The Green Car Olympics

The era of the green car is finally here.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Our friends at NativeEnergy recently linked to the 170-year history of the electric vehicle, proving that the top green cars in the market today are the result of a long and interesting history of trial and error. What’s finally here, to be more precise, is the global acceptance of electric and hybrid cars as real, viable alternatives to traditional gas guzzlers.

The Chevrolet Volt was recently named the 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year at the same time the Nissan LEAF was recognized as Europe’s Car of the Year. So what do these trendy new models have in common? Efficiency, low-to-no emissions, and perhaps most importantly in the brave new world of EVs and hybrids, affordability.

With all that said, we’d like to welcome you to the first-ever Esurance Green Car Olympics. Inspired by the Ancient Greeks’ admirably efficient modes of transportation like the chariot and the long walk, we’re handing out a gold, a silver, and a bronze to our favorite eco-conscious rides of 2011.

The Bronze Medal: 2011 Toyota Prius

Mpg: 51 city, 48 highway
Base price range: $23,810–$29,080

By any standard, 2010 was a tough year for Toyota as millions of recalled cars affected the company’s hard-earned reputation for dependability and safety. But it wasn’t enough to bring down a decade of hybrid progress. The Prius continued to remain the most popular hybrid on the market, and in Japan, 2010 models sold more than 300,000 units (a national record).

The new model continues to tweak and refine its technology. At 51 mpg, the 2011 Prius is the official leader in efficiency according to an EPA report (which didn’t include the LEAF or Volt). In other words, as the Car Connection’s review reminds us, “The 2011 Toyota Prius gets the highest mileage of any gasoline-powered vehicle you can’t plug in.”

And it comes with a wide range of sci-fi-sounding features designed to appeal to the eco-loving techie in all of us, including Intelligent Parking Assist and an optional moon roof equipped with solar panels.

The new edition also marks a subtle change for the Prius dynasty: What used to be the Prius III in years past will now be called the Prius Three. At the risk of reading too far into it, this small tweak may reflect a back-to-basics approach to the innovative engineering and safety measures that made the Toyota Prius so successful in the first place.

The Silver Medal: 2011 Chevrolet Volt

Mpg equivalent: 105 (more info on this tricky calculation)
Base price: $41,000

After a rough decade for the U.S. auto industry, it’s hard to overstate the significance of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

The Volt won the Los Angeles Auto Show’s prestigious Green Car of the Year award in addition to an even heftier feather in the cap: Motor Trend Car of the Year. It’s quite an accomplishment for a green car like the Volt to join this illustrious club — past winners of this award include a GTO, a Mustang, a Camaro, and 2 Corvettes.

In practice, the Volt is an electric car with a small gas engine, which extends the car’s range when the batteries are low. It’s the first of its kind because it can operate as an EV or hybrid in order to maximize efficiency — it’s the first “intelligent hybrid” according to Motor Trend.

It’s also cool-looking, the acceleration is good for its class (8.8 seconds from 0-60), and the reviews have been universally positive. So get ready to see it in a lane near you — GM foresees 45,000 Volts cruising the roads by 2012.

The Gold Medal: 2011 Nissan LEAF

Mpg equivalent: 99 (more on this tricky calculation)
Base price range: $32,780–$35,240

We’re smitten by the Chevy Volt, but we have unabashed reverence for the inaugural Green Car Olympic’s champion (and Europe’s Car of the Year), the Nissan LEAF.

With an official range of 75 miles and efficiency equivalent to 99 mpg, the LEAF (which is an acronym for Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable Family car…sort of) is the only all-electric car from a major automaker available to U.S. drivers in 2011. And perhaps more importantly, its driving experience holds up against traditional cars. As Car and Driver reports, “It feels like a real car.”

While going green is a driving factor behind many LEAF purchases, the car also saves green. According to the EPA, the average annual electricity cost for the LEAF is $561, or roughly $1,000 less per year than it costs to fill up a typical Nissan Versa.

Plugging the LEAF’s battery in for a charge is easy, and when the battery gets low, the car can send a reminder. That’s right: the LEAF can even text.

For all these reasons and more, we’re happy to say congratulations, Nissan LEAF. It’s a gold medal well deserved.

Questions or comments on this post? We’d love to hear from you! Send us an email at

More green-driving resources:’s best car to buy in 2011
The Nissan LEAF: Europe’s official Car of the Year (Wired)
The 2011 Fuel Economy Guide

Cables, Kitty Litter, and Kafka: 11 Must-Haves for Your Winter Car Kit

If your hometown’s familiar with extreme winter weather, you know how important it is to be prepared. And while nothing beats a cozy cardigan, replete with jolly snowmen and frolicking reindeer, having a winter car kit can come pretty darn close if you ever find yourself stranded between the middle of nowhere and the boondocks on a frigid December night.

With that in mind, we compiled a list of the top 11 winter must-haves for your car.

