Vehicles and Energy Use

This topic submitted by Abby King, Lia Silver, Amanda Swisher, Brad Kaiser, and Katie Gibson ( at 3:05 pm on 12/10/01. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Dorsey

Sport utility vehicles have a notorious reputation as being terrible for the environment. They "guzzle gas", heightening the amount of resources Americans use from this planet. According to the Kelley Blue Book Online, a Ford Explorer, a mid-size S.U.V., gets seventeen miles to each gallon in the city and twenty-one miles to the gallon on the highway. An average car, the Toyota Camry, gets twenty-four miles to the gallon in the city and thirty-three miles to the gallon on the highway. They also release more emissions into the air than the average passenger car, which can be attributed to their fuel consumption and lower regulations than cars. Because of the differences in resource use and damage to the environment, the growing percentage of sport-utility vehicles on the road becomes a hazard to the environment. We plan to find out if our new community, Miami University, drives a higher percentage of S.U.V.s than the "normal" world, the off-campus communities in Southern Ohio. Our hypothesis is that Miami students do drive more S.U.V.s than the normal populations, given the cost of S.U.V.s and Miami University as a more expensive public university, their popularity among the college student demographic, and casual observation. From standing on street corners as walking through parking lots, we think that there seem to be more S.U.V.s on-campus than you see in the "normal" world. We plan to sample vehicles in the appropriate setting to represent the greater population. We will then analyze our data to see which population is more environmentally sound in the vehicles that they drive and calculate the saved money on gas, resources, and emissions, if one group improved their percentage to match the other groupÕs percentage. We will use statistics we find from reliable scientific resources that tell us the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from a gallon of gas, the amount of resources used in gallon of gas, and the amounts of other chemicals that S.U.V.s are allowed to release into the atmosphere. This research was inspired by a class discussion and is of interest to us as environmentally-interested members of the Miami community who have noticed a trend in the vehicles students drive.

Relevance of Our Research
The American automobile industry is constantly changing, as the tastes of consumers do. Two decades ago, light trucks, the class of vehicle that includes sport-utility vehicles, was used mostly for agriculture and business (Yacobucci,6). Today, sport-utility vehicles are used for everyday driving. Only five percent of them are used for off-road driving, their original intended purpose ( Light trucks only accounted for one fifth of the new car market in 1980. Within the last two years, this figure has risen to almost half of the new car market. The percentage of new vehicles sold that were S.U.V.s in 1999, 18.6%, is almost as much as all the light trucks combined in 1980, 19.9% (Yacobucci, 6). This sets up a complicated problem as the number of the vehicles that release more toxins and use more resources multiplies. Government agencies must set up regulations to control vehicle emissions and fuel economy to try to control this problem.
The current fuel for most vehicles is gasoline, a kind of petroleum, better known as oil. Petroleum is "a mixture of complex organic compounds found as a fluid beneath the EarthÕs surface" and is formed from "the organic-rich muck on the bottom of ancient sea floors" (Ashworth and Little, 372). Crude oil is itÕs state before it is refined into gasoline (Ashworth and Little, 112). Petroleum is a finite resource that will eventually be used up. This is measured by the Reserves/Production (R/P) ratio, which considers, known supply, economics, technology and other such factors into when the supply will run out. Using this ratio, it as determined in 1979 that the supply would only last twenty-seven years. By 1993, this had been raised to the supply lasting another forty-three years (Hamilton). But forty-three years in relation to the life of the earth is not very long, meaning that the supply should be conserved as much as possible. Every year, the United States uses more than three million barrels of oil for passenger cars and light trucks. The gasoline that is used for vehicles is a specialized mixture of over 500 hydrocarbons and additives. Hydrocarbons include any and all molecules with hydrogen and carbon in any arrangement. They can be burned as fuel with by products of water and carbon dioxide (Hamilton). Catalytic converters change carbon monoxide and extra hydrocarbons from burning the fuel into more water vapor and carbon dioxide to be released into the air, but can cause extra nitrous oxides and sulfur in the emissions (Ashworth and Little, 76). These are relevant to air pollution, but do not have effects quite as dramatic as those of the carbon dioxide expelled do.
Every gallon of gas burned by vehicles releases twenty pounds of carbon dioxide into the air ( Seventy five percent of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by people in the last twenty years is a result of the burning of fossil fuels, such as the fuel use in cars ( Carbon dioxide builds up the atmosphere naturally, but the amount of carbon dioxide that people add to the atmosphere upsets the carbon balance and creates a greenhouse effect (Ashworth and Little). The extra gases trap heat from the sun. The energy from the sun comes as short wave radiation, which can pass though carbon dioxide, but is absorbed by the earth and reflected as long wave radiation. The long wave radiation cannot pass through the carbon dioxide, and is caught in the atmosphere (Ashworth and Little, 220). According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Environmental Protection Agency, the trapped energy is causing and will cause higher temperatures, heat waves, more frequent and sever storms, more precipitation, droughts and rising sea level ( The extra carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by sport-utility vehicles has a wide impact. Fuel economy, the number of miles a vehicle can drive on a gallon of gasoline, effects not only the resource use, but also the emissions into the atmosphere, and may be the most important difference between passenger cars and sport-utility vehicles.
There are two solutions to this problem: convince more consumers to not buy sport-utility vehicles because of their effects on the environment or regulate the fuel economy and emissions of these vehicles before they hit the market. Consumers are difficult to predict and teach so the more viable solution is to control the vehicles through the manufacturers. The federal government delegated this power to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT)(Yacobucci, 6).
Sport-utility vehicles are considered light trucks, a category of vehicle that has less strict regulations than passenger cars for both emissions and fuel economy. The EPA sets emissions standards under the Clean Air act for the Model Year (MY) 2004 and later (Yacobucci,7). This means that now, the emissions standards are the same unequal standards that have been in effect since a case by International Harvester that gave light duty trucks the easier standards than cars. This was appropriate at he time based on the percentage of the market this accounted for. Currently, light trucks can produce up to 47% more carbon monoxide, and up to 175% more nitrous oxides than cars are permitted (Yacobucci,8). Now, with light trucks almost half of the market, this should no longer apply if any real change is sought. The EPA has decreed the by MY2009, all cars and light trucks will be held to the same standards, because the catalytic converter technology to do so exists (Yaccobucci, 8).
Given the distinction, as a light truck is also an advantage for sport-utility vehicles because the regulations for fuel economy are also quite different between cars and light trucks. Each manufacturerÕs cars in a specific model year must have an average gas mileage of 27.5 miles per gallon, where the manufacturerÕs light trucks must only keep and average of 20.7 miles per gallon (Yacobucci, 7). This means that all of their light trucks put together must have that average, allowing for the fuel economy of some vehicles to be much lower than the average, as long as hey are balanced with vehicles with higher fuels economies. Some S.U.V.s are so large that they do no even fall under the category of light trucks, and therefore arenÕt held to standards. DOT is responsible for setting and enforcing these standards, but since 1996, Congress has not given them the funding necessary to change the regulations to require better mileage (Yacobucci, 7). The National Academy of Sciences found that it would only cost around $1,250 per vehicle for manufacturers to improve the fuel economy of light trucks so that they get 28-30 miles to the gallon ( This should be affordable for manufacturers, who make a pure profit of ten thousand dollars for every sport-utility vehicle they sell ( The solutions to these problems are many and varied at different levels. Part of the solution is individual responsibility on the part of the consumer to purchase an environmentally friendly vehicle. This relates to our study, as we are discovering which of two populations is more environmentally conscious of the cars they drive.

