5 Reasons Not to Buy a Hybrid

by and

Image Gallery: Hybrid Cars
Image Gallery: Hybrid Cars

Sure, hybrid cars are a popular choice right now -- but we've got a list of a few good reasons to not buy one. See more pictures of hybrid cars.

Courtesy of Kristen Hall-Geisler

5 Reasons Not to Buy a Hybrid

Yeah, you read that title right: Five reasons to not buy a hybrid car -- so, are we crazy? Maybe a little bit. But don't all those Hollywood stars drive hybrids? Isn't that a good enough reason to buy one?

Well, as it turns out, hybrid vehicles aren't exactly for everyone. Not yet, anyway.

Even though hybrid cars have been on the market since the late 1990s, and you can't swing a hemp satchel without striking a Toyota Prius these days, there are still a few quirks to consider when putting a hybrid vehicle on your shopping list.

The reasons for wanting a hybrid are many -- saving the environment, making fewer stops at the gas station, feeling good about your green self -- but not every reason will pan out in the long run. While hybrids continue to be super trendy, there may be better, greener, and more efficient alternatives out there.

Take a look at these five reasons to not buy a hybrid vehicle and see if any of them put the brakes on your low-emissions lust.

Hybrid cars have a higher initial cost than their more conventional counterparts.

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

5: Higher Initial Cost

The first obstacle anyone interested in buying a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle will run up against is the higher cost of the hybrid powertrain versus its gasoline-only equal. Hybrid versions generally run several thousand dollars more than conventional versions of the same car.

Much of the extra cost comes from the expense of the new, gas-saving technology found in hybrids. Although some hybrid vehicles are still eligible for federal tax credits, which can help offset some of that initial premium, but you'll find that the popular models, like those from Toyota and Honda, burned through their available tax credits years ago. Here are a few examples:

  • 2012 Ford Fusion: $20,705
  • 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid: $28,775
  • 2012 Honda Civic Sedan: $15,955
  • 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid: $24,200
  • 2012 Toyota Camry: $21,955
  • 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid: $25,900

So you're going to pay more for a hybrid version of a conventional car. But that's okay, because you'll recoup the extra cost through all the gasoline you save, right? Maybe not...

It'll take you several years to make up the difference at the pump.

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

4: Recouping the Extra Cost

Most new hybrid owners justify the higher initial cost of their vehicle by saying that they'll make up the difference in fuel savings. Well, that plan may take a little (or a lot) longer than most new car owners think.

Oftentimes, it can take several years to make up for the higher initial cost of a hybrid car in gas savings. When gas was setting new record-high prices in the summer of 2008, people penciled out the time it would take to recoup in fuel savings the extra dollars they had paid for a hybrid car.

At the time, a hybrid car may have sounded like a great idea. In fact, when gas prices are high, hybrid cars can make up the price difference in as little as two years -- like in the case of the Toyota Camry Hybrid.

But when you're talking about an extreme case, like the Lexus LS600h hybrid (which happens to have a six-figure price tag), even when gas prices are relatively low, it would take about 102.6 years to make up the difference when compared to the purchase price of a gasoline-powered Lexus LS460L.

Okay, gasoline is great, but don't forget about diesels. In fact, you can now make a more compelling argument for oil burners than ever before.

You may want to consider a clean diesel-powered car instead of a hybrid -- like this Volkswagen Jetta TDI, for example.

AP Photo/Ric Francis

3: Clean Diesel Gets Great Mileage

You may want to consider a clean diesel-powered car instead of a hybrid -- like this Volkswagen Jetta TDI, for example.

In recent years, European-style clean diesel engines in small cars have gained a bit of a foothold in the U.S. market, and not without good reason. Diesel's former reputation as smelly, dirty and sluggish is now a thing of the past. That's primarily due to new diesel-fuel technologies, like the Mercedes-Benz BlueTec system and federal limits on particulates.

And then it comes to fuel economy, diesel-powered cars are nearly as good as some of the hybrids in the city and they can even outperform some of the hybrids on the highway.

Keep in mind that these are EPA estimates, and hybrid owners have reported getting much lower, or much higher, fuel economy depending on their individual driving style:

  • Toyota Prius Hybrid: 51 mpg city/48 mpg highway
  • Honda Insight Hybrid: 40 mpg city/43 mpg highway
  • Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel: 30 mpg city/41 mpg highway
  • BMW 335d diesel: 23 mpg city/36 mpg highway
  • Ford Fusion Hybrid: 41 mpg city/36 mpg highway
  • Toyota Camry Hybrid: 33 mpg city/34 mpg highway

[source: fueleconomy.gov]

This smart fortwo gets better highway fuel economy than most hybrids currently on the market.

Courtesy of Kristen Hall-Geisler

2: Fuel Economy Depends on Driving Style

Speaking of driving style, a person's daily commute should also be a major contributing factor when buying a hybrid. As you can see from the fuel economy numbers on the previous page, some hybrids get better mileage around town than they do on the highway. That's because at lower speeds, usually up to about 40 miles per hour (64.4 kilometers per hour), full hybrid cars can run using only their electric motor -- no gasoline is used at all.

