Eco Advice Pilot Column #2
November 26, 2007

The Road Map for Savings with Hybrid Cars

Q  Our family is in the process of purchasing a new car, and we are considering a hybrid model. We keep vehicles for a long time (our current cars are six and 10 years old), and we are curious about the maintenance costs and reliability of hybrid cars, especially battery replacement. Will the larger investment of purchasing a hybrid vehicle pay off in the long run?

Kokomo, Indiana

A Dear Susan,

When the price of gasoline goes up, so do sales of hybrid cars.  The good news is that current hybrid models are peppier, more stylish, and equipped with more features than ever. And they really save money, too: many hybrid owners say they recoup their initial investment after just a few years.

Just don’t let sticker shock scare you off. At the dealership, hybrids typically cost around $4,000 more than equivalent gas-powered models – and those interested in a green version of the family minivan or an SUV will likely spend even more. Luckily, federal tax credits save most hybrid buyers about $1,400, reducing the price gap between hybrids and conventional cars to a more reasonable $2,600.

The real savings begin as soon as you drive your new hybrid off the lot. While most cars don’t quite achieve the optimum mileage as reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, hybrid sedans still average around 40 miles per gallon in both city and highway driving conditions.

Over time, this kind of mileage can cut fuel costs by nearly a third. With daily commutes, errands, and family vacations, American drivers put an average of about 13,500 miles on their cars each year. To shuttle you to all these places, a hybrid would require about 340 gallons of fuel annually – or $1,100, at a recent price of $3.22 for a gallon of regular unleaded.  In comparison, a conventional sedan would use around $1,600 of gas. After five years of $500 savings, most owners will recover the premium they paid for their hybrids.

Some prospective buyers worry that a hybrid’s complex technology will be vulnerable to breakdowns or difficult to repair. In fact, hybrids contain mechanical components similar to those used in conventional vehicles and other appliances.

For example, hybrid car battery packs are essentially stacks of larger versions of the nickel metal hydride battery found in many cell phones. At current prices – which are likely to drop as more and more hybrids roam the open road – replacing the whole pack could cost a daunting $3,000. But so far, almost all hybrid battery problems have been caused by corrosion of individual battery cells, which can be replaced for under $200.

Honda, Toyota, and Ford – manufacturers of the most popular hybrid models – all offer extended warranties on hybrid-specific parts, like the battery pack and electric motor. These parts are designed to last the car’s full lifetime, so chances are you won’t have to worry about replacing them yourself. Some conventional parts may even last longer in a hybrid: regenerative braking reduces wear on brakes, and electric-powered air conditioning reduces the likelihood of belt replacements.

With cost savings down the road and relatively minimal concerns about maintenance, the signs may well point your family toward a hybrid.

Link here for Digging Deeper, which contains more information about hybrid cars.


Limit Speed, Save Gas – Did you know that driving at 55 m.p.h. instead of 65 increases gas mileage by around 15 percent? For more tips on saving gas and improving mileage, visit the U.S. EPA's Mobile Sources Website