As auto manufacturers put forth a number of hybrid, alternative fuel, and full-electric options, the average motorist can be understandably confused by exactly what each of those labels means when it comes to actually getting out and driving. The word “hybrid” only means that a car can run on both a traditional gasoline-using internal combustion engine and on electricity – nothing else is implied. But some myths about hybrid cars persist nonetheless.
1. All hybrids must be plugged in to charge.
A standard gas-electric hybrid vehicle never needs to be plugged in under any circumstances. The battery is charged using two methods: first, some extra energy from the gas engine is routed to the battery. Second, a special system known as “regenerative braking” converts power normally wasted when a car is slowing down or braking directly to battery power. The car’s computer decides when to switch between gasoline and electric power, leading to improved miles per gallon with no change in activity on the driver’s part.
That said, some of the confusion comes from new plug-in hybrid vehicles or even all-electric vehicles, that manufacturers have recently released to the public. These cars feature larger batteries than a standard hybrid and do allow you to plug them into the grid to receive a charge that lets you perform in-town errands without using a drop of gasoline.
2. Hybrids are always more expensive than a normal car.
Hybrid technology has progressed to the point where models are available at a range of reasonable prices, with some costing less than $25,000 after rebates. While you may still consider this a high figure – one can certainly find all-gas cars for less cash – the sticker price is only one part of the equation.
Money saved on gas can have a significant impact over the life of the car, so approximate your average gas usage before and after a hybrid purchase and apply those savings to the price of the car. Purchasers of especially gas-efficient vehicles are also almost always able to take advantage of special tax incentives put in place to encourage just such behavior, potentially knocking multiple thousands of dollars off the price when calculating your yearly tax burden.
A Toyota hybrid Camry is a perfect example of a new generation affordable hybrid car.
3. Hybrids have less power than traditional cars.
Historically this was true: the electric motor of a hybrid car could not put out the same horsepower as its gas-powered counterpart. Fortunately, we do not live in historical times. The modern hybrid motor is capable of being every bit as powerful as its counterpart in every way the average motorist cares about.
Admittedly, it might be a while before you see electric automobiles in NASCAR.
4. Driving a hybrid makes a political statement.
There is no denying that a crowd of people exists who purchases a flashy, explicitly labeled hybrid car mostly to impress his or her neighbors and who expects a pat on the back for single-handedly protecting the environment. On the other hand, there is a crowd of people who will drive a Hummer even though gas prices are as high as they’ve ever been in an attempt to show that they just don’t care about what anyone thinks.
There are a number of practical reasons to go for a hybrid, not the least of which is reduced gas costs and less time spent finding a gas station to pull over at. If it ends up being a little bit better for the environment, well, that’s a nice bonus. If it ends up that the country does not have to import as much oil, well, someone somewhere might be fond of that.
With the vast number of options on the road today, it is exceedingly simple to purchase a hybrid vehicle for its benefits with or without loudly declaring to the rest of the world that you drive a hybrid. The Honda Civic Hybrid, for example, is barely distinguishable from its standard counterpart. Feel free to leave political statements – or lack thereof – to the bumper stickers.
5. Hybrid batteries don’t last long and are costly to replace.
This persistent myth has turned many a car buyer away from hybrids, fearing a replacement bill of thousands of dollars if and when the battery went dead.
While many of the newer hybrid batteries have not yet been on the road quite long enough to determine their true effective ranges, what data exists is Toyota Prius very promising. For one, batteries are usually under warranty for the first eight years or 100,000 miles – a respectable distance, and not an unusually short one for any car part.
One popular anecdote comes from a cab driver in Vancouver whose Prius is running strong after a full 200,000 miles. New technologies for battery construction and for management of the charge have made the lifespan of the battery almost a nonissue.