Are Hybrids Worth It?
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Are Hybrids Worth It?

By Chris Teague | April 5, 2021

The world is moving away from vehicles powered by traditional gas engines. Like it or not, the number of old-school gas-guzzlers available to choose from, in the coming years, will start to dwindle as people become more comfortable with low-emissions hybrid cars, electric vehicles, and other super fuel-efficient new cars. In a few years more, we will start to see totally electric vehicles taking over the market.

That raises a question. If we are moving to an all-electric future, why bother with a hybrid now? Well, it is true that the trusty internal combustion engine is going the way of the dinosaur, but that will not be a reality for many, many years. The infrastructure, consumer education, and technology that the world will need to support an enormous fleet of EVs just does not exist yet. In the meantime, a hybrid or PHEV could lead to big fuel savings. The price of cars is increasing, though, and even used hybrid cars can be expensive. Let us take a look at whether or not a hybrid could be worth it for you.

Are Hybrid Cars Worth It?

17124 2021 Niro PHEV (1)

Hybrid cars can seem to be a great deal on the surface, but if you are not fully aware of what you need out of a vehicle, you might end up with a ride that does not work for you. Fuel prices, driving distance, type of route (city vs. highway), and your specific needs should all play a role in helping you choose a vehicle. In addition, the price of the vehicle should align with your budget. That said, automakers have gotten better with efficiencies and scale, so cars like the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Subaru Crosstrek PHEV, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and others have become more affordable unlike hybrid vehicles of the past.

Here is a closer look at the factors you should consider when buying a hybrid car.

Purchase Price

2021 Prius Prime Red 002 (1) (1)

The most obvious thing to consider is the price of the car, which will ultimately determine if you save money or blow your budget. It is worth keeping in mind that usually, but not always, hybrid vehicles are more expensive than other cars. Even when shopping used cars, hybrid models typically carry a premium price tag.

One of the factors attributed to this higher price point is the fact that hybrid vehicles cost more to build. This additional cost is passed on from the manufacturer to the consumer (you, the buyer). The good news is that, in some cases, there are rebates or tax credits available to help offset the added sticker costs. If you are concerned about the price tag, feel free to just wait. As more hybrids enter the market, many are becoming as affordable as a Corolla was just a few years ago.

Maintenance Costs and Reliability

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid 001-source (1)

If you compare the same make and model of car, non-hybrid versus hybrid, the reliability for each should be very similar. For you, this means there is unlikely significant savings gained by selecting one over the other.

Usually, hybrid cars are just as reliable as a gasoline-powered one. In some cases, maintenance costs are less because of how hybrids function. Regenerative braking means that the car can slow itself without input from the driver, which saves braking components. While this is not a massive savings, it is one to keep in mind, as replacing brake pads more often costs more in maintenance fees.

Another notable difference are insurance costs. Several insurance companies provide discounts to drivers who own a hybrid car. The availability and depth of savings vary from company to company, so it is best to contact your insurer to find out what is offered. Also, keep in mind that many newer hybrid cars come with the latest safety tech and driver aids, so you may end up saving even more money if your insurer offers incentives for those features.

A concern for many people, considering the purchase of a hybrid car, is the reliability of the hybrid battery. There is a common myth that replacing the battery of a hybrid vehicle is going to cost tens of thousands of dollars. Also, there is a worry that the battery is only going to last for a set number of miles or a certain amount of time. This isn’t the case.

Hybrid car manufacturers build batteries for hybrid cars to last for the life of the vehicle. Many even offer a standard warranty for the hybrid powertrain batteries for 100,000 miles or 8-10 years, depending on the manufacturer. In many cases, the batteries last longer than that, but may experience degradation in capacity or power delivery over time. Having said that, it is impossible to ignore the environmental impacts involved with digging up the materials to build those batteries from the earth. Over time, though, the reduced impact from driving the hybrid can help offset some of the negative impact.

Other Benefits

Owning a hybrid car can create efficiencies in other areas of your life. You might see time savings by not having to go to the gas station as often. Some businesses and organizations provide those driving a hybrid vehicle with special parking spaces or other perks. In some states, you will have the opportunity to drive in the HOV lane, allowing you to avoid traffic, save time, and avoid stress.

If you are the type of person to worry about your impact on the earth, you can rest a little easier knowing that your lessened gas usage is helping save the environment because hybrid vehicles have smaller carbon footprints. While more efficient, remember that driving like a crazy person in a hybrid will still use more fuel than you probably intend to, and can lead to some interesting results in the fuel economy department.