  1. Chains. You never know when you may need them, and having them with you could mean the difference between winding up stranded or not.
  2. Jumper cables. Cold weather can wreak havoc on your car and make it difficult to start. Keeping jumper cables on hand is always a good idea and could help you avoid an unpleasant or potentially dangerous situation.
  3. Cat litter. Sure it may seem weird to lug kitty litter around all winter, but if you get stuck, pouring a little around your tires can create the traction you need to get unstuck. (Tip: the non-clumping kind works best.) Need to dig out of the driveway? Try these eco-friendly alternatives to salt.
  4. Shovel. Duh.
  5. Basic tool kit. Pliers, screwdriver, adjustable wrench, pocketknife, duct tape, rope. You don’t have to be MacGyver to make use of a few handy tools, and your ingenuity may surprise you in extreme circumstances.
  6. Flashlight. Winter days are short, so make sure you’re prepared once the sun goes down. (And don’t forget extra batteries!)
  7. Warm clothes. If you’ve been out in the snow and ice trying to free your vehicle, you’ll likely be wet and freezing. Keep a change of clothes, including socks, gloves, hat, and boots as well as a blanket or sleeping bag. If you have to wait it out in your vehicle, at least you won’t have to do it as a human popsicle.
  8. Food and water. In colder temps, the body can last longer without water, but nevertheless, it’s still highly recommended that you include water as an essential part of your winter car kit. You should also include nuts, energy bars, or high-protein snacks. (And why not throw in a bag of your favorite candy while you’re at it.)
  9. First aid kit. Keep a fully stocked kit and an extra supply of any additional medications you need. It’s also a good idea to know what’s in your first aid kit and how to use it. (Just saying).
  10. AM/FM radio. (Battery-powered.) In addition to hits from the ’20s and ’30s, you can find traffic reports and emergency messages on your AM dial. A radio is especially useful if you’re driving through an area where your smartphone doesn’t have service. (Bonus tip: Local maps could come in pretty darn handy as well.)
  11. Kafka. Ok, of course it doesn’t have to be Kafka, but we recommend keeping a good book in the car, in case you have to hunker down and wait it out. Just because your car’s stuck doesn’t mean your mind can’t escape.

Just as important as having an adequately stocked winter car kit, is making sure all maintenance is performed on your vehicle before cold temps hit. Get a full tune-up, winterize your car, and for crying out loud, remember to keep a full tank of gas!

Other helpful winter tips

Winterize your home: avoid these 6 extremely unpleasant scenarios
From ice and snow to rain and sleet, find out everything you need to know about winter driving

Related links

How to Winterize Your Car

How to Tell If You Live in a Flood Plain

How to Use Snow Chains

How to properly transport a Christmas tree

How did Black Friday get its name?

December Deals: How to Save Money at the Car Dealership

Car experts agree: December is the best month to buy. Since most dealerships are making room for new models by offering screaming deals on their older ones, you can generally get a great price toward the end of the year. But before you make your way to your local lot, make sure you’re prepared with these simple tips for how to save money at the car dealership.


First, know what you’re looking for. Is it fuel economy or an impressive 0-60? Do you want a year-end model or something just off the assembly line? Keep in mind that year-end models will cost significantly less, but might not come with all the upgrades of a new design. Then again, some new models might be the exact replicas of old ones, so make sure you do your research to weigh the cost/benefits of new versus old.

Once you know what you want, it’s time to research price. Never — we repeat, never — pay the sticker price (aka MSRP). Instead, see how much others are paying in your area for the vehicle you want. The Internet can help:’s True Market Value® calculator lets you know just how much you should pay for that hot new coupe or family sedan.

Next, get quotes from several dealerships. Keep this information handy; you’ll be able to use it during negotiations.

Then, look up incentives and rebates to see what deals (if any) are offered for your car of choice.

Finally, research your financing options. Dealers generally make most of their profit from financing loans, so it’s best to go into the dealership with your financing locked and ready to go. Call several banks and credit unions to see which one offers the best rate.

Of course, while you’re researching the cost of a new car, be sure to factor in insurance costs as well. You can always get quick comparison quotes to see how your new ride will impact your insurance premium.


If you buy in December, when dealerships are trying to get rid of old inventory, you can generally get around 6.5% off the sticker price.

December, however, isn’t the only magic month of savings. You can also save significantly if you buy at the end of the month, on a Saturday, or on a holiday — Labor Day, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve are 3 of the best days to buy.


So you’ve done everything right. You’ve researched the model, cost, and rebates, taken the car for a few test drives, and expertly timed your purchase. Now comes the hard part: negotiation.

While there are no set strategies for getting the best deal, there are certain things you can do to leverage a bargaining advantage.

  1. Don’t let the official sticker price bully you. Instead, come to the dealership armed with your price quotes and True Market Value estimates — ready to bargain.
  2. Go low. Don’t be afraid to offer the lowest price possible. A good rule of thumb is to look at the invoice price — the price the dealer supposedly paid for the vehicle — and then offer $500 below that amount. By starting very low, you’ll force the dealer to come back with a counteroffer that’s within your targeted price range.
  3. Be confident and firm. Negotiations can be tricky and time-consuming, and dealers will employ many different tactics to get you to budge. Stand firm on your price and have confidence in the fairness of your offer.
  4. Don’t forget financing. If you weren’t able to secure it before heading to the showroom, make sure you negotiate your financing with the dealership. Know your credit worthiness (i.e. your credit score) beforehand, and keep in mind that the higher your credit score is, the lower your interest rate will be.

Most important — and maybe this is really the only thing you need to know — never walk into the negotiating room unprepared. If you’ve done your research, you’ll have all the information you need to drive away with that sweet new car smell and a sweet deal.