help me find a car!
February 20, 2006 6:50 PM   Subscribe

What sort of car am I looking for?

Here's my situation: I drive just at 100 miles a day, 50 each way to and from work. 500 miles a week, 2000 miles a month. It adds up to a ton of gas, as well as a ton of wear and tear on the car. The mileage is 95% highway speeds, so it's not as bad as it could be, but it's still a lot of miles.

I'd like to get a hybrid, mainly for the gas savings, but I'm not sure how they handle that much mileage. I'm worried about finding a balance between gas savings and minimal depreciation. The other issue is initial cost...less is better. :-)

Has anyone seen any actual analysis of this sort of thing online? When is the break even point for a hybrid as compared to a normal engine? As far as cost, is there even a market of used hybrids yet? What's the maximum possible mileage for the minimum possible price?
posted by griffey to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total)
What's the maximum possible mileage for the minimum possible price?

Sort of asked before, but with a 'no hybrids' rider.

Anyway, here are the official numbers. I'd say petrol Civic or Corolla, or possibly a diesel VW. They've been made for years, have a reputation for lasting well into the 200k+ range, and there's both a good used market and a decent resale value (especially the VWs). They're also comfy enough not to make the commute a pain.
posted by holgate at 7:10 PM on February 20, 2006

For maximum mileage at minimum price I'd say your best bet is an older used car. Something small, cheap, and easy to maintain (and find parts for). An '82 Honda Civic or something. I'd aim to spend less than $1000 for the car, $1000 for initial repairs. If that were my goal.
posted by sfenders at 7:16 PM on February 20, 2006

Googling should get you some comparisons, and you can poke around at the PriusChat and PriusOnline messageboards for some real-world numbers. There is a market for used hybrids (particularly from gadgethead hackers who don't care about having a car in warranty), but most owners aren't giving them up yet.

I don't know if you can realistically go in expecting a hybrid to pay you back the difference in gas savings. I guess it depends on what "difference" is to you. Granted, I wouldn't have bought a $24K car if it hadn't been a hybrid, but saving money on gas was my lowest priority over using less gas and voting with my money on fuel-efficient technology. My first tank was 450mi/9.8gal, the second was 470mi/9.6gal, and I am pleased with those numbers as well as the general experience of driving the car.

But we paid around $17K for my husband's xB and it's probably hitting low 30s for gas mileage, which isn't awful. You might be happier with a diesel (especially if you can find biodiesel convenient to your daily drive) for the price difference and gas mileage.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:21 PM on February 20, 2006

Get a Volkswagen diesel. We have a 2003 Jetta and love it. We put tons of miles on it (3700 miles/month) and we never get less than 45mpg. The engine will likely last a long time too and will appreciate how much driving you do.

Also, since I'm in California and you can't buy diesels here currently, I could actually sell my car for more than I paid for it (19k) now.
posted by disaster77 at 7:23 PM on February 20, 2006

"They" say that the money saved on gas by driving a hybrid (usually) doesn't cover the additional initial investment. If you're interested in economics instead of driving green, get a late-model (or even new -- they're cheap) Civic or Corolla (although I think the Civic has lots of new bits this year, so if you buy new, you might want to go with the bug-tested Corolla instead). A friend's '01 Corolla was retired last summer with zillions and zillions of miles (this is only a slight exaggeration), and absolutely no mechanical problems. Plus they have teeny-tiny engines (by US standards), so they sip gas daintily (with their pinkies raised).
posted by uncleozzy at 7:27 PM on February 20, 2006

Response by poster: No one has mentioned the Honda Insight yet...68 MPG highway? Is that a real number? I understand that it's a three that such a bad thing for that kind of mileage?

I do have a ~2000 ft climb daily. Live on a small mountain, so the 3 cylinder doesn't thrill me for that reason. But it's hard to argue with 68 MPG.

posted by griffey at 7:35 PM on February 20, 2006

If you're worried about air quality, stay away from a diesel. You can't buy them in Cali for a reason.

