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Is a Hybrid Vehicle Worth the Cost?

In today's automotive market, the fastest growing sector of the industry is the hybrid vehicle. These vehicles are touted for being fuel efficient and utilizing the latest in "green" driving technology in order to maximize mileage while minimizing the consumption of fossil fuels.

With this new technology comes a much higher price tag and many questions about the reliability and viability of the technology, and whether or not the price of a hybrid versus a comparable fully-combustion engine vehicle is worth paying to have the perceived benefits. Are hybrids really worth the extra cost?

Well, it depends on what you consider savings. The two-motor technology of the hybrid vehicle is the blessing and curse of owning a hybrid. Indeed, the car is much more costly and prone to breakdown because of the fact it uses two motors.

The general configuration of a hybrid system involves a gasoline-powered engine that gets the car up to speed and then an electric engine that kicks in at cruising speed to keep the car moving while saving gas. The constant switching back and forth is the biggest issue - constantly activating and deactivating these engines increases wear and tear, causing both motors to wear out faster.

The arguments that a hybrid is a more fuel efficient vehicle are also open to interpretation. Many owners of hybrids report a wider deviation of gas mileage figures than the owners of the typical gasoline-powered engine vehicles. A hybrid's mileage advantage is estimated to be anywhere from just 5% to upwards of 35% better than a comparable combustion-only-engine car.

It is also more vulnerable to negative factors such as heavy traffic congestion in normal commuting, the "jack-rabbit" stops and starts that accompany city driving, and the additional weight placed into the hybrid vehicle as a result of having a second engine. Considering that those mileage percentages when placed into actual mile numbers can range from just 1 mile per gallon up to 25 miles per gallon, there is no clear definition of what the benefit of a hybrid vehicle really is.

The extra up-front costs of buying a hybrid vehicle may not be realized in life-of-ownership benefits over buying a gasoline-powered vehicle. Given that in the United States, the average car owner holds onto a new car purchase for five to seven years, the average savings over that lifetime in fuel costs don't make up for the extra costs of the vehicle.

Consider a Toyota Prius versus a comparably-sized Toyota Corolla. The difference in fuel costs per year for the Prius versus the Corolla works out to about $500 per year, or approximately $3,500 for the average lifetime of ownership. The purchase price difference between the two, based on MSRP, is $5,750 for base models of both cars. The lifetime savings for the hybrid vehicle is much less than the extra cost. This forces the consumer to purchase based on expectation of either having the car long enough to realize the benefits, or expecting the price of fuel to rise so dramatically that the savings naturally materialize.

That being said, the hybrid vehicle is not a white elephant that isn't worth the purchase. The hybrid is a more fuel efficient vehicle and, thus, can save consumers money on the back end. Plus, the US government still offers some tax credits on certain lesser-selling hybrids, so there is a tax incentive.

The biggest benefit of the hybrid is that it is the precursor to the alternative fuel vehicle, and provides a large environmental benefit. Hybrids output a small portion of the emissions of the typical gasoline-engine vehicle, and they have been praised for their adoption and development of the electric engine. Many lawmakers, automakers, and consumers are hoping to see this as the mainstream technology used in vehicles for years to come.

Hybrids are the closest thing we have at this point to an alternative fuel vehicle on the roads today, and are the choice for the (long-term) budget-conscious and environmentally-aware consumers. As fuel prices rise, the savings of hybrids will continue to grow, possibly to the point that it will make sense for most, if not all, new vehicles to utilize a hybrid system.

Despite the loss of some power under the hood, consumers are warming up to the hybrid vehicle as a means of common transport, and are willing to pay the extra cost now to reap the benefits of this rapidly-developing alternative-fuel technology for the future.

About The Author C.L. Hendricks is a "jill-of-all-trades" and an expert in some. She writes on a variety of subjects for several websites, including InvitingSmiles and Survival Homestead, to name a few.
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