Spirit of Money: Hybrids vs. Conventional Cars

Q. My car is on its last gasp, and I would love to buy a new one that's more environmentally friendly. How do the costs of hybrids compare with those of conventional cars?
--Gina G., Newark, New Jersey

A. With gas prices fluctuating, more people are looking to hybrid cars for relief. But with hybrids averaging nearly $3,000 more than their gas-powered counterparts, it's natural to wonder whether the higher price makes sense.

In terms of environmental cost, a hybrid car easily trumps a conventional gasoline-powered one. If we want to leave behind a beautiful, healthy planet for our children and grandchildren, it is vital that we address one of the most pressing environmental concerns today -- global warming. Numerous scientists, including those at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists and Princeton University's Carbon Mitigation Initiative (CMI), agree that we must cut global emissions to half of today's levels over the next 50 years if we want to avoid the worst effects of climate change. As we're already seeing, these effects range from increasingly severe weather patterns to the endangerment of entire ecosystems.

In terms of your pocketbook, Edmunds.com found that of the hybrid models on the market in August 2006, the Toyota Prius and the Ford Escape Hybrid, recouped their additional costs within three years. They accomplished this thanks to fuel savings and tax credits offered by the IRS and some state governments, which range from $250 to $2,600, depending on the hybrid.

The tax incentive is only temporary, though, which is why the Union of Concerned Scientists (ucsusa.org) encourages people to write to their local members of Congress to eliminate the "manufacturer cap." This stipulation phases out the federal credit for vehicles made by any company that has sold more than 60,000 hybrids. (Toyota and Lexus, for example, met the cap last fall, so buyers currently qualify for only half of the tax credit.) Of course, no amount of incentives can compete with the best option for the environment: getting out of the car and walking, biking, or taking public transportation instead.

Text by Tracy Fernadez Rysavy

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Comments (7)

  • 22 Dec, 2011

    I somewhat agree that "hybrids are a lot of marketing hype", but its only the beginning, hopefully, in couple of years they will be so common that eventually we will switch to them completely. wouldn't it be amazing?

  • 23 Nov, 2010

    Please do the research and understand that hybrids are actually a lot of marketing hype, only aimed at generating sales. Companies are just jumping on the band wagon because it gives them the competitive advantage over their competitors. To understand my posts please start at the bottom and work your way up to this one. Please don't fall for marketing hype and look at the big picture when buying a vehicle. By doing your homework on this, you'll produce less toxic waste and save $$ too!

  • 23 Nov, 2010

    Hybrids go through more batteries, so they generate more toxic waste than a non-hybrid. A person is far better off to look for new turbo diesel, which is far more fuel efficient than even a Prius. There are plenty of vehicles out there that have a far better environmental lifespan than a hybrid.

  • 23 Nov, 2010

    Many of the batteries from cars traditional and hybrid, are sent to places like China, where they are place in a dumping ground in which they eventually break open and contaminate the soil and water in the area. There are remote communities in China where children are getting cancers and other fatal conditions that the elderly were only at risk for in the past.

  • 23 Nov, 2010

    By the way for those with the arguments about the different kinds of batteries available, those are not used in industry since these other kinds of batteries are unreliable. Batteries such as the gel kind cannot cope with extremes in temperature such as cold for example as they would freeze solid and stop working.

  • 23 Nov, 2010

    There are numerous studies that show that emissions aren?

  • 23 Nov, 2010

    If you speak to any mechanical engineer that is very knowledgeable in their field, you will quickly learn that hybrid vehicles have a FAR GREATER environmental lifespan foot print than a vehicle with a V8 engine. The push towards hybrids is a marketing and PR gimmick for companies to sell more vehicles. A person has to look at the overall environmental footprint of a vehicle and not just what goes into the fuel tank as the be all and end all of the measurement.

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