Are Hybrid Cars Worth It?

By: Patrick E. George & Kristen Hall-Geisler  | 
Honda Clarity hybrid
The Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid won the 2018 Green Car of the Year award. Several are seen here on display during the auto trade show AutoMobility LA at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Nov. 30, 2017. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Ten or 20 years ago, hybrid cars were new, unproven technology. Though they have come a long way, many still wonder, are hybrid cars worth it? What if they burst into battery-powered flames? What if the batteries had to be replaced? What if you had to — gasp — pass a car on the highway or go up a hill?

Hybrids have been on the market and continuously improving since 1999, though. They're commonplace to the point of being kind of boring. Nearly every major auto manufacturer has a hybrid or two in its lineup, and hybrid heavyweight Toyota has an entire Prius sub-brand.


There are many reasons someone might want a hybrid: 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. It's important to do your research and compare the pros and cons to determine if a hybrid car really is worth it for you!

Con: Higher Initial Cost

Toyota Camry hybrid
The new Toyota Camry hybrid on display during the Paris Motor Show at the Parc des Expositions at the Porte de Versailles in October, 2018 in Paris, France. Chesnot/Getty Images

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 equivalent. 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 gas-saving technology found in hybrids. The price difference is less than it used to be, however, especially in the most popular models. Here are a few examples:


  • 2018 Chevy Malibu: $21,680 vs. 2018 Chevy Malibu Hybrid: $27,920
  • 2019 Ford Fusion: $22,840 vs. 2019 Ford Fusion Hybrid: $27,555
  • 2018 Honda Accord: $23,570 vs. 2018 Honda Accord Hybrid: $25,100

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

Pro: Financial Incentives and Lower Total Ownership Costs

While hybrid vehicles are typically more expensive than their gas-fueled counterparts, buying a hybrid can be more cost-effective than you think! This is thanks to various tax incentives, rebates, and lower registration fees in many regions.

Additionally, while the initial purchase price might be higher, the total cost of ownership can be lower due to significant fuel savings, reduced fuel consumption, and often lower maintenance costs, as the electric motor reduces wear and tear on the gas engine. All these factors contribute to saving money in the long run, making hybrids a smart financial choice.


Con: Recouping the Extra Cost

electric car charger
It can take several years to make up that cost of a hybrid car in gas savings. Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images

Most new hybrid owners justify the higher initial purchase 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 that 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. At that time there were also tax credits and incentives available from the federal government, and some state governments, for purchasing new hybrids. Those credits have all dried up, though. There are still tax incentives available for plug-in hybrids and purely electric vehicles, but even those will likely end in a few years as more of these vehicles become available on the marketplace.

But when you're talking about an extreme case, like the Lexus LC hybrid sports car (which happens to have an almost six-figure price tag), even when gas prices are relatively low, it would take decades to make up the difference in price.

OK, gasoline is great, but you can do better. You can plug your car in.

Pro: Unmatched Fuel Economy and Savings

Hybrids shine when it comes to fuel efficiency, turning every gallon of gas into more miles on the road compared to traditional gas engines. This is a huge factor for buyers focused on fuel costs and fuel savings.

By integrating a gas engine with electric power, hybrid models can significantly reduce fuel consumption and save money on gas over the life of the vehicle. Whether it’s city driving or long highway stretches, the advanced technology in hybrids ensures you spend less time and money at the pump.


Con: Not Zero Emissions

Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S was a game changer when it first hit the streets in 2012. Tesla

When hybrid cars came on the scene in a big way in the early 2000s, they had the stage pretty much to themselves. Pure electric vehicles like the Zap Xebra were tiny little things with 40-mile ranges at best and a top speed somewhere near "pokey." The Tesla Roadster, with a range over 200 miles, didn't arrive on anyone's radar until 2008, and the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf came along in 2011. Fully electric cars, with not one drop of gasoline or an engine under the hood, were the territory of super nerds and early adopters.

Now there are dozens of EV models, from the futuristic BMW i3 to the Volkswagen e-Golf, which deliberately looks like every other Golf on the road. And there are plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, like the Toyota Prius Prime and Chrysler Pacifica minivan. That's right — an electrified minivan. Every automotive brand on the planet has pledged to "electrify" its fleet in the next five to 10 years, which means more hybrids, PHEVs and EVs. So while hybrids will still be available and so far have stood the test of time, there are other, cleaner powertrains out there that are just as easy to live with.


Any vehicle running on electric power only, like an EV or a PHEV when the batteries are doing all the work, is getting the job done with zero emissions. Electric-only cars don't even have tailpipes.

Pro: Eco-Friendly Driving Without Range Anxiety

Sure, hybrid cars don't produce zero emissions but they sure as heck are better than gasoline cars, especially when it comes to the environment. Choosing a hybrid model means you're reducing your carbon footprint by cutting down on emissions, without the worry of finding a charging station before your battery runs out.

Hybrids offer the perfect middle ground with their combination of a gas engine and electric power, ensuring you can drive with peace of mind knowing you're contributing to a cleaner environment. Plus, you'll enjoy the fuel savings benefits of an electric vehicle without the range anxiety associated with fully electric models.