Materials and Methods
To come up with a representative sample that can be turned into a percentage, we are going to count vehicles by category in Miami parking lots and off campus lots. We will count the Miami lots once a week for four weeks, starting the week of October 22. The Ditmer lot and the Cook field lot will be counted for the same four weeks during weekdays, but at different times so that the same cars are not always counted, to provide variation, if there is any. The Western lots by Mary Lyon and the tennis courts will be counted for the same four weeks as the other two, but will be counted on weekends, when students may be parked there. We were going to do this to try to compare western to main campus, but found that there were not enough cars to make it a significant n if they donÕt keep their car on campus. We will check the cars for student permits to ensure the consistency of our demographic. To sample the outside world, we will count cars in Cincinnati at a church, a mall, a grocery store, and a business. This should give us different demographics that should represent a basic portion of Southern Ohio.
Materials do not go farther than a tally sheet (see attached page) and people to count. We will tally five to a box so that totaling is easier. When any S.U.V. is counted, it will also be noted who the maker is and what size category it falls into. This will allow us to determine, according to the fuel economies, and emissions ratings of the E.P.A., how environmentally friendly the S.U.V.s that Miami students drive are. We will use research to calculate the figures we want and will analyze our data using StatView. The class will help us count cars at Cook Field and Ditmer during class on November 6. We will start counting soon enough that if we find faulty data, we can sample again.
Using the EPA gas mileages and emissions ratings, we will compare the kinds of S.U.V.s. We will use the gas mileages and the emissions rates we found to figure out how much more gas is used, how much more money is spent, and how much more carbon dioxide is emitted.

*also see attached charts
Off Campus
Date Place Cars Trucks Vans MiniVan Wagon SUVs
10/19 Cincy Financial 237 22 5 38 5 94
10/20 TriCounty Mall 370 28 15 36 6 71
10/20 KrogerÕs 99 3 4 24 3 4
10/21 Church 53 4 3 11 2 10
total 759 57 27 109 16 179
Description of places where we counted cars off campus:
-Cincinnati Financial Corps and Fairfield Executive Center are located at the border of Hamilton and Butler Counties just north of the 275 loop.
-Tri-County Mall is a suburban mall just south of 275 on State Hwy. 747, north of Cincinnati.
-Northminister Presbyterian Church is a suburban church in a small community just north of Cincinnati.
-KrogerÕs is a grocery store located in the same community.
Overall: 66.17% cars, 4.97% trucks, 2.35% vans, 9.5% mini-vans, 1.39% station wagons, and 15.6% S.U.V.s
By vehicle category: 67.56% Cars (cars and wagons) and 19.82% light trucks (all other vehicles counted)

