Can you convince me NOT to buy a hybrid?
March 7, 2008 10:39 PM   Subscribe

What are the downsides to owning a hybrid? In the market for a new car, and wondering about the cost/benefit ratio, among other things.

Hoping that hybrid owners can help out here. Concerns are mostly economic. Are there unexpected or hidden costs that pop up that you wouldn't have with the standard model? For someone with a fairly short daily commute in highway traffic, is the gas savings lessened? Is the initial cost premium worth it?

What about consumer choice? Is there a difference in the benefits provided by hybrid models when comparing sedans vs. SUVs? Does it make sense to restrict yourself to looking for hybrid models rather than all available automobiles, in terms of available features? Are there safety concerns not associated with standard models?

If you have answers, or any other valid concerns about hybrid ownership that should be considered, please post them here. Alternately, if you would like to make the argument that buying a hybrid is always the best option, feel free to state your case.
posted by kyleg to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Just because something is a hybrid doesn't mean that it gets great gas mileage - just better than the same model with a gas engine. There is a big difference between the mileage on a Honda Civic or a Prius (govt. estimates 50 mpg) and a Honda Accord (31) and SUV's (29-31). This from the government fuel economy numbers here.

One thing I learned was that mileage is better when the engine is warm. If you have a short commute, your mileage will be lower. Air conditioning also lowers mpg. Driving without extra effort to improve my mileage with most trips about 5-20 minutes, i average about 45 mpg in a Prius. When I drive on the highway to visit Grandma (about 90 minute drive) my mpg is over 50 - even the engine is more efficient at slower speeds, driving with a warm engine for almost the whole trip seems to make up for it.

In 2 years of driving my Prius, there have been no surprises - it drives very normally, the only odd thing is the little tiny shift level that pops back into a neutral position as soon as you let go. Also, if you have children sleeping in the back seat, you need to make sure that their pillow doesn't cover the vent right next to the right rear door.
posted by metahawk at 11:32 PM on March 7, 2008

Prius owner here. The downsides to a Prius are:

- hard to find a used one for under $10k
- (I'd guess) $5k more than a non-hybrid vehicle with similar features
- MPG is good, but not mind-blowing
- acceleration is OK, but not sporty


- vehicle has been flawless in first year of use - amazing that all that new tech works so well
- runs cleaner than other cars (the real eco benefit of hybrids)
- satisfies my not-so-inner tech geek and eco geek
- my favorite independent honda/toyota garage is now prius-friendly
posted by zippy at 12:25 AM on March 8, 2008

What zippy said needs to be examined in closer detail: It has often been said that the additional $3,000-$5,000 you can expect to pay for a present-day hybrid, because of its hybrid parts and technology, etc, and any markup the car companies have put on them... will be VERY difficult to make up for in fuel cost savings over the life of the vehicle.

Check out one VERY VERY loquacious look into that here, arrived at by Googling "hybrid economics." :-)
posted by disillusioned at 1:26 AM on March 8, 2008

It's unfortunate that Volkswagen keeps promising a 50 mpg+ (highway) Turbo Diesel Golf/Jetta for the US market, but it never shows up... Unlike what they already sell in Europe.

The UK market Diesel version of the 2007 Accord gets 55 mpg highway.
posted by thewalrus at 1:36 AM on March 8, 2008

Buying a hybrid would be a bad economic decision in 2008. Wait till 2015: by then gas will be $10/gallon. Then it'd be worth it.
posted by BeaverTerror at 3:55 AM on March 8, 2008

I've always wanted to know more about the batteries (the thing that holds the electrical charge for the electricity part, not the traditional car battery) in hybrid cards. Such as, when do they need to be replaced, how much do they cost to replace and what happens to them after they are "thrown away."
posted by FergieBelle at 5:37 AM on March 8, 2008

A lot of people stare, a lot of people stop and ask you questions about it.
posted by caddis at 5:50 AM on March 8, 2008

