Hybrids: To Buy Or Not To Buy…

Earlier this week, The CarConnection.com released a list of seven good reasons to buy a hybrid vehicle and six bad ones. The piece is meant to counter the "buyer's remorse" that some people feel after purchasing a hybrid that doesn't quite live up to the buyer's expectations. Hybrid technology can be a good solution for specific problems, but it won't always produce stellar results in every circumstance.

Hybrid vehicles excel at city driving. For the most part, this is where the electric motor gets used, and boosts your miles per gallon. If most of your driving is done on the highway, fuel economy shouldn't be your top reason for buying a hybrid. The more you rely on the gasoline engine, the lower your overall fuel economy will be. If you do a lot of highway driving, a better alternative would be a highly efficient gasoline or diesel engine.

Ironically, some states allow hybrid drivers to use their high-occupancy lanes as an added bonus for having purchased an environmentally friendly, reduced-emissions hybrid. Unfortunately, most of the time, those hybrids will be zipping down the HOV lane on their dirty, old-school gasoline engines, while the hybrid technology snoozes. Go figure. Before you cruise on over to the carpool lane, check your state's laws. Some states require a special sticker or license plate to qualify for the HOV lane use.

Some, but not all, hybrid vehicles qualify for tax breaks from Uncle Sam. The tax breaks were doled out by manufacturer, so the most popular hybrid models no longer qualify for a bump from the Treasury Department. If you're insistent upon getting a tax break, do some research first to see which models still qualify. And before you ask: the tax credits for the Prius are long gone. (Which is ok, since you wouldn't be able to find a Prius at your local Toyota dealer anyway.)

As with everything in life, there are tradeoffs. If you already drive a relatively fuel efficient vehicle, getting a hybrid isn't going to save you a great deal over your current car. You shouldn't expect a major reduction in your gasoline consumption or your out-of-pocket expenses at the pump. With hybrid vehicles, you can't really tow anything. If you're not the outdoorsy type, then no harm, no foul on this one.

And then there's the whole battery issue. Automakers struggled mightily with that, mainly out of concern for cost and safety. Batteries, although warranteed for some time, are not under warranty indefinitely and their replacement cost can reach into the thousands of dollars. Automakers don't have very good data on longevity for hybrid batteries, so as the vehicles age out, replacing their batteries could become the functional equivalent of blowing an engine. If battery technology improves significantly, the replacement cost will come down, but nothing is certain about hybrid car batteries these days, except that there aren't enough of them to go around.

Current hybrids use nickel-metal hydride batteries and many new hybrids will run on newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries. Purposely or not, the automakers have recreated a version of the old "BetaMax/VHS debate" for hybrid vehicles. Vehicles are designed to work on one or the other type of batteries. If one battery type takes off and the other languishes, it could be tough to find replacements at any price for the less favored technology.

If you do your research carefully before you go car shopping, these issues and others can weigh in on your decision to buy or not to buy a hybrid vehicle. If you simply want a hybrid in your driveway because everyone else has one, you're likely to be disappointed by what you get, no matter which company makes it.

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