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Is A Hybrid Right For You?


With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon with no relief in sight, more people than ever are considering hybrids to get some relief at the pump. According to a report by HybridCars.com, hybrid sales hit an all-time high in March 2012 with over 48,000 vehicles sold.

Yet a report by Polk indicates that only 35% of hybrid owners buy another. So before you take the leap you may want to ask the question: Is a hybrid right for me?

The answer to that questions involves factors both economic and social.

If your motives are purely green and not financial; or if you care more about reducing our dependence on foreign oil than you care about your budget, the decision to buy a hybrid is easy. Hug that tree with confidence. Better yet, if your commuting range (and bank account) allows, go electric.

However, if your main concern is saving money, it’s time to get out your calculator; we’ve got some math to do.

Sure, you’ll save money on gas, but your price of entry is much higher. What is the break-even point? To get as close to apples-to-apples as possible we’ll look at the Toyota Camry in both hybrid and traditional flavors.

Toyota Camry LE

MSRP: $22,500

MPG: 25 city, 35 highway, 28 combined

Toyota Camry Hybrid LE

MSRP: $25,900

MPG: 43 city, 39 highway, 41 combined

Both Camrys are identically equipped, save for the powertrain. Based on MSRP, the hybrid sets you back an extra $3400. Realistically that difference could be even more. With the demand for hybrids quite high, you should be able to negotiate a much better deal on the standard Camry versus the hybrid.

So now that we know much more our initial expense will be for the hybrid, let’s figure out how much we’ll save. FuelEconomy.gov has an easy-to-use side-by-side comparison calculator that’s fully customizable based on how many miles you drive annually, city vs highway percentage, even price of gas.

Based on 15,000 miles per year, with a 50-50 split between city and highway, and a gas price of $3.92 a gallon, here’s how the numbers work out:

Toyota Camry LE

Annual fuel cost: $2050

Toyota Camry Hybrid LE

Annual fuel cost $1450

With the hybrid you’re saving $600 in fuel costs each year. Now the math is simple: the $3400 purchase premium divided by the $600 gas savings. You will break even after driving the hybrid for 5 years and 8 months. If you drive more than 15,000 miles a year and/or you drive a greater percentage of city miles (hybrids get better mileage in stop-and-go conditions) your break even point will come sooner.

Bottom line: If you are the type of person who changes cars every 5 to 6 years (or sooner) you are better off with the standard drivetrain. But if you’re the type that plans to drive every car into the ground, or hand it over to your kids, go with the hybrid.

One other factor that may tip the scales are the possible perks for the hybrid driver. Some states allow hybrids to use the HOV lane, even with a single occupant. Some locales will also offer priority parking. Those privileges alone could be the decider if you live in a high congestion area.

For more information on hybrids, check out the AutoBuying101.com Research Vehicles page.