IF you do a lot of city driving then a hyrbid would give you a lot better gas milage. I am considering one because I do a lot of stop and go driving everyday and I am in NY which prob has the worst gas anywhere (stupid mpg hogging ethanol). I only get about 24mpg everyday with my 2004 corolla (stop and go driving combined with horrid gas). A prius would atleast double that .
posted by majortom1981 at 5:51 AM on March 8, 2008

If your concerns are mostly economic, take a look at the article linked by dissillusioned. The article assumes $2.50/gal gas (but has a nifty little graph showing monthly savings for higher gas prices), and assumes you will be purchasing a new hybrid and taking out a loan for the difference between the value of that car and whatever you trade in (it assumes you will borrow about $20,000 for the car).

I purchased a used 2004 manual-trans Civic Hybrid about 2 years ago and I haven't had any extra maintenance costs. The car has been just as reliable and cheap to maintain as any other Civic I've owned. The battery is supposed to last for 150-200K miles (at least according to this), and I think it has an 8-10year warranty. I have heard concerns about the environmental impact of discarding the batteries which may or may not outweigh the environmental benefits of improved gas mileage depending on who you ask.

I didn't borrow any money to buy the car, so when I did the math to figure how long it would take me to make up for the additional cost of the car I didn't have to figure in any interest. I think at the time I figured it would take me about 5 years to make up the cost (assuming 2.50-3.00/gal gas). The more gas prices rise the shorter that time gets.
posted by lomes at 6:10 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't convince you not to buy a hybrid. I think. I've confused myself with double negatives, so I'm just going to get on with it -

My wife and I own a 2004 Civic hybrid. We use it as a commuter car for city driving and get around 42-45 mpg.

The price difference between the hybrid and the regular Civc is several thousand dollars. I ran it through an Excel spreadsheet when we bought the car, and depending on the price of gas, it will be over 8-10 years before we come close to justifying the cost differential strictly on the price of gas.

Zippy is right, though. It's not all about the price of gas. The main benefit for us is the fact that the car runs so clean. My favorite side benefit is that I only have to fill up the tank every couple of weeks. Also, since everyone else in Texas drives an SUV, it's also very easy to find our car in parking lots [grin].

We bought the car new in 2004, and it's proven mechanically sound. Other than the standard maintenance, the car has never been in the shop.

It's been a very good experience for us. Hope this helps.

FergiBelle- I was told by the dealership that the NiMH battery lasts 7-8 years. After it starts to fail, you can recondition the battery (by just replacing the bad cells) or replace the entire the battery. NiMH are the "friendlier" rechargeable batteries that can be completely recycled without any toxic hazards. Honda does have a battery recycling program. The replacement cost is hefty. When I asked in 2004, a new battery was north of 5-6k.
posted by mattybonez at 6:24 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I didn't borrow any money to buy the car, so when I did the math to figure how long it would take me to make up for the additional cost of the car I didn't have to figure in any interest.

Strictly speaking, you should factor in whatever the car-money could have been earning if you'd not bought the car and left it in a mutual fund or whatever. Odds are this implicit interest rate is in the same ballpark with a car loan's interest rate.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:48 AM on March 8, 2008

I owned a 2000 Honda Insight for five years and have driven a Prius a few times (my parents' car). The only real economic hit in my experience is up front, in the cost of the cars. If you're willing to bite the bullet there, I think you'll be fine. In fact, the Prius is currently sought after in some US markets because sales folks aren't willing to sell it (my parents couldn't wrangle a test drive because the sales guy didn't want to move a car out of the lot that he was "sure they weren't going to buy"). I considered buying some here in MA which I could have sold for a profit there.

