Sure You Want A Greener Farm Truck?

It may mean trading gas-sucking power for less pain at the fuel pump, but more in the pocketbook.

Published on: Mar 22, 2012

If your old pickup has holes in the floorboard and seemingly in its gas tank, maybe it's time to go truck shopping. First though, check how your favorite brand's fuel-eating rank in the newest herd of pickups.

If you need pulling power, then an ecologically green fuel-miser may leave you green with envy of a neighbor's truck that doesn't choke or stall under load. But if you log a lot of road miles and don't have heavy cargo to haul, your options might surprise you. Keep in mind what's "greenest" at the gas pump might burn a bigger hole in your bank account with its price tag.

U.S. Department of Energy and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy conduct separate annual fuel economy ratings on cars, pickup trucks and vans. ACEEE's is based on DOE fuel efficiency data. Carefully scrutinize those truck specifications though. DOE data includes hybrid truck versions; ACEEE's doesn't. Both are based on gas-fueled models, not diesel.

FUEL-MIZERS: GMs hybrids and Fords F-150 flex-fuels top the "greenest" full-sized pickup category.
FUEL-MIZERS: GM's hybrids and Ford's F-150 flex-fuels top the "greenest" full-sized pickup category.

Choices of engine, transmission, and alternative fuel options make huge differences. For instance, Ford's F150 pickup powered by a 3.7-liter, six-cylinder automatic scored above average in ACEEE's rating. But the 6.2-liter, eight-cylinder model "crashed into DOE's meanest (least fuel-efficient) category. Some diesels are primed to run on B-20 biodiesel, for instance. Flex-fuel and biodiesel engines may ease the pocketbook pain of fueling up.

Interestingly, cab size had little or no effect. With those disclaimers, here's a quick peek at top-ranking – greeniest – vehicles by class:

  • Compact pickup: Toyota's rear-wheel-drive Tacoma pulls the top rating by DOE and ACEEE with a 2.7-liter, 4-cylinder engine and a manual transmission. For highway-running, it gets 25 miles per gallon of gas. But GM twins, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, with their 2.9-liter, 8-cylinder automatics and stick trannies are riding the Tacoma's bumper in this category, according to ACEEE.
  • Standard pickup: GM's Chevy Silverado 1500 and GMC's Sierra 1500 hybrids top this category in the DOE ranking with 6-liter, 8-cylinder engines linked to electric-powered automatic trannies. For highway-running, the 2wd and 4wd models both average 23 mpg over the road. Leaving out the hybrids, Ford's F-150 3.7-liter, 6-cylinder automatic trannies join the Silverado's 5.3-liter, 8-cylinder automatic as ACEEE's best-of-class pickups. This group is dominated by flex-fuel engines.
  • Sports Utility Vehicle: The Ford Escape Hybrid, while certainly no pickup, tops both ratings. But stripping out the back seats of this front-wheel-drive will give you a combined 32-mpg ride plus extra cargo room. The top fuel-efficiency-rated model had a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine.
  • Special purpose vehicle: If you want to make local deliveries and pass by all gas pumps, then take a look at the Ford/Azure Dynamics Transit Connect Electric Wagon. It's a boxy-looking, front-wheel-drive, all-electric delivery truck that gets the electrical equivalent of 62 mpg of gas. Ford and Azure report that this vehicle gets up to 80 miles per plug-in.

DOE and ACEEE also rank their "meanest" – as in fuel-guzzling and least efficient – vehicles for 2012. DOE is also beginning to add 2013 models to its database.

Tap into DOE's website at http://www.fueleconomy.gov/FEG/best/bestworstEPAtrucksNF.shtml#withEVs.

ACEEE's 2012 environmental rankings is also on the web at greenercars.org. Its best-scoring trucks have high fuel economy and meet one of the stricter low-bin Tier 2 standards (bin 1 through bin 4) or Phase II low-emission vehicle standards (ULEV II, SULEV II, PZEV).

If you live in California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont or Washington, or in a sales region nearby, then LEV II- and ULEV II-certified models will be widely available. Elsewhere, vehicles must be certified to Federal Tier 2 standards, or "bins."