The surprising speed at which government money disappeared during the first week of the infamous "Cash for Clunkers" program may have been a sign that a lot of drivers are ready for something different from the auto industry. The main point of the "Clunkers" incentive was that, after turning in their inefficient, gasoline-engine powered cars and receiving anywhere from $3,500 to $4,500, drivers would turn around and purchase a more fuel-efficient vehicle. So, what drove people to practically give their cars away for a wad of cash and a promise to try out a different technology?
If you're reading this, you might be thinking about someday owning a hybrid car yourself. Maybe you do a lot of city driving and are looking to stretch out your gas mileage numbers in between stoplights? Or maybe you have a bona fide "clunker" and simply want to clear your conscience with a more environmentally friendly car. Whatever your situation, if you're considering buying a hybrid car there are several reasons to do so.
Hybrid cars are generally priced slightly higher than their gasoline-powered counterparts. The extra effort necessary to create the technology that combines both gas and electric power makes them more expensive. Take the Toyota Camry, for instance. The regular, conventional version of the 2010 Camry costs at least $19,395, while the 2010 Camry Hybrid goes for $26,150.
However, many automakers are pushing to produce more affordable hybrids for drivers looking to take the plunge. For a while, the 2008 Toyota Prius was the least expensive hybrid car available, priced at $21,500 for the basic model. The newest version, the 2010 Toyota Prius, is only slightly more expensive at $22,000.
But the 2010 Honda Insight became the first mass-produced hybrid car to cost less than $20,000, as the most basic model goes for $19,800. For drivers who don't worry too much about extra features, it's now possible to purchase any one of a variety of affordable hybrids.
And remember, these prices don't include the federal tax incentives hybrid owners can take advantage of, which can give drivers up to $3,400 in tax credits. Some tax credits have expired, however, but you can find out more about that on the next page.
In the United States, one of the biggest pushes that hybrid cars have received has been in the form of tax incentives from the federal government. Ever since the U.S. Congress drafted the Energy Policy Act of 2005, new hybrid car owners have been able to get a special tax credit after making their purchase. Just how big can the tax credit get? Up to $3,400, which, for many taxpayers, is a significant sum.
There are, however, a few qualifications buyers should be aware of. To get a tax credit, the driver needs to have purchased the hybrid car on or after Jan. 1, 2006. Any earlier and you can't get the credit. You also can't wait until after Dec. 31, 2010 to make your purchase, which is when the act will expire.
The specific amount of credit you'll receive also depends upon a schedule, determined by the number of hybrid vehicles a manufacturer sells. For instance, if you purchase your hybrid before the manufacturer sells its 60,000th vehicle, you should be able to get the full credit for that specific car. After the 60,000th model is sold, however, the credit starts to gradually phase out on a quarterly calendar schedule. You can read more about the hybrid tax incentives at fueleconomy.gov.
During the early days of the modern hybrid car, a bit of confusion about the technology made it difficult for drivers to know whether or not hybrids were a reliable choice as a vehicle. Some were simply myths or misunderstandings that tended to scare drivers away from hybrid technology, suggesting that hybrid battery packs were liable to fail or that most models couldn't drive fast enough to keep up with traffic on the highway.
Most of these myths have since been debunked. In fact, practically every hybrid-producing car company guarantees its hybrid batteries for the life of the car, so that if there are any problems before a certain mileage is reached, the automaker will replace the battery pack, free of charge. Other assertions, like the claim that hybrid cars are slow, for instance, are based on technological facts -- it's true, hybrids (in general) don't accelerate quite as fast as typical gasoline-powered cars -- but these shortcomings tend to be exaggerated.
Regardless, automotive engineers are continuously making improvements to the technology to make it greener and more efficient. Many hybrid cars are becoming more powerful, primarily due to advances in electric motor technology, without sacrificing too much in the way of overall vehicle fuel economy. Batteries in hybrids are also becoming considerably lighter, which lowers the overall vehicle weight and results in improved efficiency. Not only are they lighter, but they're quickly becoming less expensive and longer lasting, too.