Anyway, the Insight was costly for what it was on paper--a two seater with good mileage. But I think it paid itself back in both gas savings and social knowledge. It convinced people that a hybrid car could succeed for consumers and manufacturers. LOTS of people would talk to me about it, and the way I drove in traffic let people know this was no slow car. The batteries in that model were under warranty for about 8 years, I think. That would be the main cost down the road to consider. I believe there was talk about swapping to newer-technology batteries anyway when the original equipment declined, so it wouldn't be a total hit. (I sold the car in '05 because I needed someplace to put a car seat so I never ran into the battery issue). I also never had any trouble or surprising maintenance issues/costs with that car, despite some unconventional after-market mods.

In terms of safety, a thing to remember is that one of the ways these cars get great mileage is by reducing weight. That often means a lighter chassis and frame (the Insight was aluminum). For some people this raises safety issues, but it never did for me. Lighter doesn't mean less safe if the materials have been used the right way. This is even less an issue with a 4-seater like the Prius.

Just because something is a hybrid doesn't mean that it gets great gas mileage - just better than the same model with a gas engine
. metahawk's right. Pay attention to actual mileage for the cars that suit your needs best, and don't assume that hybrid XYZ is more efficient that conventional gas model ABC.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:59 AM on March 8, 2008

If you don't already know about it, you really need to check out, where you can easily compare fuel costs between vehicles. It defaults to 15k miles/year, 55% city driving, and the current national average prices, but you can change them all.

Strictly speaking, you should factor in whatever the car-money could have been earning if you'd not bought the car and left it in a mutual fund or whatever.

Presumably lomes needed a car of some kind, so this calculation should only include the additional cost for the hybrid, not the entire car.
posted by pmurray63 at 7:19 AM on March 8, 2008

The UK market Diesel version of the 2007 Accord gets 55 mpg highway.

I'd like to point out that I think that figure quoted is per UK gallon (4.54 litres), although I have seen (in a 150Hp diesel golf) 65mpg(UK) regularly on motorway's so it is still relevant.

The current range of high pressure injection diesels are more economically viable than the hybrids, and actually make more sense than a hybrid, in my opinion, especially when you consider resources. The new diesel technology (Of the fuel) that seems to be taking FOREVER to get to the US means they run incredibly cleanly, and although the fuel is a touch more expensive, you actually get around twice a much diesel as petrol from a barrel of crude oil, which (in terms of best use of resources) makes much more sense.

After all, if the quantity of crude is being considered, rather than the refined version, that makes the Diesel Golf around twice as efficient as the Prius...

It really depends on what you want - to be more efficient with your money (possibly then the Prius) or with what actually matters long term (ie oil stocks). Diesel is dreadful in its availability in the US, and pressure to change that and adopt the much better fuel (although its coming and engine technology that has been in Europe for nearly 10 years will go much further than fancy marketing hybrids.
posted by Brockles at 7:50 AM on March 8, 2008

I bought a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid (HCH) used this August. The owner told me they'd never really gotten above about 40 mpg average—and that's with almost exclusively highway driving, as they lived somewhat out in the country. With a Civic Hybrid, what I've found is that mileage is very dependent on two things:

1. Distance of drive
2. The temperature

In warm months, driving carefully so as to minimize gas mileage, according to tips I found on one of the hybrid sites (I'll find it later if I get a chance; no time right now), I've still never managed to crack an average of about 35 mpg in warm weather across an entire tank of gas. (Average for highway driving can get up to about 40 mpg, but when you balance that out with a stop-and-go ~3-mile city commute that doesn't get the engine warm and averages about 30 mpg, that's the average you get.) The HCH was designed as a touring car, not a city commute car—the Prius performs markedly better for city commuting, for what I hear.

In cold months, driving with the same technique, but with a very cold engine, I'm averaging about 28-29 mpg. Before I got my winter checkup in January and got the tires pumped up a little bit and the oil changed, I was averaging about 25-26 mpg for a very cold month and a half before that. That's approximately the same gas mileage as my boyfriend's 1996 Toyota Tercel gets.

