- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

It is fashionable in some circles to be “green” these days, but there is one kind of green that will always be in vogue: Money. Therefore, it makes sense to examine in what ways eco-cars, such as hybrids, are really green.

One thing is for sure: Hybrids emit less gas and burn less gasoline than their peers on the highway. That can be good and bad, depending on your viewpoint.

Recently, Peter Bohr, a writer for Highways, the AAA magazine in California, examined the impact on your pocketbook when you buy a hybrid vehicle.

For starters, hybrids cost more, Mr. Bohr pointed out. Comparing apples to apples, a hybrid such as the Honda Civic EX is priced $2,300 more than its gas brother. Same for the Ford Escape hybrid. It costs about $2,000 more than its all-gas counterpart.

However, in a nod to environmentalism, the U.S. government will grant you a $2,000 tax deduction if you buy a hybrid in the two-year period from Jan. 1, 2004, to Dec. 31, 2005. What you save depends on your tax bracket. If it’s 30 percent, you get $600 back, for example. To nit-pick a bit, remember that you had to pay sales tax on that extra money you spent for your earth-saving vehicle, as well as interest if you are financing your car, so your $600 return check from the IRS has some hidden debits built in.

However, you definitely will save on gas with your new eco-car. That is one reason hybrids have gotten the public’s attention. Who wouldn’t like to pay less often at the gas pump when gas can cost more than $2 a gallon?

But how much gas do you really save?

Well, if you buy a Toyota Prius instead of a Lincoln Navigator or other bulky SUV, you save lots if you figure you will get 35 to 50 miles per gallon in your hybrid, and maybe 12 to 18 mpg in your SUV tank.

However, you can’t take the hockey team to the rink in a Prius, although it seats four quite nicely.

In a side-by-side comparison of like vehicles, the gas savings for a Civic hybrid compared with a Civic gas model will probably be about 13 mpg, Mr. Bohr’s research indicated.

Figuring gas costs at $2 a gallon and that you drive 15,000 miles a year, here is how the comparative costs look: Gas Civic = 441 gallons of gas a year X $2= $882 in annual gas costs.

A hybrid Civic, getting 47 miles per gallon, produces the following figures: 319 gallons of gas a year X $2 = $638 in annual gas costs. Your annual gas savings: $244. Put the whole cost of your Civic hybrid together and you come out with the following: Initial excess cost of $2,300, less your $600 tax break = $1,700. Divide this by your annual gas savings of $244 and you discover that it will take 6.97 years to break even on your hybrid purchase.

There is one added unknown to this equation, which doesn’t take effect unless you keep your gas-saver for about 10 years. At that point you will probably need new batteries. What those will cost is anybody’s guess, but it is generally thought they will cost $2,000 to $3,000. However, in the case of Honda, your warranty covers you for 10 years or 150,000 miles. Boy, this gets complicated!

So what’s the conclusion? If you want to buy a hybrid, buy one, and if you don’t, don’t.

Considering the cost of a battery pack replacement, I doubt there will be much of a second-hand market for hybrids, however.

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