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Switching to a climate-friendly car isn't as costly as you may think

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Traffic on I-35W in Minneapolis.
Traffic on Interstate 35W in Minneapolis.
Leila Navidi | Star Tribune via AP file

Cars, along with the rest of the transportation sector, are now responsible for more greenhouse gas pollution than any other source in the U.S.

This hasn't been the case in 40 years, Bloomberg reports. Power plants had been the country's major carbon-polluter since 1978.

But during that time, clean energy technology has made great leaps, including for personal vehicles. Vehicle ranges have increased, the driving experience has improved, and  used electrics and hybrids are becoming more available as leases on early-generation vehicles end.

Of course, ditching the car for public transit or a bicycle is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint. 

But as driving continues to be a necessity for many, here are some things to consider when vehicle shopping.

• What's best depends on where you live. If the power grid from which you're powering an electric car uses dirty energy, it's not doing much good. 

You're better off driving a fuel-efficient, gas-powered car if your state relies on coal for electricity, said J. Drake Hamilton, Fresh Energy's science policy director.

• Electric cars may not be as expensive as you think. Good hybrid or electric vehicles become available at the $8,000 price point, Hamilton said. U.S. News and World Report has this buyer's guide for hybrids that are under $15,000.

• You'll save a lot on operating costs with an electric car. Current estimates suggest electric-car drivers will save about $1,000 each year on fuel and maintenance that's unnecessary on electrics, Hamilton said. 

Why so much less maintenance? Electric cars don't need oil changes, for example. And they have far fewer moving parts than equivalent gas cars, so there's less that can go wrong. Hamilton cited the Chevy Bolt, which has 24 moving parts in its electric version compared to almost 150 in the gas model.

For more, use the audio player above to hear Climate Cast host Paul Huttner's full interview with J. Drake Hamilton.