The debate over climate change and how much humans actually have to do with it hasn't slowed down much. But it's definitely worth noting the impact conventional vehicles have on the Earth and how hybrid technology has the potential to lessen that impact. Burning fossil fuels, like the gasoline burned in an internal combustion engine, releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, where they collect and warm the planet. As the global climate changes, significant consequences can arise, including elevated temperatures, rising sea levels, freshwater scarcity and crop failures.
Hybrid cars are just one of the many ways that we can begin to reduce CO2 emissions. While the average gas mileage for new vehicles sold in the United States went from 23.1 miles per gallon (9.8 kilometers per liter) in 1980 to 24.7 miles per gallon (10.5 kilometers per liter) in 2004, current hybrids typically offer between 40 and 50 miles per gallon (17 and 21.3 kilometers per liter), practically twice the national average [source: Carr].
To lower travel expenses, there are several options people have at hand. Going carless is one, and if the opportunity is there, it's possible to choose walking, biking or taking public transportation like buses and trains. Yet even with cars, commuters can lower costs and their environmental impact, too. Carpooling with a group of co-workers or classmates is one way to take an extra two or three cars off the road, and if everyone pitches in or takes turns driving, everyone in the group pays a fraction of what they'd pay if they were driving alone.
For some, of course, walking, biking, public transportation or carpooling doesn't necessarily work, and driving solo is the only option available. If this is the case, a hybrid car might be a good choice. A hybrid car owner typically spends less money at the pump, especially if most of the miles are spent driving at lower speeds -- that is, speeds where the electric motor is in use more often. It's important to note, however, that full hybrids and plug-in hybrids offer the best savings at the pump, since they use the available electric power more often; so-called mild hybrids, on the other hand -- which only use idle-stop systems to save fuel while coasting or at full stops -- don't deliver fuel savings on the same level.
For more information about hybrid cars and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.
Is an all-electric car a bad investment? Keep reading to learn about electric cars and if an all-electric car is a bad investment.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Carr, Brian. "Average gas mileage relatively flat between 1980 and 2004." DailyFuelEconomyTip.com. Oct. 19, 2006. (Aug. 14, 2009) http://www.dailyfueleconomytip.com/miscellaneous/average-gas-mileage-relatively-flat-between-1980-and-2004/
- CNET Reviews. "Green car buying guide." CNET.com. (Aug. 13, 2009) http://reviews.cnet.com/hybrid-car-buying-guide/?tag=contentMain;contentBody
- Consumer Guide Automotive. "2008 Toyota Prius: Overview." (Aug. 14, 2009) https://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/2008-toyota-prius.htm
- EarthTalk. "Are hybrid cars really better for the environment?" Physorg.com. March 30, 2009. (Aug. 14, 2009) http://www.physorg.com/news157618076.html
- Fueleconomy.gov. "Reduce climate change." (Aug. 12, 2009) http://www.dailyfueleconomytip.com/miscellaneous/average-gas-mileage-relatively-flat-between-1980-and-2004/
- Honda. "2010 Honda Insight Hybrid." Honda.com. (Aug. 14, 2009) http://automobiles.honda.com/insight-hybrid/
- Hybrid Cars. "Top 10 Hybrid Myths." HybridCars.com. March 23, 2006. (Aug. 13, 2009) http://www.hybridcars.com/decision/top-10-hybrid-myths.html
- Internal Revenue Service. "Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit." Oct. 3, 2008. (Aug. 14, 2009) http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=157632,00.html
- Zimmerman, Cali. "Hybrid cars: Are they worth the investment?" NuWireInvestor.com. Aug. 13, 2008. (Aug. 14, 2009) http://www.nuwireinvestor.com/articles/hybrid-cars-are-they-worth-the-investment-51906.aspx