How Green are Classic Cars?


Tom Senior

Director Classic Car Finance

Climate change is a topic that is appearing more and more frequently in today's society, and rightfully so.

There is no doubt that a world more conscious of its environmental footprint is a step in the right direction, and we have seen massive changes already.

This has led to major countries around the world banning the sale of new Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars from 2030 onwards, in favour of a purely electric future.  However, how does this impact those of us who are classic car fanatics and love the sounds and smells produced by a V6, V8, V10 or V12? It begs the questions; can a cherished classic car, beyond its colour, ever be considered green?

To answer this, we must first consider what goes into making a new car. The process of making a new car can be extremely polluting. Almost everything is new, the metal is smelted and often created thousands of miles away and transported in huge ships via sea. The electronic components also contain lithium, cobalt and zinc, all of which require huge open cast mines to extract from the earth, and this process can create toxic run off, not to mention more transportation. In addition, interior and many components are often made of plastic, and waste plastic which poses a serious challenge to the environment.

At present, we are not the best at effectively recycling cars that come to the end of their life. In recent times, cars have almost become a short-term disposable commodity. There are a few factors to this, encouragement from manufacturers, an increase in short term finance options; societal pressures to have the latest car. It is now much more common for individuals to change their car every 2-4 years.  Most modern cars are now so well engineered, they would easily last 200k-250k miles or c15 years of everyday driving and rust is no longer as big of an issue compared to previous times when it would be a car killer.

By contrast, a car that is around thirty years old has "sunk" those initial carbon emissions over its life and in many cases has had parts replaced by parts from other donor cars. It is also less likely to be driven on a daily basis, and in many cases is used for just a few thousand miles a year in comparison to the high mileage of a typical every day new family car. So, whilst the emissions on a classic may be higher, the fact they are driven far less suggests that in comparison to the disposable modern car, they are less polluting than you would first assume when you consider the wider context.

What I would argue, is that there needs to be a more conscious effort to make purchases that are long term. Whether it's throwaway cars, or fast fashion, disposable items that are not valued are leaving a big carbon footprint on the earth, and it is a continuous cycle of short-term usage. Those of us that are passionate about classic cars will understand the value in every part, and every drive in that car. They're seen as collectibles by fans, they are not driven as often, the initial carbon footprint has been offset by the cars' 30 years+ lifespan, and they are truly admired and appreciated for their engineering, style, and history, which are some of the elements missing when it comes to your everyday modern car. We live by the recycle, reuse and repair mantra.  Long may it continue.