RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Is that gas-guzzling clunker in your garage older than the hills? If it is, you might be able to get paid to trade it in for a more efficient model, thanks to a measure that was just passed by Congress. The “Cash for Clunkers” bill would give people $4,500 to trade in 10-year-old cars that get less than 18 miles per gallon (mpg) for models with a modestly improved mileage of 22 mpg.
Whether that bill becomes law or not, upgrading a car with an abysmally low 18 mpg will save anyone money on gas. Even 22 mpg is pretty low these days, with new hybrids and fuel-efficient gas models that can go twice as far on a gallon. But when it comes to the choice between a hybrid and a fuel-efficient gas engine, does the green-cred of hybrids always equal savings over nonrenewable-gasoline-powered cars?
This: Hybrid Car
Pros: In most cases, hybrids get incredibly high gas mileage; the 2010 Toyota Prius, gets a combined (city + highway) gas mileage of 50 mpg. That incredible gas mileage helps defray some of the car’s higher upfront cost. According to Edmunds.com’s “True Cost to Own” analysis, a 2009 Toyota Prius that costs $22,000 will cost $32,760 over five years. Compare that to the most fuel-efficient gas vehicle in the same class, the Hyundai Elantra. The Elantra costs a mere $14,120 at the most, but in five years, your costs will rise to $32,236, thanks to added gas and maintenance. Plus, hybrids are larger and a little sturdier than fuel-efficient gas cars, and therefore provide more storage space and rank higher on crash-safety tests.
Cons: Hybrids have come to symbolize a certain cachet, and unfortunately, car manufacturers have started exploiting the technology to sell inefficient “hybrid” cars loaded down with features like coolers in the glove compartment, or fancy—and heavy—wood dashboards. Some hybrid SUVs and luxury sedans get a fuel economy that’s only marginally better than similar vehicles in their class, and nowhere near the mileage you’d get in a truly efficient Prius or the new Honda Insight. Plus, eventually, the world will have to handle the dead batteries from all these hybrids.