It is not too difficult to follow a vegan diet these days. There are so many excellent vegan alternatives to most non-vegan food products and that is before we get to the massive array of fruit, vegetables, pulses, seeds, nuts and other naturally vegan (and healthy) foods. Therefore, with minimal care and planning, following a nutritious vegan diet is not usually an issue. But what about extending your vegan ideals to other areas of life?
If you really want to embrace veganism, seeking out vegan friendly clothing and even vegan electricity could be on the agenda. But, what about when you need to buy a car? In this article, we’ll consider what might stop most cars from being fully vegan. And, whether it is even possible to purchase a 100% vegan car. We’ll look at the more obvious factors (such as leather seats) and also the more complicated issues (such as the environmental impact of cars). But first, let’s take a brief look at the materials most modern cars are made from.
What Are Cars Made From?
There are numerous materials that go into making any car and they range from the more obvious (steel and plastic) to those that can sneak under the radar a little, for instance, within components of various electrical devices within engines. Here we outline some of the main materials that go into the construction of standard road cars.
Often the main car body, chassis and many structural parts of cars are made from steel of various types. It is very strong and it has a good ability to absorb impact in the unfortunate event of an accident.
Plastics, in various forms, are present in most cars and generally make up about half of the total volume of materials used (though only around 10% of the weight). Because they are easy to shape into whatever is required, plastics are used for all kind of things from dashboards to light coverings, steering wheels to seatbelts.
It’s hard to avoid plastic in cars. Polyester and other similar plastic fabrics are often used for seat covers and interiors of the boot and in footwells.
As well as being used for the car tyres, rubber is also present in various hoses/pipes, seals and windscreen wipers. Rubber is also commonly used for foot mats.
Obviously the windscreen and windows are made of glass (that has been laminated with some kind of plastic to prevent it from shattering). But also things like satnav screens, parking camera lenses and mirrors are made from glass.
Leather or Leather Alternative
Leather or a leather alternative is commonly used for the car’s seats and trim and often the steering wheel, gear stick and handbrake.
A type of plastic that is reinforced with glass fibres to add strength, this fireproof, non-corroding material is used in various areas of cars including doors, bumpers and roofs.
Various engine parts and other fittings/components in cars are made from aluminium due to its light-weight and durable nature. Wheels are often made from aluminium alloys.
Various other metals are used in the electrical and other components within a car. These include the lead in batteries, the copper in electrical wiring and even platinum, rhodium and palladium in catalytic converters.
Carbon Fibre/Polymer Composites
Some carbon fibre polymers such as epoxy resin are used in some cars sometimes to bind various parts of the car together.
There are some other materials in most cars that don’t easily fall into the categories above, such as the acid in batteries and the mica used in the paint on some cars.
What Could Stop Cars Being Vegan?
Here we’ll look at what could stop a car from being completely vegan based on the physical components used to make them. We’ll delve into the environmental side of things in the next section.
One of the most obviously non-vegan materials used in cars is leather, usually made from the skin of cows (though sometimes other animals as we discuss in our vegan leather article). This is used for seats, steering wheels, gear sticks and some of the trim.
If buying a new car, manufacturers/dealers often give customers options to pick alternative materials, such as synthetic fake leather or, increasingly, vegan-friendly leather alternatives, such as those made from plants.
It is possible that the steel used to make a good chunk of most cars has been lubricated using some kind of animal grease. It is very difficult to ascertain whether this has been the case though, or whether some non-animal alternative, such as a petroleum-based lubricant, was employed.
Although rubber itself comes from plants (from the rubber tree, no less), to be used for car tyres it must be made stronger and more flexible through a process of vulcanisation. (This has nothing to do with Star Trek, by the way, and was invented/accidentally discovered by Charles Goodyear in 1839… which was certainly a good year for him!)
Though there are reports dotted around the internet that tallow has been used during the vulcanisation process of rubber, it is certainly not a necessary component of the process, and sulphur, carbon black (made from petrochemicals), silica, zinc oxide, chalk and other non-animal materials are the main non-rubber additions in most car tyres these days. It is possible that some of the oils used in tyre production originate from animals but this not a simple thing to verify.
Wool or Other Animal-Derived Materials
It is possible that some upholstery, mats or interior panelling could be covered or made from material that has come from animals, such as wool or mohair. This would be similar to leather as being one of the more overtly non-vegan materials used in cars and many vegans would want to avoid these if given the opportunity. If buying a new car, there is usually the option to opt for alternatives.
Cars, the Environment & Veganism
Aside from the more obvious things that could render a car non-vegan, such as leather seats, how about the issue that some people would view as secondary but which others would put front and centre of the vegan cause: the environment. There is no doubting the fact that cars have a significant effect on the environment and this isn’t limited to simply the exhaust fumes. A vast amount of energy is required to produce the steel that makes up a large proportion of most cars, for instance.
But as anyone who has been attracted to veganism for environmental reasons will know, it is the burning of petrol and diesel that is one of the main issues with conventional cars in terms of the impact on global warming and also the air pollution it causes. All this will cause problems for animals around the globe from polar bears to sea turtles, cheetahs to mountain gorillas.
Less Air Pollution, But Batteries Are Problematic
That is not to say that electric cars are perfect of course, as detailed by Green Peace. Yes, electric motors are far more efficient than internal combustion engines and they produce a lot less air pollution than petrol or diesel vehicles (though they do produce some air pollution from particles that come from the tyres and brakes).
