption under city driving conditions
  • Highway MPG: The EPA estimate of a gas consumption under highway driving conditions
  • Combined MPG: The fuel performance for the vehicle when the City and Highway MPGs are combined. This is an average of the two separate tests, and it is weighted by the distance covered.


Even if you are buying a used car and the vehicle’s MPG is not directly listed on the sticker price, finding this information is a relatively straight forward process.  By law, automakers must post the EPA certified fuel-economy ratings for all their vehicles. The only exceptions to this are vehicles with a gross-vehicle-weight rating over 8,500 pounds. You can find information on a specific vehicle’s MPG by contacting the car manufacturer or visiting their website. FuelEconmy.Gov  also provides a listing for all EPA estimates.


EPA vs. Real World MPG

The problem, however, is that EPA estimates are not always the best indicator of a vehicle’s fuel efficiency when exposed to real-world driving conditions. While they are great for comparing one brand new vehicle against another, these estimates can be misleading when used to compare two used vehicles.


The reason for this is the conditions in which the tests are completed. EPA fuel economy tests are conducted under ideal conditions, with vehicles that have been properly broken in and that are in top mechanical shape. In addition, these vehicles are tested without a full complement of passengers or cargo and are driven without the air conditioning and other electrical accessories in use. So, if you are buying a used car, these estimates may be grossly misleading. Depending on your driving habits and the condition of the car, the actual miles per gallon can be much lower.


Other Elements Contributing to Fuel Efficiency

While EPA estimates are great for comparing new cars, they should not be your only consideration in a used car purchase. Other elements you can use to determine the fuel economy on a used car include:


  • Manual Transmission: Cars with manual transmissions often get better MPG when compared to their automatic transmission counterparts.
  • Engine Size: More horsepower and larger engine liter size can contribute to lower MPG. For example, a 1.2-liter engine may have better fuel efficiency than a 1.5-liter engine.
  • Clean Diesel: Many newer model cars are being offered with a clean diesel option. This can result in better fuel economy when compared to a gasoline engine. 

Your Used Car Buying Financing Options

Need help deciding on the best way to finance a used car. The following used car financing guide outlines all your car buying options to help you decide which is right for you.


Decision #1: Cash or Credit?

When deciding on how you will finance a car, you first need to decide whether to pay for the entire car upfront or to take out a loan. Take note that paying for the car in full is the ideal choice. This is because car buyers who take out loans to pay for their car wind up paying more for the loan, as finance and interest charges are added into the overall price.

Decision #2: Buy or Lease?

Unfortunately, most car buyers cannot afford to pay for a car in cash. So, their next choice is to either buy or lease.

The advantage of leasing a car is that monthly payments are generally lower. And because lease terms generally only last between 12 and 36 months, you get the advantage of owning a new car every few years.  Leases also require little (if anything) in the way of down payments, meaning that if you are a less financially established car buyer, leasing allows you to drive a nice car for relatively little investment.

The major disadvantage of leasing a car is that you will always have a car payment, and you will never own the car. And if you do decide to buy the car when the lease is over, you will wind up paying more than if you decided to buy the car outright.

Leases also have restrictions on how the car can be driven. For instance, most leases place restrictions on the number of miles a car can be driven each year (usually between 12,000 and 15,000 miles), if you break these restrictions, you face severe penalties.

Decision #3: Private or Dealer Financing?

While leasing is a good way to save money on a month to month basis, choosing to buy the car is often the better economical choice. However, even if you do decide to buy instead of lease, you still have one more decision to make: Deciding between dealer-offered financing and private lender financing.


The advantages of dealer offered financing are convenience and eligibility. This is because the dealer never wants financing to stand in their way of making a sale, so they will pull out all the stops to help you qualify for a loan.


However, if you are looking to save money, choosing to go to a bank or credit union is probably the better choice. Banks and lenders often offer lower interest rates when compared to dealership financing, meaning that you will pay less over the lifetime of the loan.


Keep in mind, that when you are deciding on your financing options, not every decision is right for everyone.  For this reason, it is important to carefully weigh the pros and cons of each decision point, and decide which option best fits your current needs.