And, while stopped at red lights or in horrendous city traffic, the engine can cut off completely, and then start up again when the vehicle needs the extra boost. This is often referred to as idle-stop technology or start-stop technology.

If in-town, low-speed, start-stop driving is a major part of your day, a hybrid will probably get the better side of the gas mileage equation. But for long highway commutes at steady high speeds (the kind of trip where you may even be able to use the cruise control) gasoline- and diesel-powered cars might perform comparable to, or in some cases even better than, the hybrids.

For instance, a gasoline-powered smart fortwo gets 41 miles per gallon (17.4 kilometers per liter) on the highway, which is better highway fuel economy than all but the top two hybrid cars on the previous list.

So what's a hybrid car's overall impact on the environment? The answer may surprise you.

This Honda Insight may be loaded with advanced technology, but it's not particularly plush inside.

Courtesy of Kristen Hall-Geisler

1: Negative Environmental Impact

What's that? You thought buying a hybrid would be the ultimate expression of concern for Mother Earth, a gesture that would help reduce smog and save trees and whales alike? Well, not exactly.

First and foremost, hybrids are still internal-combustion, gasoline powered cars. While they might use less of it than other vehicles, they still depend on a fuel that often comes from volatile and war-torn parts of the world, and they still create emissions when they drive around.

The batteries inside hybrid cars depend on materials like lithium and cobalt. Mining for those minerals is an extremely destructive process, and one that has left entire mountains leveled in their wake. Local residents benefit little from these endeavors. Furthermore, the countries with the most lucrative mines tend to also be some of the most unstable, including Bolivia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. So increasing our dependence on electric and hybrid cars may mean trading the conflicts in the Middle East for another set of problems [source: Robinson].

Then there's the issue of plug-in hybrid cars. While they have the potential to use far less gasoline than conventional engines or even regular hybrids, the electricity they use comes from our existing power grid. And in the U.S., most of our electricity comes from coal and only a little from nuclear power -- both of which can be somewhat nasty to the environment for a variety of reasons. Adding more plug-in hybrids will put an extra strain on the grid that just means more output from existing power plants, at least until our country runs on renewable energy sources [source: Scientific American].

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 5 Reasons Not to Buy a Hybrid

Hybrid cars can be great alternatives to conventional vehicles, but people need to realize that they won't solve the oil and pollution crisis overnight. In fact, there are some serious drawbacks to owning a hybrid. I think people are starting to realize this -- a study that came out in April 2012 said only 35-percent of current hybrid owners will buy another one. I guess a greener alternative is to simply drive a fuel-efficient conventional car -- and to walk and take the bus whenever you can.

Sources

  • Chevrolet. (Aug. 21, 2009) http://www.chevrolet.com/
  • Ford. (Aug. 21, 2009) http://www.fordvehicles.com/
  • FuelEconomy.gov. "New Energy Tax Credit for Hybrids." May 5, 2009. (Aug. 21, 2009) http://fueleconomy.gov/feg/tax_hybrid.shtml
  • Hanson, Brandon U. "Is a Hybrid Worth It?" OmniNerd.com. Nov. 11, 2005 (Aug. 18, 2009) http://www.omninerd.com/articles/Is_a_Hybrid_Worth_It
  • Honda (Aug. 21, 2009) http://automobiles.honda.com/
  • HybridCars.com "Reasons Not to Buy a Hybrid." March 23, 2006. (Aug. 18, 2009) http://www.hybridcars.com/decision/reasons-not-to-buy-a-hybrid.html
  • Padgett, Marty. "Seven Great Reasons to Buy a Hybrid -- and Six Bad Ones." TheCarConnection.com. Aug. 19, 2008. (Aug. 18, 2009) http://blogs.thecarconnection.com/marty-blog/1015967_seven-great-reasons-to-buy-a-hybrid-and-six-bad-ones
  • Ransom, Kevin. "Reasons to buy a hybrid -- or not." CNN.com. Jan. 28, 2008. (Aug. 18, 2009) http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/01/28/buy.hybrid/index.html#cnnSTCText
  • Robinson, Aaron. "Out of Africa: Where Electric-Vehicle Batteries Come From, Part II." CarAndDriver.com. November 2010. (April 12, 2012) http://www.caranddriver.com/columns/aaron-robinson-out-of-africa-where-electric-vehicle-batteries-come-from-part-ii
  • Scientific American. "The Coal Truth: Will the Coming Generation of Electric Cars Just Be Coal Burners, Once Removed?" ScientificAmerican.com. May 4, 2010. (April 13, 2012) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=earth-talk-the-coal-truth
  • Silke Carty, Sharon. "Hybrids recoup higher cost in less time." USA Today. May 12, 2008. (Aug. 21, 2009) http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/environment/2008-05-11-hybrids-gas-prices_N.htm