So if you get one, and it gets cold, you need to make sure to do what I didn't do right away, and get the tires pumped up a little—gas mileage on a hybrid is completely tied to the tires. Google some variant on "hybrid low rolling resistance" to see more about that. I got new tires back in the fall, and it took two tries to get tires that really worked right with the car—don't expect that a place like Dobbs will know the right ones to give you for your hybrid. Firestone, where I went for my winter checkup, hadn't even received training yet for working on hybrids when I first went in—I had to wait a week while they completed that. Some Firestones, I've heard, will just outright refuse to look at a hybrid car.

So basically, if you go for a hybrid, just make sure you read the manual cover-to-cover, and when you buy new tires or get an oil change or do any of the myriad small things an auto owner has to do for basic upkeep, make sure you check around on the Tire Rack and hybrid car bulletin boards to make an informed decision—and make sure you inform service personnel that you're bringing in a hybrid! Most of the time it's just like driving any other car—but when it comes to details like that, it's good to double-check what's best for the car, 'cause it's often not what would be best for a normal car.
posted by limeonaire at 8:12 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

This probably won't convince you to not buy a hybrid.

Bought a 2001 Prius, used. My commute is 60 miles/day, nearly all freeway; getting 48 mpg now. It's got stickers on it that let us use HOV lanes (not that I have any on my commute, actually, but for the odd trip to Sacramento, they're useful).

I took it to my local tire place recently for a tire check-up. While I was waiting, a guy (older guy, in his late 60s or early 70s) approached, walked around my car slowly, looking...looking....He came up to me and asked how I liked it, and he was considering getting one, and what kind of mileage did I get, and what kind of mechanical troubles had I had with it, etc. etc. I have conversations like this pretty frequently, even here in the Bay Area where Priuses (Priusi?) are plentiful. It's pretty cool.
posted by rtha at 9:25 AM on March 8, 2008

Walrus-- Keeping in mind when looking at the gas milage of British and Canadian cars that there is an imperial and a US gallon. A US gallon is something like .83 imperial gallons. This is one reason people are so often shocked when they buy gas here in Canada, the other being the high gas in the first place.

Personally I'm waiting to see how long hybrid engines last before I buy one. I must say, though, the Prius is very spacious and comfortable. It's got one of the best back seats available in an efficient car.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 9:35 AM on March 8, 2008

I just want to offer a contrast to limeonaire since I also have a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid. Perhaps it is the difference between weather in NC and wherever limeonaire lives, but I have never consistently gotten less than 40 mpg; in nice weather, which we have much of the year, I regularly get 46. And I find this whether I'm mostly in the city or mostly on country roads or the interstate. Also, as a few others have mentioned, I have a neighborhood garage that is proudly hybrid friendly, and I highly recommend seeking out such a place.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:44 AM on March 8, 2008

Yeah, I don't know what the deal is with my 2005 HCH, hydropsyche. Your numbers are very consistent with those I've seen listed for our model on all the hybrid sites. Mine are consistently lower—that's even with regular maintenance/checkups at the dealer for the two years before I purchased it, and pretty regular maintanance since. One thing I have noticed, though, is that my mileage can vary a lot—by around 5 mpg up or down—depending on where I get my gas. It can even vary between two tanks from the same station. Maybe the gas we get here in Missouri is just crappy!
posted by limeonaire at 11:10 AM on March 8, 2008

Hm. Another thought: hydropsyche, is your 2005 HCH a manual or CVT automatic transmission? Figures I've seen suggest the manual can get up to 10 mpg more on average than the CVT.
posted by limeonaire at 11:22 AM on March 8, 2008

This is one reason people are so often shocked when they buy gas here in Canada

Where in Canada is gas sold in imperial gallons?
posted by oaf at 4:40 PM on March 8, 2008

It's unfortunate that Volkswagen keeps promising a 50 mpg+ (highway) Turbo Diesel Golf/Jetta for the US market, but it never shows up... Unlike what they already sell in Europe.