One thing to think about is resale value, if your lifestyle ever changes, Prius prices haven't gone down at all. Its one of the lowest depreciating cars on the market. A new Prius is something like $25k. In comparison, a Toyota corolla has a 40 MPG highway EPA estimate. All cars get much less miles per gallon then the EPA estimate, but they don't have little computers telling the drivers what they're getting, so the 'real world' numbers only look bad for hybrids, since most people don't know what they are really getting.

You can get a corolla base package for $13k. So that's a $12k difference. For every mile you drive, you'll burn 1.24 times as much gas. So, if gas prices are, lets say $3.00 a gallon over the next five years, and every month you drive 2000 miles In the Pirus, that will cost you $117, and in the corolla, that will cost you $146.

In five years the difference is just $1,700.

And, you could probably buy a used corolla for much less.
posted by delmoi at 7:42 PM on February 20, 2006

Honda has a gas savings calculator on their site, you can compare the highway mileage of other cars to the Civic Hybrid (middle column, scroll down).

Professional analysts differ on the real economic value of hybrids, and the difference in initial costs is difficult to overcome purely based on gas savings. Some believe that because for many cars the demand for hybrid models exceeds the new supply, the market for used hybrids is very good. There is significant anecdotal evidence of the Toyota Prius being sold used for just as much and occasionally more than new models. It is unlikely to continue at the current rate; when you sell your hybrid in five years you won't be getting more than you paid for it.

You might consider more traditional models that have hybrid options, rather than cars produced purely as hybrids like the Prius. Toyotas and Hondas have traditionally had great resale value, and I expect the hybrid models would maintain a higher value than standard used cars, barring any heretofore unknown technical issues.

There have also been tax credits available for buyers of hybrid cars, though the current legislation for the incentive has expired and is being replaced by tax deductions based on the car's fuel efficiency.

I'll turn off my hybrid advocacy mode now and note that if you're looking for one purely for the gas savings, it probably doesn't make much sense in the current market. But if you're looking at keeping this car long-term and care about the costs of gas which don't directly effect your wallet, you might want to look into buying one.
posted by kyleg at 7:43 PM on February 20, 2006

No one has mentioned the Honda Insight yet...68 MPG highway? Is that a real number? I understand that it's a three that such a bad thing for that kind of mileage?

I do have a ~2000 ft climb daily. Live on a small mountain, so the 3 cylinder doesn't thrill me for that reason. But it's hard to argue with 68 MPG.

a 2006 insight only gets 60 on the highway, hybrids do better in the city because they use regenerative breaking. An insight would cost you $100/mo based on that figure, or $2,760 or so over five years. It also costs less to buy (just $20), but you're still not breaking even over 5 years.
posted by delmoi at 7:48 PM on February 20, 2006

but yeah, when you figure in resale value, things are a little diffrent, but someday there may be enough hybrids to go around.
posted by delmoi at 7:49 PM on February 20, 2006

Response by poster: kyleg: I definitely agree on the resale value of the hybrids, and Toyota and Honda are at the top of my search for either hybrid or non.

I am looking at the hybrid for not only gas mileage, but also as a manner of voting with my wallet. The ballot just isn't as large as I might like right now. :-) So I've got to find a balance.

Great stuff so far, guys! Thanks, and keep the advice coming.
posted by griffey at 7:52 PM on February 20, 2006

I have to second (or third?) the Corolla. I actually have a Tercel, but it's not that much different. It's currently over nine years old, and I'm about 500 miles away from the 100,000-mile mark. To date, it's needed next to no repairs. I had a problem with the fuel line a couple years back; that cost about $200. I also had the cx axels replaced last year for just under $400. Pretty awesome considering this car has been nearly totalled twice. Oh, and I'm still getting about 32 mpg.
posted by lunalaguna at 7:53 PM on February 20, 2006

