As a culture that’s becoming more environmentally conscious, and at the same time being saddled with high gas prices, more drivers are turning to cars using alternative methods of power. You may already be familiar with the hybrid, and since sales are increasing each year, you may even already own one. Southeast Toyota Distributors, which supplies Florida and several surrounding states, reported that sales for gas-electric hybrids made up 14% of 2012’s total sales number. That’s up 5% from 2011 just in that particular market. One report from Technavio claims that hybrid vehicles are going to see a sales increase of 20% from now until 2015, and will eventually be cheaper than their gas-guzzling counterparts. When it comes to hybrids, the whole “looking like a duck and quacking like a duck” couldn’t be more off when comparing hybrids to their standard vehicle counterparts. But what exactly is it that makes a hybrid a hybrid?
One Part Gas + One Part Electricity = Savings
The most common hybrid on the road is a gasoline-electric combination, and provides the most efficient parts of each world. Despite different forms of hybrids, basic parts include a gasoline engine, a fuel tank, an electric motor, a generator, batteries, and a transmission. Sounds just like the real thing, huh? Not so fast — the advantage hybrids hold over regular gas power vehicle lies in their small engine. A small engine equals less parts and a lighter car, which means less fuel required to power the vehicle. When you do need the extra get up and go, the electric motor kicks in to move the car forward. Although it’s not the car to get too fast and furious in, it is a good car to be steady and sensible in.
So Who Buys a Hybrid?
Research says that hybrid drivers are wealthy, educated and tech savvy. 42% earned six figures or more and 38% considered themselves Democrats. Hybrid drivers are also more likely than the average American to participate in activities like skiing, hiking, and yoga. And the majority of them are located in California, according to research by marketing firm Polk. In San Francisco, 1 in 10 cars purchased is a hybrid. Combined with other cities in California as well as Oregon, this section of the nation makes up close to 30% of all hybrid sales. But there’s a reason that only a small concentrated portion of the U.S. population own hybrids according to the Technavio report from before — they’re expensive.
It Takes Green to Be Green
The idea of saving gas money may be appealing, but sticker shock keeps some buyers at bay. Hybrids usually cost more than your average vehicle, with additional cost ranging anywhere from $1,700 to $11,200. Lexus makes luxury model hybrids exceeding $12K more than a normal Lexus model. You may be able to get a tax rebate from your state, but it may come down to saving money now versus saving money later. Ultimately, as a driver, it’s up to you to see if the benefits of driving a hybrid outweigh the costs. Currently, a hybrid must get 38.7 miles per gallon, set by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which is much higher than the average gas model. Right out of the gate, a hybrid driver is getting at least 10 extra miles to the gallon per gas tank, and regular maintenance is equal to or less than a gas-powered car. But what about insurance coverage?
Insuring a Hybrid Car: Separating Fact from Fiction
Some early research suggests that drivers of hybrid vehicles have lower insurance rates because they have a slim chance of being in an accident. Others have claimed hybrids may not be as safe you think, suggesting that the quiet approach can be dangerous to other fellow green enthusiasts, like pedestrians and bicyclists. Other than this minor flaw, hybrids are as safe to drive as any car, maybe even more so, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
“Saving at the pump no longer means you have to skimp on crash protection,” said Matt Moore, vice president of IIHS. Some insurers have even started offering discounts for hybrid drivers too, such as Farmers Insurance, who offers a 5% discount, while Travelers Insurance ups the ante with a 10% discount offered nationwide.
If you’re considering purchasing a hybrid, make sure you do the necessary research though — it may run slightly differently, offer different benefits, have different drawbacks, and be considered one of the greatest green inventions of all time, but it’s still a vehicle you’ll be driving with others on the road. Although some insurers and researchers believe hybrid drivers are less likely to have an accident, they can still happen, and there are still all those other gas-sucking vampires on the road to contend with. If you’re concerned about safety and insurance, check the safety ratings and crash test results, then measure that against fuel economy and your budget. Odds are, you’d probably come across the best numbers when looking into one of the cars on the following list, the top five hybrid vehicles as determined by U.S. News.
#1: 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Voted Best Hybrid for the Money as well as Best Hybrid Car for Families, this model averages anywhere from $26,944-$31,639 if you want all the bells and whistles. This car received a 9.6 on the safety scale and boasts excellent fuel economy.
#2: 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Coming in at No. 2 under the category of Affordable Midsize Cars, this model is perfect for someone trying to stick to a budget. Even with all features, it still comes in less than $25K. While fuel economy doesn’t compare to similar models, its other positive aspects make up for it.
#3: 2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid
This car has a four cylinder engine and electric motor, which change responsibilities without distracting the driver. The roomy interior makes you forget you’re driving a compact hybrid though, so if you’re claustrophobic but have your heart set on a hybrid, this is probably your best bet.
#4: 2013 Chevrolet Volt
One of the pricier models, the Volt easily costs more than $35K, and gets 35 mpg in the city. A common compliment paid to the car was that it drove just like a gas-powered car, meaning the ride was smooth.
#5: 2013 Toyota Prius V
The icon of hybrid, the Prius has come a long way. With its cool factor growing, this model offers an affordable solution with a plenty of storage due to its hatchback. Soccer moms and dads would appreciate this one, and as long as you don’t tell your children it’s “green,” they’ll likely want to continue riding in it and you won’t have to lure them into it with pounds of sugar.
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