Car buying – you cringe just at the thought of it. The tedious search for safety testing results and drivability reviews is at hand, not to mention the new set of payments that will go along with this vehicle. This is the point at which to decide to go new or used. Both have their benefits and downsides, and their balance varies depending on the situation. Of course, those tasks exclude the other decisions inherent in the process: Style of vehicle (sedan, SUV, crossover), engine size (the 4-cylinder is efficient, but the 6-cylinder has a great kick), color, and packages (GPS and audio system or just the audio, but what about the moonroof?). Recently, a new option is under consideration by the average car buyer: hybrid or conventional? At first glance, the appeal of a hybrid is overwhelming; the improved fuel economy, partial silent operation, and green appearance all make it a difficult treat to resist. However, with all the hoopla around hybrids, seeing through the marketing spectacle is important to make an informed decision on whether they are a beneficial option for you. Indeed, the impact on your wallet may actually be higher if you purchase a hybrid!
Let’s get a few things out of the way. First, hybrids don’t automatically mean amazing gas mileage. Yes, they will be better, often significantly so, than their equivalent conventional model, but all too commonly, the difference is not nearly large enough to expect to pay less in the long run. I recently purchased a new vehicle, and was torn between two sedans, one was a hybrid, and the other was a normal 4-cylinder. With the hybrid, research found that I should expect an average of 35 MPG for my driving style (40% city, 60% highway). On the other hand, the conventional vehicle (which I drive now) has demonstrated an average of slightly above 28 MPG, based upon the on-board computer. Now, I’m all for reducing our usage of oil, but was the hybrid worth it? Looking into the costs, I discovered quite a sticker shock – the hybrid was nearly $8,000 more! Assuming I drive 10,000 miles a year, at 28 MPG, the conventional engine burns 357 gallons of gasoline. At $2.00 a gallon, the annual fuel cost is $714. With the hybrid, getting 35 MPG, I’d have used 285 gallons, resulting in an annual fuel cost of $571. Therefore, the hybrid would only save me $143 annually in fuel costs. At this rate, to pay off the $8,000 premium, I’d have to drive for 55 years (or hope fuel prices rise substantially)! Ignoring the 10-year lifetime of the batteries, the payoff simply was not there.
In my case, the decision was simple. The costs were simply too high. To partially offset the diminished mileage between my vehicle and the hybrid, I practice the standard efficient driving techniques, driving under 70 on the highways, accelerating and braking at moderate speeds, and coasting, instead of driving, towards red lights, just to name a few. Only a few days ago, I found myself on a local road with a posted speed limit of 50 MPH. Setting the cruise control to 53 MPH, I took a look at the real-time fuel consumption meter, and then did a double-take. The car was consistently getting over 39 MPG! This non-hybrid vehicle was performing better than the hybrid equivalent, and all it took was careful and intelligent driving.
The point to drive home (pun intended) here is not that hybrids are bad or a poor financial decision, rather, their usefulness is extremely dependent on your normal driving patterns. Consider a hybrid when the price variance is less than a few thousand, you tend to drive mostly in the city (hybrid mileage is opposite conventional cars, the city range tends to be higher), and the difference in mileage is significant.
This entire situation assumes a new car purchase with no leasing. The following article will analyze the public perception towards hybrids versus both new and used conventional vehicles, as well as some of the forms of transportation just on the cusp of production.
Joseph Winn is the President/CEO GreenProfit Solutions, Inc., an environmental consulting and benefits firm specializing in assisting small and medium size companies in Going Green. You may contact Joseph at: email@example.com
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