Buying a Hybrid Car – Part 4 and 5

hcc0113Part 4: Repair and Maintenance

Today, many people are concerned about the additional costs associated with fixing hybrid vehicles. At the current time, the cost of maintaining a hybrid vehicle appears to be the same as what you would spend on a conventional car. In addition, you may even find some savings on brake repairs, as the energy recapture system also serves to keep the brakes cooler.

Unfortunately, we may not have an accurate description of what it will cost to fix a hybrid. That said, we already know some of the initial estimates were much lower than actual cost. As an example, there is an enormous cost associated with repairing and replacing the batteries. There are also some other factors that may come into play as the production of hybrids shifts from custom design to commercial factories.

One has only to look at the durability of cars produced in the 1970's and '80's compared to today in order to see the pattern. As you may be aware, conventional automobiles manufactured today rarely last four years before developing costly repair issues, such as fuel pump replacement and drive train replacements. In my opinion, as hybrid vehicles become more common, they will have shorter lifespans, and develop more complex problems than the vehicles on the market now.

Consider the following:

  • For the last few year, hybrid manufacturers have done their best to develop a durable product.
  • As the demand increases, manufacturers will need to mechanize more aspects, and reduce quality control checkpoints.
  • As manufacturers grow more reassured of their position in the market, they will produce a less durable product.
  • While prices will come down, the number of mechanical repair issues are likely to skyrocket.

Battery Replacement

Today, it is already commonly known that the battery packs found in hybrid cars last for a little over 100,000 miles. At the same time, battery replacement or repair costs range from $3,000 to $5,000 and do not appear to be covered in the warranties. Unfortunately, in a society where individuals commute over 100 miles per day to get to work, the hybrid car will be virtually useless in less than 5 years.

Computer Issues

Anyone that has driven a conventional car with electrical or computer issue is likely to be a bit nervous about the idea of a computer controlling so many aspects of the hybrid performance. While no reports have surfaced yet about computer problems on hybrids, it may just be a matter of time. Again, I feel we must consider what happens in the automobile industry as industrial standards and mechanization take precedence over strict quality control protocols and designs that account less for mechanical wear. As an example, many cars produced in the 1990's have computer modules comparable to those found as standard equipment in cars today. At the same time, you will find today's conventional cars have an enormous number of computer related issues.

Unknown Factors in the Drivetrain and Transmission

Because the batteries for hybrids cost so much, most people are focused on looking for ways to force the manufacturers to reduce prices. Chances are, these efforts will be successful, to the point where a dead battery pack will no longer mean having to buy a new vehicle. Unfortunately, one must wonder what other issues will develop in the drivetrains, transmissions, and power motors. Among other things, it is common knowledge that failing batteries and alternators wreak havoc in conventional vehicles. This includes damage to steering pump motors, power assist brake motors, and many other devices. Therefore, it seems that a hybrid vehicle would be subject to the same laws of nature and physics.

That said, the manufacturers of hybrids all indicate they have rigorously tested these vehicles. At the same time, there are hybrid car owners that say their vehicles remain durable and reliable well past the warranty period. Perhaps one can think of this as similar to the situation with smoking cigarettes. You will always find individuals that smoke a carton a day and never get emphysema or cancer. Nevertheless, smoking even a few cigarettes a day poses a major health risk to the majority of people. As a result, perhaps when it comes to the question of hybrid repair and maintenance cost, it would be best to plan on spending more money than the dealer indicates.

Part 5: Purchasing Cost, Insurance, and Depreciation

When purchasing a car, many people consider other things beside the initial purchase cost and maintenance. Among other things, it is important to find out how much it will cost to insure the car. You will also want to try and calculate what the car's residual value will be at the end of your loan period, or its depreciation value.

Initial Cost

As may be expected with any new product, you will find that hybrids cost more than conventional cars. Typically, a small car will cost from $21,000 up to $26,000, while larger sedans cost around $30,000. While there are SUV's and pickup trucks available, they tend to cost over $50,000 msrp. Chances are, as the methods for producing hybrids become more standardized, these prices will come down.

Insurance Cost

At the current time, most insurance companies will charge less to insure a hybrid than they will a conventional car. That said, it is important to realize that insurance carriers have as little information to work on right now as the general public. Statistically speaking, there are fewer collisions involving hybrids simply because there are fewer of them on the road. That said, as these vehicles become more available, logically, the number of collisions they are involved in will also increase. This, in turn may mean that insurance rates on these vehicles will grow at an exponential rate, because the statistical indicators will indicate an exponential change in the ratio of vehicles to number of collisions.

Depreciation Estimates

If all hybrids depreciate as well as the Toyota Prius, there is no question you will be getting good value for your money. Among other things, research indicates the Prius currently leads all other cars in terms of residual value. At the same time, the Honda Civic hybrid and is at the bottom of the top ten. That said, many other conventional cars have ranked far worse. Without a question, if these depreciation trends continue, hybrids will be a good investment for individuals that want to trade into a new car at the end of the current lease or loan period. On the other hand, if repair issues prove to be as prohibitive as I suspect they will, then these cars will depreciate very quickly in the next few years.

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