Hybrid cars: Do the fuel savings offset the higher purchase price?

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    Will a hybrid car really save you money on gas in the long run? It depends.

    More and more drivers are considering hybrid and electric vehicles when the time comes to buy a new car. Individual reasons vary. For some, it’s about helping the environment – driving a fuel-efficient vehicle just feels good. If that’s your priority, then choosing a car is not necessarily about saving money on gas.

    But some of us do think of a hybrid/electric car as a possible investment. We want a vehicle that consumes less gas, and we’re willing to pay a reasonable premium for a hybrid if it reduces our fuel use and saves us money in the long run. For this type of car buyer, it’s important to understand the tradeoffs as they apply to specific car models.

    The truth is, investing in a fuel-efficient car can pay off – but it takes years, and the number of years varies depending on the make and model you choose.


    For example, according to the New York Times, if you assume 15,000 miles driven a year and a gas price of just under $4 a gallon:

    • The Toyota Prius and Lincoln MKZ are likely to produce overall savings within two years versus similar-size gas-powered cars from the same brand.
    • Other hybrids, despite ratings 8 to 12 miles per gallon better than conventional models, will cost more to buy and drive for at least five years.

    Furthermore, if gas cost $5 a gallon, the payback period for a hybrid Ford Fusion over the conventional Fusion would be six and a half years, compared with eight and a half years at $4. At $6 a gallon, the hybrid Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima are likely to generate savings within four years.

    Many car buyers never get this far in their research, so they may overestimate how much the added miles per gallon translate into actual monetary savings. If saving money on gas is a high priority for you as a car buyer, then it pays to do the math as it applies to different makes and models.

    Do you own a hybrid vehicle? Which one, and has it helped you save money over the long run?

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