American drivers are continuously being nudged into electric cars because they are considered more environmentally friendly. They really aren’t so much, though, even though they don’t burn gas. All modern cars are basically made of plastic (including EVs), which are made from oil.
For example, the front and rear clips are called clips because they clip onto the rest of the car’s body, and for that very reason, can easily be torn off in an accident.
It’s a common sight to see a car with its entire front (or rear) clip ripped away after what, in past years, would have been a minor fender-bender—one that could easily be fixed and likely driven away from an accident.
But you can’t drive away from an accident that’s left you without a front or rear clip because these clips also often houses the car’s plastic headlights and turn signals, among other things.
These clips are more disposable than repairable and that brings us to the “environmentally friendly” object of this discussion.
How much oil is used to make the millions of plastic front and rear clips (and other plastic parts that used to be made of things like glass, such as the modern car’s headlight assemblies, as well as the parts of the front clip that used to be made of various metals, such as the grill and no-longer-extant external bumpers) is hard to know for sure – but one can be certain it is a great deal more than it used to be when plastic wasn’t used for these parts of the car.
It is likely in the millions of barrels of oil—extracted, refined and used for this purpose rather than the purpose of propelling the car.
Ironically, new cars use plastic in lieu of metal as part of compensatory efforts to reduce the amount of oil (gasoline, refined from oil) used by cars which are made heavier via “safety” decrees by the same government that is nudging Americans into plasticized and electric cars for the sake of “the environment.”
These heavier cars also convey more kinetic energy when they hit something, such as the front or rear clip of another modern plasticized car, resulting in more damage and a higher probability that the entire clip will have to be replaced with a new one, thereby doubling the quantity of plastic that had to be manufactured for that car; thereby causing more oil to be used and, presumably, more greenhouse gasses to be emitted during the course of all the extracting, refining, manufacturing, transporting and so on that goes into each front and rear clip.
It also must be painted, of course, and then repainted, when the clip is replaced.
Paint generally entails the use of oil (even if water-based), and the process of applying it requires energy, most of which probably does not come from solar panels. Just as more oil (and energy) is used to make car exteriors that are now a third or more made of plastic, it also takes more paint to paint a car that is entirely painted.
Prior to the ’90s, most cars were not entirely painted. They had exposed metal bumpers, which could be bumped into without being ruined and so not requiring replacement or respraying.
A scuffed bumper could be polished back.
You cannot polish a torn piece of plastic. You replace it, and then you must respray it to match the rest of the car. Think of the millions of gallons of paint that have been sprayed above and beyond what was formerly necessary with all the excessive emissions produced along the way, such as power needed for the compressors that run the paint sprayers, etc.
An even larger environmental problem is the heightened disposability of the plasticized car itself. A function of the fragility of the plasticized car and the ratio of the cost to replace its fragile plastic panels remains high vs. the value of the plasticized car itself, which depreciates with each passing year.
People who’ve been in relatively minor accidents in a plasticized car that’s eight or nine years old will be familiar with this already. Get hit from behind, you likely will get pushed into the car ahead; both clips and all the associated plastic may need to be replaced (and resprayed), plus whatever other damage was done to the car. The cost to replace even one clip can exceed $2,000, and if the car is only worth $5,000, you’re pushing the limit of what the insurance company will agree to spend to repair it.
If it exceeds it, the car, fundamentally still viable in terms of its function, gets thrown away, possibly years of useful life remaining to be replaced by another (possibly new) car, with all of the associated emissions.
It is almost certainly the case that a steel-bodied, metal-bumpered car that can take a minor impact without suffering major damage is actually more friendly toward the environment than a plasticized, disposable modern car.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.