7 Under-Appreciated Benefits of a Hybrid – and 1 Unknown Drawback

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As a careful consumer, I studied up on hybrid cars before buying my first one. After poring through car reviews, I finally took the plunge and went with a 2007 Prius. But what I’ve learned behind the wheel has betrayed many of the preconceived notions that I once had – and that my friends still cling to…

  1. Hybrids can be fast. While my Prius won’t be winning any drag races, some other hybrids might – they were designed largely by adding one or more electric motors to the standard drive-train, resulting in multi-engine power. For example, Car and Driver found that the 2011 Lexus RX450h, with three electric motors, went from zero to 60 in 7.1 seconds – faster than the non-hybrid model.
  2. Hybrids can climb. I recently drove my Prius to the 14,000-foot summit of Mt. Evans in Colorado, which is the highest paved road in North America. The Prius had no problems on the steep climb, which I attribute to its continuously variable transmission (or CVT). Rather than using a number of gears like the transmissions in most cars, this design allows for an infinite selection of gear ratios. When accelerating uphill, the car “shifts” to the lowest gear, instantly harnessing 100 percent of the power available. Having an electric motor that’s immune to the thin air also helped.
  3. Hybrids can hold heat. The Prius and many other hybrids make a strange noise for a few seconds when you shut them down. I later learned that it’s pumping antifreeze into a 3-liter thermos-like storage device that can keep it warm for days. This eases starts, reduces emissions, and provides cabin heat much more quickly.
  4. Forget emissions tests. In many major cities, vehicles are required to regularly pass a time-consuming emissions inspection. When registering my car, I was surprised to learn that hybrids were exempt from this requirement in Colorado and in most other states. In retrospect, it seems obvious, but I wasn’t aware of this perk.
  5. The hybrid battery will probably outlive the car. Most people question the life of the expensive hybrid battery, yet my research showed these concerns are groundless. Consumer Reports recently tested a 2001 Prius with 200,000 miles and found the battery worked like new. The LA Times found that the Ford Escape Hybrids used as taxis in San Francisco were all reaching 300,000 miles before their planned retirement.
  6. Expect fewer brake jobs. It can cost more than $400 to resurface your car’s brakes and replace their pads – not a cheap maintenance task. Hybrids use regenerative braking to generate electricity while saving their traditional brakes, and owners report lowered brake wear compared to conventional vehicles.
  7. Less frequent oil changes. Your hybrid’s gas engine will turn off when the vehicle is coasting down hill, decelerating, or at a stop. Because this inactivity reduces wear on its gasoline engine, hybrids often have longer maintenance intervals. For example, Toyota recommends oil changes every 5,000 miles on its Prius, while Subaru and others require oil changes every 3,000 miles.

One strange drawback…

Given all of the popular misconceptions surrounding the durability of the hybrid battery system, you would think Toyota would go out of its way to make sure its owners never had battery problems of any sort. To a large extent, they do this, offering a 100,000-mile warranty (150,000 miles in California) on the high-voltage battery used for propulsion.

But to my surprise, the Prius and other hybrids also include a conventional low-voltage battery to power the accessories and start the engine. Sadly, the standard Toyota battery is poorly suited to hybrid use – a fact I learned after my car wouldn’t start one morning after leaving a small interior light on. Fortunately, Prius drivers have found aftermarket replacements for their low-voltage battery that corrects this problem.

Hybrids get fantastic gas mileage with few drawbacks, but drivers must consider some of their other surprising benefits when purchasing a vehicle.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_E4AWHPSWLPVA3KZADQGK6LJU4A S

     What about the ability to recycle old batteries out of hybrids? First responders also need to take great care when reaching the scene of an accident involving a Hybrid vehicle! This is something that should be well advertised so a good samaritan doesn’t end up getting hurt or killed trying to help someone in an accident involving a hybrid vehicle.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/EYU2PV35UT2RXSTEH2RHAWJIP4 JosephS

    Hybrids have been on the roads since 1999 here in the U.S., and obviously accidents have occurred that involve hybrid cars.  And I have NEVER heard of any first-responders being hurt by the hybrid’s electrical system.

    Also, hybrid batteries are FULLY RECYCLABLE.  Toyota actually pays a $200 bounty if you call the number on the battery pack to have it retrieved by a Toyota dealership when you send your hybrid car to the junkyard at the end of its service life.

  • Anonymous

    The only real threat of fatal electrical shock from a Hybrid comes from the High Voltage battery wires which are color coded for safety and will be either Blue or Orange depending on the make and model.  If for some reason a good samaritan must get anywhere near the battery there is a disconnect switch on the front battery and it would be wise to disconnect the rear battery as well.

  • Anonymous

    The only real threat of fatal electrical shock from a Hybrid comes from the High Voltage battery wires which are color coded for safety and will be either Blue or Orange depending on the make and model. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QP35KSBWIC7NHXVYLANH2W2REU robertb

    The difference in price between a Hybrid and a conventional model of same size is over $5,000 plus tax in price, and the difference in gas mileage  is 10-15 miles a gallon. It would take 10 years of driving to make it worth while buying a hybrid car. The average  car is only on the road for 8 years. If you have buy a Hybrid electric car the difference in price is over $25000 plus tax, and you have to use your house electricity to charge the battery. It seems that the auto industry still has a long ways to go close the price gap.

  • Anonymous

    I love my 2009 Toyota Camry hybrid.  Smooth, quite ride plus I average around 38-40 mpg.  My wife drives a 2009 Nissan Altima hybrid which averages around 32-33 mpg. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000570463381 Mike Finisa

    @Robertb None of what you’ve said is entirely true.  
    For one, a hybrid doesn’t use your homes electricity.
    They are also more expensive mostly due to the higher end options they have.  For example the Civic hybrid has turn signals in the mirrors, while the non hybrid Civic does not.  It’s things like that that add to the price.
    Also, I have no idea where you got the average cars life is only 8 years, because it really depends on a bunch of things other then age.  Cars are lasting longer and longer these days.  While you’re comparing the mpg to make up the difference of the vehicle, hybrid cars are laughing beyond the mpg.  Cheaper to insure, cheaper to maintain (ie brakes), less mechanical issues over their non-hybrid sisters, so you really have no point in your comment.
    Did you even read the article???