Why Buy a Hybrid?
So, you’ve decided to make the big leap into an electrified vehicle. As you might know, there are three major kinds of electrified vehicles available – hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric. Each of them represents potential savings in fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions, but each also has specific nuances to how they operate and that will help determine what’s best for your needs.
Here, we’re focusing on hybrid cars – or HEVs (hybrid electric vehicles). You can find information about plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) elsewhere in GreenCars 101.
The term “hybrid” refers to a vehicle that combines electric power with another form of power – usually a gasoline engine – to offer improved efficiency and performance.
A hybrid car’s electric motor/generator can recuperate normally wasted energy by braking and storing it as electricity in a battery. Some hybrids use this electrical energy to power accessories in the car, such as the heating/air conditioning system, reducing the load on the gasoline engine. Some hybrids, like the Toyota Prius and RAV4 Hybrid, have a larger battery that can be used to drive the vehicle short distances under electric power, and supplement the gasoline engine to reduce fuel consumption.
Things to Consider When Shopping for a Hybrid
Because they are gasoline vehicles with an added element of electric power, hybrid vehicles are easy to fit into any lifestyle. If you’re coming from a gasoline vehicle, you don’t need to worry about changing your driving habits and can simply enjoy the benefits of reduced fuel consumption and reduced emissions – and you also won’t need to think about having to install charging equipment at home.
Hybrid vehicles are good for driving in the city and long trips alike. In the city, you’ll be amazed at how little fuel you’ll use, as the electric motor’s low-end torque will take care of low-speed maneuvering, while the gasoline engine powers you along the highway – and further between fuel stops. While a hybrid won’t eliminate gasoline consumption completely like an all-electric vehicle, it will still provide substantial fuel savings over a conventional gasoline car.
When choosing which hybrid car to buy, then, the same considerations as buying any vehicle apply. Do you find the design of the vehicle appealing? Does it have enough room for you and your family? Are the technology features and infotainment system easy to understand?
Take the vehicle on a test drive. How does it ride on city streets? Is there adequate passing power on the freeway? Can you feel the extra boost from the electric motor under acceleration? When braking, can you feel the regenerative braking function at work?
What Can You Save?
When you are running the numbers and looking at purchase price and monthly payments, think about how much money a hybrid can help you save over time. Though it might be a little more expensive to buy upfront, when you look at total cost of ownership (savings on fuel, some reduced maintenance costs), the savings can add up. Indeed, by using the EPA’s estimated fuel economy numbers for the hybrid you are considering, compared to your current vehicle, you should be able to calculate your savings in fuel costs. Many hybrid vehicles will deliver EPA-rated fuel economy in excess of 40 or even 50 mpg!
If you have regular access to charging at work or have a 220-volt dryer plug in your garage, you might want to consider a plug-in hybrid. Plug-in Hybrids have a significantly larger battery pack, allowing them the ability to drive significant distances under electric power alone. Second, they have the ability to recharge the battery by plugging it in when you’re not driving. (How much more distance do you get with a plug-in hybrid? While a “regular” Prius can go less than a mile under electric power alone, the plug-in Prius Prime can go up to 25 miles without using any gasoline at all.)
Should You Buy Used?
Hybrid vehicles aren’t new to the market – the first American Honda Insights and Toyota Priuses were delivered in 1997 and 1998, over 20 years ago! Many of those vehicles are still going strong – and hybrid cars have proven to be very durable and robust. The Prius has earned a reputation as a great, economical taxicab all over the world, with many racking up a quarter million miles without major issues.
With over 20 years of sales, there are a lot of hybrid cars available on the used car market, and they can make excellent buys – you will avoid the initial depreciation hit of buying a new car and will end up with something that delivers many of the same benefits as a new hybrid: reduced fueling costs, lower tailpipe emissions, and lower cost of ownership.
Depending on the age of the vehicle you are considering, its hybrid battery may still be under warranty. Conventional gasoline cars have a mechanical warranty to cover major problems relating to the engine, transmission and other essential systems – usually between three and seven years. Hybrid car warranties are similar – but, on top of the general protection for the vehicle, hybrid batteries often have a much longer warranty. For example, the Toyota Prius has a 10-year, 150,000-mile warranty on the battery. This can help protect you against unforeseen issues and costs even if the hybrid you buy is a few years old.
What about a used hybrid whose battery is no longer under warranty? If a replacement is required, it could indeed cost thousands – but will vary based on the year and model of the car. As an example, if we look at the 2010 Toyota Prius, the cost for a new traction battery pack ranges from $3,000 to $5,000.
While this is expensive, it’s worth mentioning that replacing batteries is the exception rather than the norm. For instance, a Prius can often go up to 300,000 miles without needing a battery replacement. And the cost of batteries continues to decline as technology continues to improve.