Con: Not Great at Towin' and Haulin'

Toyota Prius
The 2019 Toyota Prius with all-wheel drive is good for hauling gear, but not necessarily for hauling trailers and heavy equipment. David McNew/Getty Images

Hybrid cars can handle almost any kind of driving situation. City, highway, small car, minivan: There's a hybrid for nearly everyone at a variety of price points.

Unless you need to tow or haul anything at all. Like, anything. Hybrids are not engineered to create the power needed to move the car, the people inside it, and a boat trailer or a bed full of mulch. Some hybrids can pull a little trailer for runs to the dump or one of those adorable tiny teardrop campers. In 2016, Toyota began offering a tow package for the Prius, which was seen as groundbreaking. No one expected a hybrid to ever tow anything, really. But it still is only capable of towing about 1,600 pounds (725 kilograms), which is the low end of the lightest campers on the market.


Pro: Enhanced Performance with Hybrid Technology

Gone are the days when hybrids were considered underpowered. Today’s hybrid models come equipped with advanced technology that provides a seamless blend of power from both the electric motor and the gas engine.

While they still might not be ideal if you need to haul heavy loads every day, they have improved in other ways, such as better acceleration and more responsive handling. This makes hybrids worth considering for those who enjoy a spirited drive but also want to save money on fuel costs.


There's one more reason to not buy a hybrid, and it's a big one. But it might be the reason that gets you.

Con: You Don't Even Need a Car

Car-sharing companies like Zipcar have surged in popularity and are reasons why some people go without cars entirely. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

More than half of the world's population lives in urban areas, according to the World Bank Group. Urban areas are famously congested with traffic, whether that's Los Angeles or Shanghai or Paris — and it's getting worse. Many cities are banning traffic from their urban centers, and some are planning to ban combustion engines entirely within the next two decades. To get around, city dwellers are using public transportation plus carpooling, ride sharing, car sharing, bike sharing, scooter sharing and plain old walking to get around.

People who live in cities might consider whether they need a car at all. A bus pass and an app for Uber or Lyft will get you pretty far, as will a membership in a car sharing service like Car2Go or Zipcar. Not having a car means not paying extra for a space in your building's garage or having to fight to park at the curb. No maintenance, no insurance, no stopping for gas. Remember, hybrids do require gasoline to run, just less of it than a conventional car. And you can't be pulled over and ticketed for texting while driving if you're riding the bus.


Pro: Future-Proofing Your Vehicle Choice

As the world shifts towards more sustainable transportation options, owning a hybrid positions you ahead of the curve. With increasing restrictions on combustion-engine vehicles in urban areas, a hybrid model ensures you stay compliant with evolving regulations.

Plus, the growing social push towards eco-friendly living makes owning a hybrid not just a statement about your commitment to the environment but also a practical move to future-proof your mobility.

Are Hybrid Cars Worth It? The Choice Is Yours

In weighing the question, "Are hybrid cars worth it?", it's essential to consider not just the immediate cost or the mechanical specifications, but the broader implications of your choice. Hybrid vehicles represent a bridge between the traditional gasoline-powered past and a fully electric future, offering a blend of efficiency, performance, and environmental stewardship that is hard to match with conventional vehicles.

While hybrids may come with a higher upfront cost, the long-term savings on fuel costs, the reduced environmental impact, and the enhanced driving experience they offer make them a compelling option for many. Ultimately, the decision to invest in a hybrid car boils down to personal priorities, driving habits, and financial considerations.

As our society continues to evolve towards more sustainable living, the question isn't just about whether hybrids are worth it today, but how they fit into the future we envision for our planet and ourselves. Choosing a hybrid could be a step forward in aligning your transportation needs with the values of efficiency, sustainability, and innovation.

Hybrid Cars FAQ

How does a hybrid car work?
Hybrid vehicles are powered by an electric motor and an internal combustion engine, which utilizes the energy stored in their batteries. A hybrid electric car's battery can be charged via its internal combustion engine and regenerative braking.
What are the advantages of hybrid cars?
The main benefit of hybrid cars is that they consume much less fuel and, therefore, emit less carbon dioxide compared to diesel-engine or conventional petrol engine vehicles. In the U.S., you can currently get up to a $7,500 tax credit for purchasing a new hybrid car, as well.
What is the cheapest hybrid car?
The cheapest hybrid cars in 2021 include the Hyundai Ioniq (MSRP $23,400), Honda Insight (MSRP $23,130) and Toyota Corolla Hybrid (MSRP $23,600).
Can a hybrid car run on gas only?
Hybrid vehicles run on gas for only a small portion of a drive, which makes them about 20 to 35 percent more fuel efficient compared to traditional vehicles.
Is it cheaper to buy a hybrid car?
Currently, hybrid cars cost more to purchase than a traditional car. However, they have a lower running cost since they use less gas.

Lots More Information

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

Hybrids were strange birds in 1999 when the Honda Insight first came to market, followed quickly by the Toyota Prius. The economic and fuel crisis that hit in 2008 brought down gas-guzzlers like the Humvee and elevated hybrid reputations — and prices. Now hybrids are nearly old hat as PHEVs and EVs come online in greater numbers and styles. But hybrids aren't done yet. The technology has proven itself to be so delightfully boring and consistent that it will be hard to not buy a hybrid vehicle in the future. Most manufacturers are planning on their basic powertrains being hybrids in the next few years, with PHEV and EV options.

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