It seems like just yesterday when the premiere of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth ignited a firestorm of interest in hybrid cars. Mr. Gore certainly did not invent the hybrid revolution, but it was right around the time of his movie in 2006 when these cars became more widely accessible and popular.
That was almost 15 years ago, and in the time that has passed, there has been a rise in research around alternative fuels and electric vehicles have become a common sight on American roadways for the first time in our history.
All of this begs the question, are hybrid cars worth it in 2019? Let’s take a closer look at how the latest lineup of hybrids measures up to today’s electric- and gas-powered vehicles.
Comparing the Costs of Hybrid Cars
Generally speaking, electric and hybrid cars cost quite a bit more than traditional internal combustion vehicles. You might expect a hybrid to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of about $5,000 more than a comparable gas car, while an EV might cost an extra $10,000 or more.
The idea is you pay more money for a hybrid or EV upfront, and then make that money back through your savings on gas, right? Unfortunately, that isn’t always true.
According to The Motley Fool, the average American buys 656 gallons of gas per year. And at the time of this writing, AAA puts the average cost of fuel in America at $2.61 per gallon. That means we spend about $1700 per year on gas.
So, making up $5,000 would take you about 3 years and making up $10,000 would take you about 6 years. And that’s before you factor in the cost of fueling your hybrid or EV.
As a car buyer, it’s important to do your research before you choose your hybrid. Figure out how many highway and city miles you drive each year, and how long it would take you to recoup your upfront cost.
Reliability and Maintenance Considerations
All hybrid vehicles have a dual compulsion system that allows the vehicle to switch from electric to fuel. Because it is more complex, this system is more difficult to maintain than a traditional internal combustion engine.
As you probably assumed, an engine that is more difficult to maintain is more expensive to repair. You’ll also be limited in your choice of mechanics, as fewer shops will be certified to work on your hybrid car.
If you end up needing to replace a battery, that particular repair can be very pricey. Normally, hybrid cars come with a warranty that includes battery replacement. But, when your warranty runs out, you might end up shelling out $6,000 or more for a replacement battery.
Overall, hybrid cars are going to cost a bit more in maintenance if the vehicle needs repairs to the engine or battery. As long as you take good care of your car and keep up with routine maintenance, this probably won’t be a big problem.
Factoring in Range and Mileage
When you’re trying to answer the question, “Are hybrid cars worth it,” range and mileage are important considerations. This is one area where hybrids typically outperform combustion engines.
The latest Chevrolet Volt can range up to 53 miles solely on electric, and up to a combined 420 miles with a full tank and a full charge. The Toyota Prius can range up to 610 miles.
These numbers are impressive, but there are a few competitive gas engines on the market. The current Honda Civic, for example, can reach 520 miles on its modest 12-gallon tank.
If you don’t like the idea of plugging your car in, then a super-efficient gas car like the Civic might be a better choice for you. However, if spending less at the pump is your primary objective, then hybrid is still the way to go.
The Environmental Impact of Hybrid Cars
Hybrid cars emit less CO2 into the atmosphere than traditional gas-powered vehicles. This is one of the primary reasons for their popularity. Exactly how much less depends on the model you choose - so if this is an important factor for you, be sure to do your research before you buy.
If you are looking for ways to seriously reduce your carbon footprint, then you might want to narrow your search to strictly electric cars. EVs emit far less pollution because they don’t directly burn any fossil fuels.
Electric cars and hybrids do come with some environmental considerations of their own. The batteries that power these cars require intensive mining of lithium, nickel, and cobalt - each of which imposes a harsh environmental toll in the areas where they are mined.
Conclusion: Are Hybrid Cars Worth It?
The decision between hybrid cars, EVs, and traditional combustion engines is entirely up to you.
The best thing about hybrid cars is that they allow you to reduce your carbon footprint and save some money on gas, without needing to constantly plug your car in. While you will spend a bit more money up front, there are some clear benefits to owning a hybrid car.
In order to truly answer the question, “Are hybrid cars worth it?” you’ll need to weigh your options and decide if a hybrid is the best fit for your unique lifestyle.