These are more subjective benefits, and you have to determine if any of the factors mentioned above are going to impact you and help you make a decision on owning a hybrid vehicle. While there is no way to put an actual monetary value on these benefits, take the time to think over if they will impact your life in a positive way.

Gas Savings

Another reason people are turning to hybrid cars is fluctuating gas prices and the search for better fuel efficiency. However, to figure out if you are going to save money by purchasing a hybrid car, you have to look at the number of miles you drive your vehicle on average, as well as fuel prices. Determining fuel economy is essential, but you might not see savings at the pump if you are primarily driving on short trips around town, where your mpg will naturally dip. A hybrid version of a standard car also will not save you money on gas if you drive everywhere like Mario Andretti on a racetrack. Pay attention to fuel costs the next time you fill up and keep your hot driving to a minimum.

Purchase Incentives

Incentives are an important consideration when trying to determine if purchasing a hybrid car is worth it. There are several levels of incentives that you can explore.

The first comes from the dealer. In some cases, the dealer you purchase from may offer a cash back rebate, but this is usually restricted to specific makes or models. Also, the cash back rebate is going to fluctuate based on dealer and the time of year. Car buyers tend to flock to buy new and used cars at these times, so you might not get the exact model you want.

Another incentive you may benefit from is a government tax credit. In the past, the government offered a tax credit for any hybrid car. Currently, the tax law regarding hybrid vehicles allows for a federal credit if, and when, you purchase a plug-in hybrid or fully electric car. The tax incentive typically ranges from $2,500 up to $7,500. That means if you do not buy a plug-in vehicle, there is no government tax credit available.

Some states also offer a tax incentive. Again, the majority of these are for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids only. However, it never hurts to check and see if your vehicle qualifies at the state level.

Putting it All Together

As you may have guessed by now, the answer to whether or not buying a hybrid car is worth it is somewhat subjective. For example, if you put a high value on reducing the impact you have on the environment and minimizing the number of times you have to go to the gas station, purchasing a hybrid vehicle is going to be a much more appealing purchase.

However, most of the money savings you are going to see are going to come after the purchase. Due to the limitations on government incentives today, when you first purchase a hybrid car over a traditional gas-powered vehicle, you are going to pay more. Over time, though, the gas savings, rebates, and potential savings on maintenance costs can help you gain back some of that initial investment.

Keep in mind that most car manufacturers are still making improvements and changes to their hybrid vehicles due to innovative technology. However, the same is valid for gas-powered cars. As a result, the ability to save (or not save) money with hybrid vehicles is going to continue to change and fluctuate as time passes. It is important to use the information here, as well as the formula mentioned above for your mileage usage to determine if a hybrid vehicle is a smart, and money saving, investment.

Don’t Forget About Electric Cars

Just for comparison's sake, it is also important to look at electric cars. Just keep in mind, if you are trying to purchase a vehicle with a limited budget, then there are only going to be few options available.

For example, the Tesla Model 3, which is the most affordable option in Tesla’s line with a starting price of $35,000. The next cheapest model from that point is approximately $70,000. Now, though, several brands are jumping into the fray with announcements of their own EVs. BMW and Hyundai both released EV models in 2021. Chevrolet has had the Volt for awhile now. Kia, Mercedes-Benz, GMC, Volkswagon, Ford, and Audi are all on the verge of releasing their own EVs soon. Take the time to do research on your favorite manufacturer to see what, if any, EV models they have released or might have in the works.

If it was a perfect world where everyone could afford the extremely efficient electric vehicle (in this situation, think the Tesla rather than the Nissan Leaf, Lincoln MKZ, or Toyota Prius), you would only spend approximately $540 per year rather than the $1,400 that the average driver is spending on gas per year. Unfortunately, it is still a long time until this is going to be possible. Even as costs come down, there is still the matter of infrastructure. How many charging stations do you see around town? While that number is increasing every year, the number of chargers can be counted on one hand in many places. If all you do is city driving, an EV could be ideal, but finding a charger in rural areas can be a real headache.

Wrapping it Up

No matter the reason you are looking into buying a hybrid car, it can be a good choice. Saving the environment, while a noble goal, is a complicated idea for any vehicle, but saving money at the gas pump is a real and achievable goal with hybrid vehicles. In most cases, it is the upfront cost of the hybrid vehicle that will sway a buyer one way or the other when thinking about making the purchase, but you now know enough to look past the initial cost and determine the real savings over time.

Take some time to review the information here to determine if it makes sense for you to purchase a hybrid vehicle. Each driver can ascertain the advantages and disadvantages for themselves.