Mazda says it will check for spider nests in the canister vent lines and make needed repairs to any fuel-related parts that may have been damaged.
Alan Look/Icon SMI/Corbis
Aug. 15, 2012 --
The 2012 Toyota Prius gets the best EPA-rated gas mileage -- 50 miles per gallon combined -- of any non-plug-in car sold in the United States. With its top-of-the-list gas mileage, a Prius hybrid is clearly a step in the direction of driving green -- and all journeys begin with the first step. But by itself, owning a hybrid isn't enough. Here are five reasons that just driving a Toyota Prius won't make a notable dent in the enormous task of saving the planet (however you may define that).
NEWS: Miles Per Gallon is Just Stupid
A Hybrid Still Burns Gas
Unlike all-electric vehicles, the Toyota Prius Hybrid burns gasoline. While their results vary in degree, two studies conclude that in many states, driving a mile in an all-electric car that was charged by a coal-powered electric grid produces less carbon dioxide than driving a mile in a gasoline-powered car that gets 25 miles to the gallon. In states with the dirtiest grids -- like North Dakota and West Virginia, which use almost entirely coal -- the 50-mpg Prius rates slightly better for the environment. But as coal-powered plants are replaced with those powered by natural gas, solar and wind, the environmental advantage of a hybrid will go down. Electric cars are mostly better now, and will get even cleaner over time -- unlike the Prius.
A Parked Car Uses Less Gas than a Mobile Hybrid
If you buy a 2011 Toyota Prius and drive it 100 miles a day for your commute to work, you would burn 500 gallons of gasoline a year. Whereas if you walked, bicycled, carpooled, or took mass transit to work, you wouldn't. Unfortunately, 60 years' worth of U.S. zoning laws have trapped many of us into suburban sprawl that keeps commercial buildings -- be they stores or offices -- miles away from residences. That means a car becomes necessary even to get a gallon of milk. And outside a few major cities, mass transit is unappealing or nonexistent. While most Americans say they would like to live much closer to their jobs, mixed-use neighborhoods that prioritize walking, biking and mass transit over single-occupant cars are often still viewed as something akin to socialism by local officials.
A Prius Hybrid Can't Keep Pace with Global Car Growth
We now have 1 billion vehicles on the planet, and by some estimates, we'll have 2 billion or more by 2050. In other words (well, just one word): China. Today, only a tiny number of China's 1 billion-plus people have cars. That will change. Just to stay in the same place, the efficiency of every vehicle has to double. Owning a Prius won't have much of an impact on that fact. Many scientists say that to stem the predicted effects of climate change, we must cut our carbon output up to 80 percent from today's levels. That will require far more radical changes than driving a hybrid vehicle.
Modern Life Generates CO2
One of our favorite book titles lately is "Time to Eat the Dog? The Real Guide to Sustainable Living", whose authors measured the environmental impact of modern lifestyles, such as owning a pet. They conclude that adopting a dog or cat increases your family's carbon footprint because of the land needed to produce the food. For example, the land necessary to feed a medium-sized dog equals about 2 acres of land. That's twice as much land required to power a 4.6-liter gas-burning Toyota Land Cruiser. The "eco-footprint" of a cat is equal to that of a Volkswagen Golf. We don't recommend cooking your cat, but if you're thinking about your pet having litters of adorable furry kittens or puppies -- think again. More than that, cut out airplane flights. They comprise up to 80 percent of a frequent traveler's carbon footprint. The worst culprit? A dog that flies in a plane.
Family Planning Can Reduce CO2 Emissions
The widespread availabilityof family planning services and contraception could have a major impact on carbon emissions. A London School of Economics report suggests for a cost of $6.70 per ton, family planning can eliminate atmospheric carbon -- a much cheaper investment than tweaking technology to improve a vehicle's efficiency, which can cost upwards of $31.70 a ton. Forgo the Prius and spend that money in a donation to Planned Parenthood. It might be more effective. For more along these lines, see also our discussion of why gas-guzzlers will always be with us. We aren't saying you shouldn't by a Prius, but are saying that a Prius alone won't save the planet and you can do much more to reduce your carbon footprint. Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.
PHOTOS: Top 10 Fastest Electric Vehicles
Back in 2011, Mazda had to recall some 65,000 Mazda6 cars in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico because yellow sac spiders -- aka Cheiracanthium inclusum -- were nesting in “tiny rubber hoses linked to fuel tank systems… could cause pressurization and ventilation problems,” the LA Times reported at the time.
In the worst case, Mazda indicated, the spider nests could clog the tubes, or more accurately, the evaporative canister vent lines. The resulting clogs could stress a car’s fuel tank to a point where it cracks, possibly leaks fuel, and potentially ignites.
Mazda installed a spring to the canister vent lines in an attempt to keep the pesky spiders out. In addition, it modified the vehicle’s "Power Control Module software to minimize negative pressure of the fuel tank” for Mazda6s that were still on the production line.
However, in a report (pdf) to the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration made public last week, Mazda indicated that some spiders had still managed to get through the springs and cause fuel line problems in a number of its customers’ refitted Mazda6s. The automaker did have some good news to report: Its PCM software modification was “effective” in avoiding the possibility of fuel tank cracking, even if a spider’s sac completely clogged the canister vent line.
So Mazda is now going to recall 42,000 U.S.-built Mazda6 cars with 2.5-liter engines from model years 2010 to 2012. These vehicles, built between September 2009 and May 2011, have had the spring installed, but not the PCM software update.
Mazda says it will check for spider nests in the canister vent lines, and make needed repairs to any fuel-related parts that may have been damaged as a result of the spiders. It will also reprogram the PCM software to minimize negative pressure in the fuel tank. Affected Mazda6 owners should be getting their recall notices any time now.
Meanwhile, in a more run of the mill recall, Mazda also has issued a global recall last week for 88,000 Mazda3, Mazda6 and CX-5 vehicles manufactured between October 2012 and January 2014 to reprogram its engine control computer.
Mazda reported that a “glitch” was found “in the computer program that checks whether the capacitor, a part of the brake energy regeneration system, is functioning properly,” the Economic Timesreported. As a result, the vehicles may not accelerate correctly or even stall. No accidents related to the software problem have been reported, Mazda stated.
The hot water General Motors finds itself in for failing to recall cars with faulty ignition switches and the $1.2 billion hit Toyota just took for hiding what it knew about the problems some of its cars were having with unintended acceleration, may be providing the impetus to make proactive and forthcoming the auto industry’s new bywords.
It used to be that car companies were afraid to issue recalls unless absolutely necessary. Perhaps we’ve reached a point where they’re afraid not to.
Get more from IEEE Spectrum
Tesla's $5 Billion Battery Factory: Spending Big to Save Big
Hybrids Are a Perfect Fit for Traffic Jams of India and China
2014 Top Ten Tech Cars
This article originally appeared on IEEE Spectrum; all rights reserved.