When hybrid cars first came to our shores in 2001, they were an odd curiosity. In the intervening years, most Americans seem to have made up their mind regarding this new type of vehicle. Hybrid owners love their cars while drivers of traditional vehicles have reached their own conclusions, based largely on some erroneous assumptions.
Here are nine reasons why a hybrid car is better than you think it is.
Many people conclude that the additional gas mileage offered by hybrids are not worth the cost of driving the slowest car on the road. In fact, hybrids are faster than you might think for an obvious reason – hybrid cars have multiple engines. In addition to the conventional gasoline engine, hybrids contain 1-3 electric motors that provide a little more horsepower and a lot more torque. Some models, like the Prius, use a smaller gasoline engine than similarly sized cars, but other hybrids simply add an electric motor to the standard engine which results in a faster combination than the non-hybrid version.
It is possible to drive a hybrid just like any other car, but your fuel economy will suffer. Hybrids want to be driven in a different manner in order to take advantage of all of the inherent efficiencies of their drive-trains. To help drivers get the most miles per gallon, most hybrids include some sort of feedback system that lets drivers know how the car is operating. For example, drivers learn when their car is in electric only mode, when the gas engine is running, and when they are generating energy from braking.
When your engine is only running half of the time, your car will require fewer oil changes. Additionally, since a hybrid uses generators to decelerate while charging its battery, it will use its friction brakes far less often. The result is a car that will drive more miles before needing brake service.
The most common concern that most drivers have with the concept of a hybrid is that they have an expensive battery that will need to be replaced. It is true that a hybrid’s batteries make up a substantial portion of the additional cost, but concerns that the battery will be unreliable are unfounded. In fact, Consumer Reports tested a 10 year old Prius and compared its performance to the same model when it was tested as new. They concluded that the 10 year old car with 200,000 miles performed identically to when it was tested as new. Furthermore, cities that have used hybrids as taxis found that their batteries were also working fine when the vehicles were retired as planned after 250,000 miles.
It is torque, not horsepower that enables a car to climb a steep hill, and the electric motors in hybrid cars specialize in producing it. Additionally, hybrids often feature continuously variable transmissions that allow the engine to operate at the optimal number of revolutions per minute (RPMs) when climbing under full power. This is impossible with conventional transmissions that typically operate with four, five, or six speeds.
The original Toyota Prius and Honda Insight were subcompacts, although later models are classified as mid sized vehicles. Today, Toyota offers its seven passenger Highlander as a hybrid, and many full size American made SUVs and pickup trucks have hybrid drive-trains as an option.
Starting a hybrid makes about as much commotion as turning on a lamp. When you take your foot off of the brake, a hybrid will begin to move so silently that passengers might think your car is rolling downhill. These cars are so quiet that owners sometimes forget to turn them off and safety advocates argue that they should artificially generate noise to warn pedestrians.
The goal of hybrid designers seems to have been to ensure that the drivers of conventional vehicles could operate them without changing any of their habits. To that end, the electric motor will engage when the driver is not using the gas or the brakes, just like a conventional engine idling in a car with an automatic transmission. In order to simulate the engine drag, hybrids will apply a little regenerative braking when the driver is coasting without applying the brakes.
Some analysts have downplayed the higher fuel economy offered by hybrids by comparing those savings to the increased purchase price of a new vehicle. This comparison neglects the reality that when sold, a used hybrid will command a higher price than a conventional car with lower fuel economy. In fact, the price premium will be even more pronounced every time there is a rise in gas prices. During these increasingly frequent price spikes, it is impossible to purchase a used hybrid for published “book” prices as there is far more demand than supply.
Hybrid cars typically produce up to 80% less harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases than comparable gasoline cars. With fewer airborne pollutants and a cleaner Earth, you can’t go wrong.
Hybrid owners get to enjoy tax credits, preferred parking spaces, and in some states, even have the ability to drive solo in High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.
Hybrids offer a new and exciting means of efficiently propelling your car, but there is so much more to them than high fuel economy. By understanding all of their advantages, drivers can make the best choice when it comes to purchasing a new vehicle.