On Campus
Place Cars Trucks Vans MiniVan Wagon SUVs
11/3 Cook 74 5 1 3 12
11/8 Ditmer 589 26 8 10 113
11/13 Ditmer 617 33 1 7 9 133
11/18 Western 46 1 1 3
11/19 Ditmer 377 20 7 4 53
11/29 Ditmer 261 13 1 4 1 46
11/29 Cook 40 4 1 10
Total 2004 102 4 26 26 370
Overall:79.80% cars, 4.02% trucks, .1% vans, 1.02% mini-vans, 1.1% station wagons, and 14.6% S.U.V.s
By vehicle category: 80.18% cars and 19.82% light trucks

S.U.V. Sizes
Date Place Compact Medium Full
Off Campus
10/19 Cincy Financial 14 65 17
10/20 TriCounty 10 47 12
10/20 KrogerÕs 0 10 0
10/21 Church 1 4 1
Off Campus
11/3 Cook 1 11 -
11/8 Ditmer 5 102 8
11/13 Ditmer 3 116 12
11/18 Western 3 2 -
11/19 Ditmer 8 44 5
11/29 Ditmer 3 38 5
11/29 Cook 2 6 2

Off Campus Totals: 13.8% (25/181) Compact, 69.6% (126/181) Mid-Size, 16.5% (30/181) Full Size
On Campus Totals: 7.8% (25/376) Compact, 84.8% (319/376) Mid-Size, 8.5% (32/376) Full Size*Jeep Midsize and Ford Midsize were the most popular.To find concrete differences between the two groups, we calculated the gas burned, the cost of the gas and the carbon dioxide released into the air for 1000 vehicles driving 1000 miles in each group based on the percentages of cars and light trucks. We used the E.P.A.s average fuel economy for the model year 2001, which is 24.2 miles per gallon for cars and 17.3 miles per gallon for light trucks. With that, off campus vehicles would burn 46,662.5 gallons of gas to go 1000 miles, emitting 933,250 pounds of carbon dioxide. Depending on the gas price at the time, it would cost anywhere from $46,625.50 (at a dollar a gallon) to $93,325.00 (at two dollars a gallon) to fuel all the cars, and $46.62 to $93.32 to fuel just one. On campus vehicles would use 44, 583.5 gallons of gas that produce 892,670 pounds of carbon dioxide. It would cost from $44,583.50 to $89,167.00 to fuel all the cars. It would cost $44.58 to $89.16 per car. Off campus uses 4.6% more gas, and emits 4.6% more carbon dioxide.We only got seventy-four responses to the Western survey. Of those 74, 10 drive S.U.V.s, 55 drive cars, 3 drive trucks, 3 drive station wagons and three drive mini-vans. That is 13.5% sport-utility vehicles, but given the small number of responses, it is questionable whether or not this data is valid.

DiscussionUpon completing our research, we have come to the conclusion that theyÕre only a one percent difference between the amount of sports utility vehicles on and off campus. All the more, this barely noticeable difference is contrary to our hypothesis in that we thought there would be more S.U.V.s on campus, while in reality there are slightly more off campus. One possible reason concerning why we hypothesized there were more on-campus S.U.V.s is that many of the S.U.V.s that we saw may have been professors cars, which we did not count. We believe these cars may have given us the illusion that many Miami students were S.U.V. drivers, when in reality the professors were just driving them in from off campus. If given more time, we would have counted the cars with professorsÕ parking permits, as well as studentsÕ parking permits, and seen if that made a difference. We did find that Miami students have noticeably less (10 percent) light trucks that do off-campus drivers. This tells us that the most popular light truck at Miami is the SUV and that vans, minivans, and trucks are more popular off-campus. Because the entire light truck category is hazardous to the environment, and Miami students drive less of them overall, this shows that they are a bit nicer to the environment than off-campus drivers. This is also contrary to our hypothesis, because we believed that due to many variables Miami University students would be overall less environmentally friendly. As far as the validity of our data goes, we made sure to count only student vehicles. Also, we counted thousands of cars, which more greatly ensures the accuracy of our data than if we had counted less. There were two variables that we feel could have depleted out accuracy a bit, the first of which concerns our counting of Western Campus cars. We handed out surveys to all the Western students living on campus, but only got 74 of them back. Because this is such a small number of responses, it is questionable whether or not the data is valid. Secondly, on our last night of counting it was pouring rain on us. The conditions may have thrown of our counting, as did the rain crinkle our papers and make the data run. Consequently, some of our data on this night may have been skewed, and therefore had to be thrown out. Although our hypothesis was proven wrong, we still got just as much out of the experiment as we would have if our hypothesis had been accurate. Being incorrect led us to formulate new hypotheses about why we were wrong, as did it provide us with a new way of looking at the Miami population.

Works Cited
Ashworth, William and Charles Little, Encyclopedia of Environmental Studies,
New Edition. Facts On File, Inc., 2001., October 23,2001
Yacobucci, Brent D."RS20298: Sport Utility Vehicles, Mini-Vans and Light
Trucks: An overview of fuel Economy and Emissions Standards." January
16, 2001

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