Posted by Norman Fong, March 7th, 2012
Gas is getting more expensive by the day. Everyone wants a fuel efficient car, but does it make economical sense? Obviously serious green oriented folks care more about the environment than financial considerations. When does it pay to buy a hybrid automobile is the question?
Replacing a vehicle with a fuel efficient model has the biggest aggregate potential reduction in green house gas emissions at 31.4 millions of metric tons of carbon a year. Even more than Weatherizing a home (21.2), buying energy efficient appliances (11.7), or carpooling (6.5).
How Quickly does a Hybrid Pay off?
CNNMoney.com has a nice analysis of how fast a hybrid pays off. They compared a buying a new $24,548 Toyota Prius Hybrid vs a conventional $19,635 Toyota Camry. The premium for the hybrid automobile is almost $5000.
You can see that it takes 4.5 years to break even with gas at $4, 6 years at $3. Some hard numbers that should help prevent you from paying a crazy markup for any hot new green hybrid or electric vehicle.
An edmunds.com article highlighted some payoff times for hybrid cars. Gas costs more now, so the times are shorter than listed. Toyota Prius (2.6), Nissan Altima (3.4), Mercury Mariner (4.4), GMC Yukon (4.9). There are some hybrids that don’t fare nearly as well from a cost trade-off standpoint, but may be attractive for other reasons: Toyota Highlander (12.7) and Lexus LS600h (102.6)
True cost of Hybrids
Recent stories that attempt to include the overall energy costs incurred from creation of the car to disposing it show that hybrids are not as green as you think. The Nickel battery takes most of the blame.
- Toyota Prius $3.25 per mile in energy costs over its lifetime
- Range Rover Sport $2.42
- Dodge Viper $2.18
The Future of Hybrids
The car industry has started to understand this and closed the delta with mild hybrids costing far less. They use much smaller batteries and hence cost far less.
Remember that it takes a LOT of energy to build a car, so it may be more green to keep what you have or buy a used fuel efficient vehicle. A hybrid still emits about 20 pounds of carbon with each gallon of gas you burn up. In the long run, a lot more carbon emissions are produced by older cars, when compared with manufacturing a new one. If your car is over 10 years old, it may be a candidate to get replaced with a newer, more efficient vehicle. Also with newer cars, driving with the air conditioning on maybe as energy efficient as rolling down the windows.
Check out our hybrid driving tips.