I have a 2000 TDI (Turbo diesel) Jetta and get 50-60 mpg on the highway (US gallons, though we use litres/100km in Canada). The same car was available in the US, though not in a few states, and I think the 2008 model will be available soon. I wish that they made the smaller VW models (~80mpg) that are available in Europe available in North America too, but there isn't any reason to think that 50mpg isn't already possible with a diesel engine.
posted by ssg at 5:37 PM on March 8, 2008

Where in Canada is gas sold in imperial gallons?

Gas is sold in liters, but the pumps did give you a price in both metric and imperial. I guess it has been a long time since I saw this, but I remember being very shocked.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:41 PM on March 8, 2008

disillusioned, thanks for the article; though some of his estimates seemed a bit dubious and the logic stretched, it was an interesting representation of things to consider.

Thanks for all the answers so far. I am personally very pro-hybrid (for the usual reasons) but my fiancee is less dogmatic about it and just wants a sweet ride. It got me wondering how much benefit there is to buying the hybrid of your choice versus a standard model in the same vehicle class. She also is concerned about maintenance and the initial investment.

If it helps any of you to make a better answer, she is interested in buying a small SUV. I have postulated that if she is going to drive one, she should choose one of the hybrid versions. Am I wrong?
posted by kyleg at 10:39 PM on March 8, 2008

Then check out the Ford Escape (FWD: 34/30, 4WD: 29/27) -- it's the 4th most efficient hybrid overall (after Prius, Civic and Altima).

While Toyota makes a hybrid Pathfinder (4WD only: 27/25), IIRC it's tuned more for power than fuel economy.

GM has some hybrid SUVs, too, but they're the "mild" variety and don't provide much better mileage.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:35 AM on March 9, 2008

Forgot to mention that the Escape (or Mariner) will still have a tax credit, as will GM's. Toyota's are all used up.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:37 AM on March 9, 2008

I just read Car & Driver's review of the Chevy Malibu Hybrid (which is pretty much the same as the Saturn Aura Hybrid). This line jumps out at me: "It isn't a full hybrid like the Toyota Prius, which means that it can't run on electric power alone." I wasn't aware that there were differing levels of "hybridness" until I read that. So if you're looking around, check into that.

Realistically, though, just do a cost comparison. Figure out how much a car you are interested in will cost over the long run, including cost of the car, cost of gasoline, maintenance, etc. can provide a lot of that information. I tend to drive cars for 100,000 miles or more, which usually takes about 7 years, give or take. Figuring it that way in 2005, a diesel Rabbit couldn't pay off the extra cost of the diesel engine over the life of the car, compared to the Hyundai Elantra I bought, even though the Elantra uses more fuel. The Prius and Civic hybrids didn't even come close. When trying to make your decsion, you have to convert all of the factors you're considering into a single unit so you can make a clear comparison. Money is a pretty good one because you can quantify it easily with just a few assumptions about how much you drive and the estimated cost of gasoline. I won't tell you to buy a hybrid; I won't tell you not to. Just figure it out for yourself, based on comparative costs.
posted by Doohickie at 8:45 PM on March 19, 2008

Oh.... and along the lines of Hybrid SUV's you may want to see what Car & Driver has to say about them as well.
posted by Doohickie at 8:49 PM on March 19, 2008

Depending on your needs, you may want to look into motorcycling. My motorcycle regularly gets 50+ mpg. I have a Civic as a backup, which gets 40+mpg highway (not sure if that has to do with it being manual trans.). Both vehicles cost me ~$3500 total.

Right now, I am about 50/50 moto/car usage, but as it warms up, that will change to around 90-95% moto / 5-10% car.

Most people simply do not need to haul three empty seats and a bunch of air around in their daily commute. If you live in a multi-vehicle household, it's possible to be car-free for most of the year, even in New England weather.

Sorry if this is a derail.
posted by Eideteker at 5:11 AM on March 20, 2008

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