Hybrid vehicles have been available to U.S. consumers now for over a decade. Since their introduction into the American automotive market, car manufacturers, environmental groups, governmental organizations and consumers have been debating the value of hybrid vehicles.
Proponents of hybrids make arguments concerning environmental impact, fuel efficiency and energy independence. Skeptics point to the higher cost of hybrid vehicles and inadequate battery technology. So how do hybrid vehicles stack up to traditional vehicles in terms of car gas mileage and total value?
When we refer to hybrid vehicles, we usually mean cars that utilize both gasoline and electric engines, which is why you’ll often hear the term hybrid electric vehicle tossed around. The increased efficiency of hybrid vehicles comes from decreased reliance on the gasoline engine.
A hybrid uses the vehicle’s braking system and gasoline engine to charge an electric battery. That battery powers an electric motor that in turn powers the car at low speeds. Mechanically, hybrid vehicles are more complex than gas powered vehicles and require a computerized system to regulate the use of electric and gas power. The end result is a complex and efficient automobile that intelligently alternates between electric and gasoline engines to get around.
Manufacturers estimate hybrid car gas mileage to be about 45-60 miles per gallon (mpg), which is about 20-35% more efficient than typical gasoline vehicles. It may not sound like much, but those miles add up. A hybrid vehicle equipped with a 20 gas gallon tank will travel about 900 miles at 45mpg. A gasoline powered car with the same 20 gallon tank will travel about 600 miles at 30mpg. If gasoline is $3.50 per gallon, the gasoline powered car will pay $35 more than the hybrid to travel the same 900 mile distance. That savings adds up over time, and can eventually offset the cost of a hybrid vehicle.
Are hybrids worth the price?
One of the biggest concerns buyers have about hybrid cars is the price. The decision to buy a hybrid vehicle should be made on an individual basis. Hybrid cars are more efficient at low speeds and short distances, since the gas engine kicks on at about 40 mph. Commuters to a nearby urban area will probably benefit more from owning a hybrid than those who drive a longer distance on the highway each way to work. If you’re considering buying a hybrid vehicle, be sure to research the difference in gas mileage by car, which will help inform your decision.