But there is the very real issue about how the materials required for the batteries are obtained, such as cobalt, the extraction of which is reported to rely on the exploitation of child labourers.
Electricity Used for Charging
With electric cars, a lot will also depend on how the electricity used to charge them is generated. If you use an electric car and then plug it in to charge on electricity that has been generated by burning fossil fuels, it might produce less air pollution in your nice little village or town but it would just be transferring the problem of carbon emissions to wherever the fossil fuel power station is located.
As such, it is important for electricity to be generated from renewal sources to allow electric vehicles to be significantly less environmentally damaging than conventional petrol and diesel cars. We go into detail about some of the best, most environmentally friendly energy suppliers in our vegan electricity article.
Should Vegans Ever Buy Cars?
It could be true to assert that it is not possible to buy a 100% vegan car. This is because all cars, whether petrol, diesel, electric or hydrogen-powered, will cause some kind of pollution or have some kind of carbon footprint. Whether this comes directly from the exhaust pipe or from the factories in which the vehicles (or their batteries) are manufactured, there will be some kind of seriously negative impact on the environment that will have a highly detrimental affect on some (if not all) animals. So, should vegans simply not buy cars at all?
Well, when it comes down to it, if you delve deep enough into the production of almost any food or product, there will be some kind of impact on the environment. There could be a valid argument to suggest that, when all things are considered, nothing that we consume can possibly be 100% vegan. But if we go down that particular cul-de-sac, we’re liable to give up on trying to improve things in the world and no one wants that!
As such, instead of simply going to live in a cave and attempting to survive by eating moss and drinking rainwater, we will instead turn to that ever-useful phrase within the definition of veganism: “as far as is possible and practicable”. This means that vegans should try to be as vegan as they can… unless it really is impossible or not at all practicable to avoid something that might cause some harm to some animals. We feel that cars fall into this category, at least for people who require a car for their work or life in general.
Of course, if a vegan has the choice, they should certainly opt for cars with vegan-friendly seat upholstery. And, in terms of the environmental impact, choosing an efficient electric vehicle is far better than opting for a gas-guzzling SUV. But trying to research whether a particular rubber used to make a pipe in your engine has come from a factory that uses animal grease might just not be possible. That may change though and there are certainly more moves being made to create, or at least consider, fully vegan cars.
What Are the Most Vegan Cars to Buy?
Though some would argue there are no perfectly vegan cars on the market in the UK, some are certainly much better than others. More and more manufacturers are waking up to the fact that a growing number of consumers do not want to sit on processed animal skin when driving to their favourite meditation retreat or to buy lentils (don’t you love vegan myths and clichés?). As such, it is becoming more common for car makers to opt for vegan-friendly interiors to their vehicles so they don’t alienate any potential customers.
Let’s run through some of the most vegan-friendly vehicles around, all of which are electric. There are plenty of non-electric cars available with vegan-friendly interiors but given the environmental impact of petrol/diesel engines, we can’t justify adding them to our list of the most vegan options.
A sub-brand of Volvo, Polestar offers some excellent electric cars with very good power and ranges. Their Polestar 2 uses vegan-friendly WeaveTeach material for its interiors with no leather in sight. They are not cheap (the launch model is upwards of £50,000 and the base model is planned to be sold at around the £35,000 mark) but they have been well reviewed and are built to last.
Tesla Model X
Another one that has the option for vegan leather interiors, Tesla’s have a certain panache about them that make them highly desirable. Style and hipster appeal comes at a price though, and the price of a Model X is more than £80,000 at the time of writing.
This slightly more affordable electric car (though still around the £25-30,000 mark) is the best-selling EV in Europe and it comes in a leather-free option that utilises a vegan leather alternative for its interiors.
One of the more distinctive EVs out there, the Twizy might look quite silly, but if you live in a busy city with limited parking it really comes into its own. Given that the whole vehicle is 85% recyclable, it is up there as perhaps the most vegan-friendly car there is (as long as you don’t mind the stares as you drive past!).
At around £10,000 it’s significantly cheaper than many electric cars, but it’s not great for journeys out of town or indeed in bad weather. It’s also got a poor safety rating.
This electric vehicle from BMW uses carbon fibre reinforced plastic to reduce the amount of steel it uses (and given the massive carbon footprint of steel production, this is very significant).
It also allows customers to charge the battery from their domestic solar panels and the interior is mainly made from Sensatec, BMW’s artificial leather. At the time of writing, there is one drawback: they come with leather steering wheels as standard. But this should be something that can be changed on request.
Vegan Cars: Conclusions
There are no expressly vegan cars being made commercially at the time of writing. As with any product that includes many different parts made from numerous different materials, it is very difficult – some would say impossible – to ensure, therefore, that any car is 100% vegan. This task is made even more complicated when you take into account the environmental impact of cars in general and petrol and diesel cars in particular, and the negative impact this can have on animals (and humans).
The easiest way to pick a car that is more vegan than many is to avoid any that include leather (or other animal-derived materials) interiors or trim. It will be very difficult to ascertain whether some things, such as the specific glue used in areas of the car or the type of lubricant used during manufacturing, are 100% vegan, but, ultimately, your time might be better spent on more rewarding ways to promote the vegan cause.
Aside from avoiding leather, the next best way to maximise the vegan credentials of your future car is to pick a vehicle that has as low an environmental impact as possible. This is sometimes easier said than done but as more manufacturers tune in to consumers’ desires to make greener (and more vegan-friendly) choices, we think cars will become more attuned to vegan ideals in the coming years.