The Cost of Going Green: Are Hybrids Really Worth It?
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past half decade, chances are you already know that hybrids are the hottest vehicles on the road. They promise to keep emissions low and wallets fat, and with some models boasting fuel efficiency well over 40 mpg, going green will save you a ton of money, right?
The answer is a resounding maybe. Followed closely by eventually. Topped off with a big fat well, it depends.
Confused? Let's dig deeper.
Case in point: the Honda Civic Hybrid.
The Honda Civic Hybrid can reach 42.2 mpg--excellent fuel economy by even the toughest standards. That's impressive--until you take into account that the gas-only Civic costs roughly $7,000 less than the hybrid model, and boasts a respectable 30 mpg of its own. Hmm...
Let us assume for a moment that gas prices will stay at current levels (roughly $4.00 a gallon), and drivers will travel the EPA-estimated average of 15,000 miles per year. Under this formula, U.S. News and World Report estimates that Civic Hybrid owners would have to wait 12 years--that's 144 months--before they'll save enough money in fuel costs to make up for their original $7,000 investment over the gas-only model.
But that's not all. According to InsWeb.com's auto insurance quoting technology, for a 30-year-old single male driver with a clean driving record, the Civic Hybrid will cost slightly more (roughly 4%) to insure with full coverage than its gas-only counterpart.
Here's another thing to consider: A report by the Automotive Lease Guide finds that hybrid vehicles hold less residual value than gas-only vehicles. After three years, a gas-only 2008 Honda Civic will hold 60% of its sticker value--2% more than the Civic Hybrid. Looking at it this way, maybe hybrids aren't such a steal after all. But not so fast.
Enter the Ford Escape Hybrid. The hybrid model runs just under $3,000 more than the conventional Escape, and at 32 mpg will make up the cost difference in under 5 years. And after three years, the Escape Hybrid is one of the few hybrids projected to maintain more residual value than the gas-only model.
So what's the deal--are hybrids worth it or aren't they? Should I follow the trend and go green, or stick it out with gas-only?
Well, as you've probably realized by now, the ultimate answer is: it all depends.
What model you choose, how many years you own it, fluctuation in fuel prices, average miles driven per year, and other factors contribute to a hybrid's long-term cost effectiveness.
For the commuter driving 40,000 miles every year, a hybrid's increased fuel efficiency would make it a great deal; if grandma's just looking for something that can handle her weekly grocery run, she should stick with gas-only. For a person who trades in their car for a new model every year, skip the hybrid; for the die-hard who plans on keeping their vehicle until the bolts come loose and it falls to pieces in the driveway, go green.
In the end, because hybrids are more expensive than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, the fuel savings aren't substantial enough to make purchasing one cost-effective--at least not right away. If you can afford to pay more upfront in order to save some cash later, hybrids are a great investment. If you can't, you'd be better off sticking with gas-only.
After a dozen or so $100+ fill-ups in a gas-guzzling pickup, a little gas-sipping hybrid seems like a great idea. But if you aren't careful, rushing to buy a hybrid without considering the costs could leave your checking account running on fumes.