Do hybrids really save you money?

7 On Your Side
August 1, 2008 7:42:55 PM PDT
We all know hybrids help you save on gas, but what do the vehicles do for your finances? The savings may not be as much as you think.

A typical hybrid will cost at least $4,000 more than similar all-gas models. So we wondered if paying more upfront could really help you save at the end.

Hybrids are all the rage these days. Last year alone, sales of hybrids increased 38 percent across the nation. But if saving gas is your primary reason for buying a hybrid, think again.

"We added up the cost of ownership and it's not so simple," said Jeff Blyskal, senior editor of Consumer Reports.

The gas savings you get from a hybrid can differ significantly. The 2008 4 by 4 Highlander Hybrid gets a combined 26 miles to the gallon. That's a savings of 6 MPGs over the all-gas Highlander.

Compare that to the Prius. It can save you 15 miles a gallon over its closest all-gas counterpart, the Corolla.

However, repair costs are another factor. Many independent mechanics aren't yet trained to repair hybrids. That may mean having to take your hybrid to an authorized dealer where prices could be higher.

"It could be a couple of hundred dollars to a thousand or $1,200 over the first five years," said Blyskal.

Luscious Garage is one of just a handful of garages in the Bay Area specializing in hybrids.

"We're very familiar with the technology. Not only are we familiar with the maintenance of the car, but we're highly enthusiastic about things the dealer doesn't do," said Carolyn Coquillette with Luscious Garage.

That includes converting your hybrid to a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The battery life may be another concern, especially for those buying a used hybrid.

"They cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000. But the thing to remember is asking how often you have to replace one of these," said Jack Rosebro with Perfect Sky. Rosebro trains technicians on hybrid and electrical vehicle repair.

Most batteries can last anywhere from 100,000 to 180,000 miles. The National Automobile Dealers Association just rated the Toyota Camry, Chevy Malibu and Nissan Altima as the hybrids that made the most financial sense.

A 2006 study by Consumer Reports concluded the Escape Hybrid, Prius and Lexus RX400 provided the most fuel savings.

But with all the talk about dollars and sense, there's another important factor to consider.

"The main reason people are buying hybrids is not necessarily for the bottom line cost. The main reason they're buying it is for the ecological reasons (and) to make a statement," said Rosebro.

How many miles would you need to drive to make up in gas savings the extra costs of buying a hybrid? Visit nadaguide.com to determine your cost savings.

Consumer Reports stories and information:

7 On Your Side Extra
Click here for a chart of the top five hybrid cars with the greatest return on investment and the number of miles to break even in 10 major metropolitan areas at current gas prices.


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