Are Hybrids Worth It?

02-2011-toyota-prius

02-2011-toyota-prius

“You just got passed by a Prius” could quite possibly be the most offensive bumper sticker on the highway today. To accept that a self-righteous compact gets better mileage than your modest Ford Excursion and beats you to the stop sign is a tough blow to take. Toyota Priuses, Honda Civic Hybrids, and various other fuel-efficient vehicles have obviously become more prevalent with the ever-increasing awareness of our ailing environment. But with all the hype focused on the heaven-sent mileage rates, consumers are overlooking the staggering price tags, assuming that the money saved at the pump will compensate for the extra G’s spent at the dealership. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but this is naïve thinking.

For simplicity’s sake, the popular Prius will be the subject of the following examples. The advertised mileage is an impressive 60 MPG, if you drive the speed limit, and the advertised price starts at $21,000. That is the equivalent of a year’s tuition at UCSD. Realistically, most drivers of the Prius have boasted MPGs averaging around 45, meaning they get less bang for their buck. To fill up an 11.9 gallon tank that will last 493 miles, the cost amounts to $40.06 based on a price of $3.74 per gallon. Not bad. However, coughing up $21,275 with monthly payments of $386.56 is a lot to spend with the intent of saving money.

In comparison, a 2006 Toyota Corolla, which is not a hybrid, gets about 35 MPG. With a 13.2 gallon tank that drives for 368 miles, a fill-up costs $44.43. Its sticker price is $14,005 with monthly payments of $227.83.

The initial amount of money spent on paying the Prius’ high price tag is unfortunately not made up for by the dollars saved on gas. In fact, the Prius will cost roughly $150 more a month than the Corolla, not even including such factors as maintenance and escalating gas prices.

In addition, depreciation has taken a toll on Toyota’s golden-green child. Over a five year period, the value retention (which just means how much the worth of a car decreases over time) of the Prius is 75%. That’s over four thousand dollars. To juxtapose the Corolla again, its estimated value retention is only 59% – pretty astonishing numbers when considering the future of automobiles.

Another point often overlooked is the hybrid’s battery. To compensate for using less gasoline, hybrid batteries are larger than regular car batteries, and therefore much more expensive. To throw out another number, hybrid battery replacements cost approximately $3,000, and who knows where the “environmentally friendly” dead batteries get dumped. Verbatim from a Toyota brochure, “Hybrid vehicle battery expected life is 150,000 miles based on laboratory bench testing.” While that is a generous amount of miles, if it’s not the battery that needs replacing, some other part of the hybrid will.

Jake Keeney, a senior at CCA, drives a Smart Car. While it is not a hybrid, the Smart Car achieves the same mileage as a Prius due to its compact design and engine. Amazingly enough, the Smart Car’s middle-model costs around $14,000. The one distinctive feature that causes a double take is the problematic size, which in comparison to most other vehicles on the highways of America is a joke. But if drivers can overcome their fear of navigating around town in an 8-foot car, the Smart will most definitely be worth the purchase. Keeney explains, “Think of it as a two-seater truck with the truck bed cut off and the engine switched with a Civic.”

Economically speaking, the Corolla – or any other underrated economy car – ends up being a much wiser choice for those looking to purchase a new automobile. If the intention is primarily for personal transportation, a hybrid will not do much justice to consumer’s wallets. But if the trendy “green” lifestyle is enough persuasion, the Prius will continue to pass up other cars on the market and freeway.

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