The Department of Energy has created a tool that can be used to compare the fiscal and environmental costs of thousands of new and used car models.

When figuring up vehicle costs, it's easy enough to tally the price of gas and toss in an occasional oil change, but working through the real cost of of ownership including the initial investment, expected depreciation and cost of maintenance can make determining the best value difficult. It can be even more difficult to calculate environmental impact, especially when the mixture of technologies involved in producing electricity varies from place to place.

The DOE's new tool takes into account driving habits, area and potential tax credits to measure the cost of a car. It also determines approximate CO2 production and cost of electricity based on the zip code of the driver. The tool can be especially helpful for fleet managers evaluating the purchase of numerous vehicles.

We tried out the tool's comparative function on a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco and Volt (2012 models aren't available in the calculator yet) just to see how their overall operating costs compared, and the results were interesting. The graph at the top shows that the overall operating costs of the Volt are higher, but that has more to do with the Volt costing twice as much as the Cruze Eco than its operating cost over time. Looking at just operating costs, however, the Volt beats the Cruze in every category.

Try out the tool for yourself by clicking here.
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Energy Department Launches Vehicle Cost Calculator

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) today launched a new Vehicle Cost Calculator and accompanying widget. These online tools are now available on DOE's Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center (AFDC), currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. The AFDC helps consumers, fleet managers, and local governments find and compare energy-saving vehicles that can reduce their petroleum consumption. By providing a variety of tools, databases, and informational resources on vehicles powered by alternatives to gasoline and diesel, the AFDC helps users buy the efficient vehicles that are right for them.

The latest addition to the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center (AFDC) is the Vehicle Cost Calculator, an easy-to-use tool that allows users to compare emissions and lifetime operating costs of specific vehicle models, including conventional cars and trucks, as well as vehicles running on alternative fuels such as electricity, ethanol, natural gas, or biodiesel. With the new calculator, which was developed by DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), car shoppers, small business owners, and fleet managers can make side-by-side comparisons between thousands of conventional, electric drive, and alternative fuel vehicles from model year 1996 and newer.

The calculator also lets users enter information such as driving habits, local ZIP code, price of fuel, and potential tax credits to personalize their results. The tool then presents a comparison of the selected models, displaying the total lifetime ownership costs of the vehicles and the breakdown of the lifetime operating costs between fuel and maintenance costs. It also calculates the operational cost per mile and greenhouse gas emissions over time for the vehicles. By helping potential buyers evaluate the long-term costs and benefits of various fuels and vehicle options now on the market, they can choose the vehicles and technologies that best suit their needs.

The calculator's widget version gives other organizations outside DOE an easy way to add a simplified alternative fuel and emissions calculator to their own website, and it links to the full calculator for users interested in a more detailed analysis.

In addition to the cost calculator, the AFDC features more than 20 other online tools. The Alternative Fueling Station Locator and its mobile version allow users to search for fuel stations and charge points in a specific region or along a set route. Light and heavy-duty vehicle searches provide information about currently available alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles, from sedans to school buses. The laws and incentives search provides information on state and federal laws, including tax credits, and allows users to sort by technology, location, type of user, or type of policy.

EERE invests in clean energy technologies that strengthen the economy, protect the environment, and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Visit EERE's Clean Cities website for more information about the initiative's deployment work that is reducing petroleum consumption in the transportation sector.

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