Are Hybrid Cars Worth It?

By Rebecca Lake. May 7th 2016

Hybrid cars combine a combustion engine with an electric motor. The two work together to reduce emissions and improve gas mileage. The electric motor operates when you drive at slower speeds and the gas engine takes over once you accelerate above a certain speed limit. Hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, were developed as an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional vehicles and have become popular among eco-conscious consumers. However, while hybrid cars offer certain advantages, there are also some potential drawbacks. Before you purchase a hybrid car, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons carefully to make sure this type of vehicle fits your lifestyle and your budget.

Pro #1: Increased Fuel Savings

The primary benefit of buying a hybrid car is the money you’ll save on fuel costs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a hybrid vehicle that gets 30 miles per gallon can save you nearly $1,000 per year in fuel costs compared to a gas vehicle that gets only 20 miles per gallon. How much money you’ll save on gas ultimately depends on how often and where you drive as well as what model of hybrid car you purchase.

The 2012 Toyota Prius, for example, averages 51 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway, with fuel costs averaging $1,150 per year, according to the Department of Energy. If you’re looking for something larger, the 2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid with four-wheel driver averages 28 miles per gallon combined in the city and on the highway and averages $2,000 per year in fuel costs. If you’re looking for a sedan or compact car, your driving is limited to just a few days a week and you primarily drive locally or in the city, a hybrid car can generate more substantial savings on gas in the long run.

Pro #2: Environmental Benefits

Gasoline is a petroleum-based fossil fuel that produces potentially harmful emissions when burned in a combustion engine. Because hybrid cars burn less fuel, they also produce fewer emissions, specifically carbon dioxide (CO2). According to the Department of Energy, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming. Cars that run on gasoline create approximately 20 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon of gas, adding up to approximately 6 to 9 tons of CO2 each year per vehicle. The 2012 Toyota Prius, on the other hand, produces approximately 2.9 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

In addition to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, hybrid vehicles also reduce dependence on oil, which is a non-renewable energy source. At some point, the world’s oil reserves will be exhausted and the use of electricity to power vehicles can help to reduce the demand and maintain the existing supply. When a renewable energy source, such as solar or wind energy, is used to generate the electricity required to charge a hybrid vehicle’s battery, this further reduces the strain on oil and other-nonrenewable fuel sources.

Con #1: Initial Purchase Price

The primary drawback associated with purchasing a hybrid vehicle is the cost. An April 2012 CNET review of eight specific vehicle models found that in all but one case, the hybrid version cost anywhere from approximately $2,600 to $6,100 more than its traditional gas-powered counterpart. For example, a standard Honda Civic with navigation will cost approximately $20,655 while the Civic Hybrid sells for around $24,200, a difference of $3,545. The Toyota Prius, which has no gas-powered alternative, can run anywhere from $23,015 to $29,805, depending on what features you choose.

While the federal government began offering tax incentives to consumers who purchased hybrid cars beginning in January 2006, these programs have since been phased out. When considering a hybrid car versus a traditional vehicle, it’s helpful to calculate the potential fuel savings you may enjoy to determine whether you can recoup some of the added expense. If you frequently drive on the highway or at higher speeds, it’s less likely that you will make up the difference in cost over the lifetime of owning the vehicle.

Con #2: Maintenance Costs

In addition to potentially paying more upfront, you may also end up paying larger out-of-pocket costs for repair and maintenance. While there is less wear and tear on the combustion engine, the electric battery must be replaced periodically, which can potentially be expensive. Typically, hybrid car manufacturers offer a warranty on all of the vehicle’s components, including the battery. Some car makers offer an eight year warranty while others offer ten. Some limit the warranty to the first 80,000 miles and others extend it to 100,000 miles. If you find that you need to replace your hybrid car’s battery after the warranty has expired, you may end up paying anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars to do so, depending on your vehicle’s make and model.

Purchasing a hybrid car requires significant thought beforehand to ensure that you’re making the best choice for your budget. Hybrids can save you money in the long run and help to reduce your carbon footprint but you need to be sure you can handle the added cost before signing on the dotted line.

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