What Are Hybrid Cars?
Hybrid cars are a “best of both worlds” in the automotive landscape as they employ two power sources: a gasoline-powered engine and an electric motor or motors. Most hybrid vehicles can operate on electric power, gasoline or both simultaneously — they ultimately work together to maximize the car’s efficiency by reducing gasoline consumption and improving fuel economy.
Unlike fully electric vehicles, traditional hybrid cars don’t need to be plugged in to charge their batteries because they recharge through a combination of regenerative braking and the gasoline engine. On the other hand, plug-in hybrids, as their name states, are charged initially via an electrical outlet. This is because they typically have larger, more powerful batteries that allow them to operate more like purely electric vehicles for a dozen or more miles without any gasoline consumption.
What Are the Pros of Hybrid Cars?
Given the way they operate, hybrid cars’ benefits lie mainly in their efficiency and eco-friendliness — here’s what they offer:
1. Better Overall Fuel Economy. Hybrid cars are designed to travel more miles while consuming less fuel in order to reduce carbon emissions and save money at the pump.
2. Improved City Mileage. By engaging a hybrid’s brakes more often while driving in urban areas, you’ll recapture energy, using its momentum to charge its battery and accelerate again, requiring less power from the internal combustion engine. At lower speeds, aerodynamic drag robs less power as well.
3. Less Carbon Released. The way that hybrids use both gasoline and electricity results in less fuel burned compared with a comparable gasoline-powered car (all other factors being equal), and the less fuel that’s burned, the less carbon — a greenhouse gas — gets released.
4. Lower Pollution. Though hybrids aren’t inherently cleaner than other cars when it comes to traditional pollutants that cause smog and risk health, automakers recognize that their buyers are environmentally conscious overall and typically endeavor to keep their hybrids low-emissions as well.
5. Tax Incentives. Some states still offer incentives for traditional hybrids, but federal tax incentives are now limited to plug-in hybrids.
6. Lower Depreciation. Hybrid variants of popular vehicles demand a higher resale value due to their popularity within the used-car market.
7. Economic Effect on Gasoline. A theoretical advantage of hybrids is that, by reducing oil consumption across the country, they can help keep national gas prices from skyrocketing.
What Are the Cons of Hybrid Cars?
Hybrid cars typically cost more than gasoline vehicles and maintain their efficiency by sacrificing performance — here’s how they fall short:
1. Higher Price. Hybrid variants for popular models can sometimes cost thousands of dollars more than their gas-only counterparts.
2. Reduced Power. Hybrid output usually pales in comparison to gas-powered vehicles because they’re built to maximize efficiency. There are exceptions, but those examples invariably sacrifice efficiency.
3. Less Impressive Highway Mileage. At highway speeds, hybrids lose some of their fuel economy advantage because braking is seldom necessary and wind resistance is more of a factor, but some hybrids have very close city, highway and combined mpg ratings.
4. Limited Size. There are minimal options for three-row SUV hybrids, so larger families may have trouble finding one that fits their needs.
5. Costly Battery Replacement. Replacing the battery on a hybrid can cost up to a few thousand dollars, though they’re usually built to last, and are under warranty for at least 100,000 miles.
Should I Buy a Hybrid Car?
If the added upfront cost surpasses your budget or you’re in need of a larger vehicle, then a hybrid probably isn’t your best option. If these aren’t concerns, however, and you regularly drive through city traffic, then you might find a hybrid to be a sound investment. Keep in mind, though, that this is a long-term investment because it’ll likely take years to regain the extra money spent on buying a hybrid through gasoline savings.