Are hybrids a good deal?

Wired recently ran a story on revised EPA miles per gallon estimates. In particular, the estimates for Hybrids were significantly reduced:

As an owner of the Civic Hybrid since 2001, I am happy to report, that the revised estimate is pretty much spot on.

What interested me the most were the revised estimates for the regular Civic. I knew the old hybrid estimates did not reflect my experience and assumed the regular Civic estimates were off as well so I never felt I had good data to answer the question: "Are hybrids a good deal?"

First of all, no one buys 'hybrids.' One buys 'a hybrid.' And as the chart above shows, not all hybrids provide the same benefit over their non-hybrid siblings. Speaking of siblings, both of my brothers have Toyota Priuses. The Prius has no exact non-hybrid counterpart, but it gets better mileage than the Civic Hybrid and the standard Civic is not a bad comparison to the Prius for comparison's sake. We are fans of the hybrid, but do the numbers back our enthusiasm?

I have 83,200 miles on my Civic Hybrid. Comparing how many gallons of gas I have used and how much it has cost me to buy that gas compared to how much gas I would have bought with a regular civic, I find I have saved a couple of thousand dollars. I used a gas price of $2.70 since that is the figure used in the Wired article. I also run the numbers at $2.50 a gallon.

83,200 / 42mpg = 1981 gallons @ $2.70 per mile $5348.70 (@ $2.50 = $4952.50)
83,200 / 29mpg = 2869 gallons @ $2.70 per mile $7746.30 (@ $2.50 = $7172.50)

I have used 888 fewer gallons saving $2397.60 @ $2.70 or $2220 @ $2.50 per gallon. The hybrid cost several thousand dollars more than the standard model, but I got a significant tax credit so I have basically broken even. And with gas now over $3 per gallon, I stand to come out solidly, if only slightly, ahead.

Part of the recent adjustment in gas mileage estimates for hybrids has to do with the impact of not idling. When I come to a complete stop, at a stop light for example, my engine shuts off automatically. The EPA used to consider this with Miles Per Gallon estimates. While I agree that this does not impact the miles per gallon rate, as I am not traveling, the gas I do not burn, sitting in traffic or at a stop light, IS gas I do not use. So the savings noted above are underestimating my actual savings a bit.

So I use less gas, save a little money, pollute less... but some of you are asking- why not take public transportation? I live outside of Boston, unwilling to pay half a million dollars for a home closer to where I work, and unwilling to pay rent when I could get a mortgage on a house with payments close to my rent (back in 2001) just outside the city. So biking or taking a bus is out of the question.

We do have a commuter rail station near our house. The monthly pass for this is $210. My wife and I work in Boston so we commute together. Our cost to use the train would be $420 per month or $5040 per year.

$5040 per year. I actually took the train this morning -we use it when we need to. It lost power and had to stop completely and restart twice so I was a bit late getting in.

$5040 per year. We bought our hybrid in 2001 and have used it to commute for 6 years. With the cost of using the commuter rail over that period of time ($30240), I could have bought a new hybrid, paid for all the gas and tolls and had money left over to buy a mutual fund.

The interwebs are sticky full of "hybrids are lame" and "hybrids rock" articles and now I have added another. My 2 cents are- it depends on which hybrid and how you will use it and what other options you have for transportation as to whether it is worth it or not. In some situations, like mine, I came out slightly ahead. If the car holds up, I'll come out moderately ahead. And polluting less and consuming less gas has its own value on top of the $ savings!


Jonesy said...

There are plenty of great reasons to buy Hybrids beyond the gas money that is saved.

Hybrid drivers spend less time at a the pumps. The cost of gas is between $3-4 a gallon, but that's not factoring in the cost of my time.

Hybrids are quieter. Driving a hybrid is peaceful. You hear your music, or your passengers, not road noise.

And there are more benefits to using less gas than just saving money.

The less gas we use, the less need we have to get involved in fucked-up countries in the middle east, at the cost of our troops lives.

The less gas we use the less crap we put into the air. Even if you're somehow convinced that global warming is not caused by man-made pollution, you have to agree that smog and pollution are BAD.

And finally, purchasing hybrids today increases the fuel economy of cars in the future. The 2nd generation Prius gets considerably more MPG than the 1st, but it wouldn't even exist if folks hadn't supported the early model.

Jouissance said...

I feel the same way about global warming/pollution. Could be because pollution induced asthma sent me to the hospital as a child on a vacation to LA. I'm not sure if pollution is related to warmer temperatures there or not. I do know that idling cars agitate my calm.

I wonder if the Civic Hybrid is quieter than the standard Civic. They both have gas motors. A lot of road noise is actually the tire on asphalt. Different tires and different kinds of road material make different levels of noise, maybe even more than the engine difference.

Certainly, when the motor is off, they are quieter. And thePrius is quieter when it is running on the electri battery only- my civic does not do this. Not everybody is happy about this though.



Nice points!

Jonesy said...

First you dispute the fact that Hybrid cars are quieter, then you provide links to articles supporting the fact.

Oh well, you reminded me of another benefit: Fewer blind people!

(And you're nuts about global warming)

Jouissance said...

Which part of "Certainly, when the motor is off, they are quieter." Did you read as me disputing that "they are quieter?"

Second, despite the amount of squirrel roadkill, are there fewer squirrels?

Third, when I say "I'm not sure if pollution is related to warmer temperatures there or not." I mean I do not KNOW. Have temps in LA risen in sync with car pollution directly? Is this even relevant to a larger understanding of global warming? I do not know or care because the clear case for pollution being harmful and in need of reduction IS clear to me. I do not need to look any further.

David Jones said...

I find that the road noise Jouissance describes is loud for my 2nd gen Prius.

However, I do a lot of highway driving at fast speeds, and have never owned another car so I don't have a fair comparison.

That said, the engine is certainly quiet.

If I had to buy another car today, it would be another Prius.

Jonesy said...

Imagine how many more squirrels there would be if we did not run over as many as we do!

I may have misread you about the warming stuff.

Jouissance said...

Maybe instead of more squirrels, there would be slower, dumberer squirrels instead of the super fast shameless evil squirrels that we have now that have learned to avoid the tires of justice.

Maybe the same thing will happen with blind and with clueless pedestrians. A new class of hyper-aware blind and rubbery, bouncy clueless pedestrians will evolve over time and they will rise up, join forces and kill all the hybrid drivers even though we are the reason they evolved their super powers and rubber bones?

Tantese said...

Reading these comments reminds me of eating dinner with you guys!

trombadude said...

i like hybrids cause they have cute little tires.....look at 'em; there so cute!

Craig said...

need scoops on front of hybrids to catch squirrels so that can replace the ones making the car go.

Anonymous said...

You know what's ironic?

The materials used to produce your saucy little hybrid actually put out the same amount of pollution a normal gas vehicle would in 10 years of operation.

So in hindsight, you got jewed, and so did the environment.

What a good way to create a new market. Damn those corporate marketers are smart.

Wyliemoney said...


No need to be a bigot.

Of course the materials on the civic hybrid are the same as the standard civic so creating the car has the same environmental impact.

But when I am stopped at a traffic light, my engine shuts off and I am not spewing pollution into the air. Does your car do that?

With gas at over $3 a gallon, even with it at over $2 as it has been for several years, I have saved more than the extra amount I paid for the hybrid technology on my civic.

So I pollute less and have paid less for the privilege. No question. The only question is how much less do I pollute and how much have I saved. The answer to both is not a whole lot.

But since I need a car because of where I live and where I work, the choice of a car that is cheaper to operate and has less of a negative impact on the environment, even if it is only a little less, is a simple choice to make.

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