Greenpeace member with students to ferry about seeks eco-friendly load-carrier... Can James Ruppert help?

Eliza Hunt lives on the edge of Southampton, and has three children at various universities. She is looking for a car that is suitable for local journeys but needs something that can carry adults (those further-educated children) comfortably in the back, with room for luggage, when returning to uni.

She's a member of Greenpeace and is into recycling, so would only consider a used car. However, Eliza is concerned about CO2 emissions and would welcome help in deciding whether to buy an LPG conversion.

Eliza is proof that Greenpeace membership and car ownership are not mutually exclusive. The fact is that we all need cars to get about, especially if local transport options are fairly marginal.

Eliza is right to recognise that driving an older vehicle is actually recycling of the highest order. The concept of bangernomics is based on the principle that there is no point in using more energy in a freshly manufactured car when there are plenty of serviceable ones out there.

Low maintenance and running costs is a priority for Eliza, as she is recently divorced. This also goes hand in hand with environmentally friendly motoring.

Actually, the best way to keep emissions down is to keep a car properly maintained. So regular servicing is a must, and keeping tyres correctly inflated helps fuel economy. When Eliza does not have students in her car, she should empty the boot of all sorts of rubbish to reduce weight.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) makes sense, both on environmental and practical grounds. LPG is roughly half the cost of other fuels, and it burns more cleanly, so the emissions are lower. It would not be worth Eliza's while to have it fitted (that would cost well over £1,000) as her mileage is fairly low, so she should find a car with LPG already installed.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

The feelgood motor of the moment is the Toyota Prius, beloved of celebs and plebs who apparently care about the planet. The fact that it has a small electric motor that kicks in and helps out every now and then explains the remarkable fuel economy of 60mpg and beyond, plus low C02 emissions.

The thing is, though (as my colleague Sean O'Grady discusses on page 3), not everyone has been able to get those figures and, even though it is a Toyota, there may be more expense over the longer term.

Still, Eliza should consider a Prius, as earlier 1998 examples can be bought for just under £4,000. It is a reasonably sized family car with four doors, which is all Eliza really needs. Indeed, as she will spend most of the time driving on her own, she should consider a car that is no longer made - the Toyota Yaris Verso. It is small but tall and feels spacious, with a wide, square boot.

One of the rear seats can be folded flat into the floor for extra luggage space when there are three students on board. It will be a squeeze, but this is only a couple of times a year. The rest of the time Eliza will have a useful hatchback which, with a diesel engine, manages 56mpg overall (or 44mpg for the petrol). Prices start at £3,000.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

Eliza tells me that she goes weak at the knees at the sight of a Saab. Quite right too. These are large, practical and safe vehicles that can be surprisingly cheap to run. All Eliza needs to do is to find a local specialist who understands them and can source cheaper parts.

The great thing about Saabs, as I never tire of telling anyone, is that they are sensational value for money. With only £1,000, Eliza can buy a mid-1990s 900 with air bags and air conditioning and everything, with a truly massive boot and loads of comfort for four people. Average fuel consumption for the 2.3-litre non-turbo engine is 30mpg-plus, which isn't too bad. Eliza could also go for an older-model Saab 900, which is no less safe and even more capacious.

Short stop-start local runs are not good for any car, and a Saab is best appreciated on a longer journey - Eliza won't feel tired after doing the uni run.

I found only one Saab with a LPG fuel conversion - a 9-5 estate at £3,750. This should certainly swallow three students and their luggage, but for the rest of the time Eliza has to make sure that she is happy to drive such a large car.

CAR CHOICE

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and contact number, and details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested and your budget.

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