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Online Tool Helps Compare Cost of Hybrids to Conventional Cars

Understanding the Economics of a Hybrid Vehicle Purchase Pays Off


2012 Honda Sonata Hybrid

The U.S. Department of Energy's online calculator can help you decide if vehicles like the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid are a smart economical choice for you.

Photo: Hyundai Motor America

One of the most common laments about hybrid vehicles is the price tag. Consumers looking to save some money at the pump or those just looking to adapt a green lifestyle are sometimes a bit shocked to see the difference in price between a hybrid version of their favorite vehicle and a conventional one. But don't let initial sticker shock sour you on the idea of hybrid car ownership. Like a lot of big purchases, the economics over the life of the vehicle is where you should concentrate your analysis of whether a purchase makes economical sense, not on that initial financial outlay.

There are a lot of factors to consider when making a new car purchase, whether comparing a hybrid and conventional vehicle or two vehicles that are alike. Simplifying some of the influencing factors can help make your decision easier. For example, if you narrow your parameters down to just two very important considerations--MSRP and fuel costs--hybrid vehicles are sure to save you money over time compared to a similarly equipped conventional gas combustion engine vehicle.

Comparing Cost Factors

The U.S. Department of Energy makes this comparison a bit simpler with an online calculator that allows you to compare your potential new hybrid car purchase to its conventional cousin using those two basic, yet extremely significant, points of comparison. The calculator allows the user to select a hybrid vehicle from among those listed and adjust sliders to see the fuel cost savings and payback period--or length of time before your vehicle has paid for itself--based on your input factors such as annual miles driven, local fuel prices and the ratio of city versus highway driving.

The calculator is a handy comparison tool if you are considering a hybrid vehicle purchase. The Department of Energy points out that the hybrid vehicles shown as part of its calculator have a payback period of approximately six years or fewer, based on driving an average of 15,000 annually under conditions consisting of about 55% city driving and 45% highway driving and average fuel price of $3.75, giving a good baseline for comparing your results. The Department also notes that the calculator does not include hybrid models with longer payback periods than six years, so don't expect to see any luxury models. Also absent are those hybrid vehicles without a reasonably comparable conventional counterpart for comparison.

Useful Tool

The calculator may not be perfect because no two vehicles from the same manufacturer are going to perform exactly alike, but the Department's calculator does a very reasonable job of making every effort to effectively and closely match vehicles as best as possible when it comes to things like standard features, amenities, and even general use. Other than about two vehicles included in the comparison, all of the hybrid vehicles were match up with conventional models that had very similar engines.

Wondering how the calculator makes comparisons for hybrid cars where there really isn't an exact match as a conventional model--say, for those models that are part of the Toyota Prius family or the Honda Insight? The Department explains that it did its best to match these vehicles up with a conventional model from the same automaker that is equipped and performs on a reasonably similar basis.

Enjoy making comparisons with this calculator. Just keep in mind that ultimately, your specific lifestyle, the deal you are able to obtain for your purchase, and your needs and expectations will determine how economical any given hybrid vehicle purchase will be for you.

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