Go to they are the very best place online to research cars. One of the things I love is they have all sorts of Buying Guides (the one I linked to is a buying guide for hybrids), as well as things like True Cost to Own Rankings. The last link is exactly what you are looking for. For cars under $15,000 the Toyota Echo was ranked as the lowest true cost to own last year. They rank the cars based on depreciation, mileage, financing, and more. Edmunds is the first place I go when I am doing car research. Oh, and they also have a great calculator that helps you figure out what price you should actually be able to buy a car for in your area. When I bought my 2001 Civic new, it was a great help in negotiating.
posted by bove at 8:07 PM on February 20, 2006

An Insight will easily handle a 2000ft climb.
I drove one up and down Colorado mountains a couple of years ago, and never noticed a bothersome lack of power.
It was obviously slower than my normal V-6, but never slow enough to cause any sort of trouble.
posted by madajb at 8:46 PM on February 20, 2006

"They" say that the money saved on gas by driving a hybrid (usually) doesn't cover the additional initial investment.

I get about 43-46mpg in my Prius with a fair amount of highway driving (they actually get better mileage in the city than on the highway). When I calculated it out at pre-Katrina gas prices that was 7 years to pay off the "hybrid premium pricing".

Money wasn't really that huge of a factor with my purchase, but since then more companies have gone hybrid so the price of hybrids should come down. My calculations were also pre-Katrina. I at least know I'm prepared if gas hits $4US a gallon someday. I get over 400 miles on a 10-gallon tank.

Besides, it's such a nice car to drive that I probably would buy it again, hybrid or not. Base price at the time was $21K, mine cost $28K because I got the best option package. Here's another reason I like them (sorry for the self-link, and yes I wrote that tonight, before reading this question).

By the way, the standard warranty covers the hybrid parts of the car (special transmission, etc.) for 7 years. Anything else can be operated on by a regular mechanic and doesn't require any special tools or methods.
posted by tkolstee at 9:20 PM on February 20, 2006

Delmoi, hybrids also improve city mileage because they cut the engine at stops and may not run it at all in stretches of stop and go traffic.

For highway driving, a small car like a non-performance tuned civic or a corolla will have fuel economy that's pretty close to a hybrid.
posted by Good Brain at 9:55 PM on February 20, 2006

A friend loves his new VW Golf, but I'm about to buy a Swatch Smart. It has the same fuel economy as a Prius.
posted by krisjohn at 4:29 AM on February 21, 2006

By the way, the hybrid Corolla will be out this spring. I have no idea how hard it may be to get one, but that might be a best-of-both-worlds option.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:52 AM on February 21, 2006

I have a Toyota hybrid. As a poster noted above, the highway mileage is not as good as the city mileage. However, with the great warranty that Toyota is giving on their hybrid vehicles (7 years), combined with the terrific resale value and great quality of the product, I do think that a hybrid makes a good choice. I don't know if you ever have to do stop-and-go on the highway, but one thing to think about versus the diesel models is the fact that the hybrids do not spew exhaust into the air while idling. If you live near an urban area, then not contributing as much to pollution is a nice perk for you and everyone else.
posted by Flakypastry at 5:55 AM on February 21, 2006

Our Insight gets closer to 50 mpg on the highway. I would be wary of buying a used Insight because the additional batteries do not last forever (a lot of places I see quoted as around 7 years and a minimum of $2,000 to replace) so factor that into the expense of a used Insight.

Overall the Insight was more of a Green choice on our part than an economical one.
posted by iurodivii at 6:32 AM on February 21, 2006

If I were exposing myself to 24,000 miles a year, my first priority would be crash safety.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:32 AM on February 21, 2006

Response by poster: Crash safety certainly might fall into the equation, but it's not in the top 5. Been driving for 18 years or so, and (knocks on any available wood) I've never been in a wreck. I've had a few very close calls that I was able to avoid.

We have a CRV that would be used for any vacation driving, etc. This car would be nearly solely for my commute to and from work.
posted by griffey at 10:44 AM on February 21, 2006

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