Hybrid cars are a little more expensive, but can be less expensive to run.
With gas prices and pollution levels rising, many people are seeking vehicles that run on alternative sources of energy. The timing couldn't be better for the current crop of hybrid cars.
Electric cars, once touted as the wave of the future, have proven impractical. They run down their batteries pretty quickly - usually after less than 100 miles - and need four to six hours to recharge. This makes them more suitable for city driving. The technology has been adapted for use in hybrid vehicles, which are proving to be much more practical and commercially successful.
Hybrid cars aren't just easier on the environment, they also get better gas mileage than conventional cars. With 2004 sales of hybrids projected to top 100,000 in the U.S., car manufacturers are getting ready to add new models - including the first hybrid SUVs - to the handful available now.
The hybrid car is designed to give drivers the same convenience as any other car. You can drive it long distances, accelerate quickly and there is no recharging time involved. In fact, until you look under the hood, you might not even realize you're in a hybrid car.
How they work
There are several hybrid engine designs, but they all combine gas and electric power. A car requires the most power during acceleration or on a steep hill, but can otherwise function quite well on a small engine. The electric power in a hybrid engine gives the gas engine a boost when additional power is needed. Because hybrid cars have the electric component, they can carry a smaller, more efficient engine than a comparable non-hybrid car. Smaller engines use less energy.
In addition to the combined use of power, hybrid cars have a number of design features to improve efficiency. These include lightweight building materials to reduce the overall weight of the car, aerodynamic shape and optimized tires to reduce drag, and regenerative braking, which allows the battery to charge as the car slows down.
The result is that hybrid cars get better mileage and create less pollution than their conventional counterparts.
How much do they cost?
Hybrid cars tend to cost more than purely gas-powered cars that are similar in size and features. But they are relatively affordable. The 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid Sedan has a Kelley Blue Book price of $19,828.00, while the 2004 Honda Civic LX Sedan clocks in at $14,967. The 2004 Toyota Prius Hybrid Sedan comes with a price tag of $21,226.00, less than $4,000 more than the 2004 Toyota Camry Sedan.
While several thousand dollars seems like a big difference up front, the higher price tag may be offset by lower long-term costs. Depending on how much you drive, you can save the price premium in gas over the life of your hybrid. You may also qualify for a tax deduction called the Clean-Fuel Vehicle Deduction.
The electric components of a hybrid car require no maintenance, but the rest of the car needs the same maintenance as any other vehicle. Replacing the batteries of a hybrid car can cost several thousand dollars, but most manufacturers offer long warranties on the hybrid components - usually about eight years.
The lifetime cost of a hybrid car is still slightly more than that of a conventional car, but the gap seems to be narrowing. For many drivers the benefit to the environment may be enough to make the cost difference worthwhile.
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