Will a hybrid pay for itself in fuel savings?
With gas prices soaring and hybrid vehicles capturing everyone’s attention, many people wonder, “Is buying a hybrid car worth it?” Let’s take a look at the economics of fuel economy.
The following is a hypothetical scenario with which to illustrate how gas mileage affects what you pay at the pump. We’ll say the average driver puts 12,000 miles on a car annually, and that gasoline costs $5 a gallon at the pump.
Obviously, miles driven, and pump prices will vary, so you can plug in your own numbers for a more accurate analysis.
We’ll start with a car that gets 15 MPG and end with one that gets 100 MPG. Currently, these numbers reasonably reflect the low end and the high end of the fuel economy we expect to see on the cars we work on.
You don’t need a “is a hybrid worth it calculator” to figure this out. The formula is simple.
MILES DRIVEN PER YEAR / FUEL CONSUMPTION IN MPG X COST PER GALLON = ANNUAL FUEL COST
15 MPG = $4000
20 MPG = $3000
25 MPG = $2400
30 MPG = $2000
35 MPG = $1714
40 MPG = $1500
45 MPG = $1333
50 MPG = $1200
55 MPG = $1090
60 MPG = $1000
70 MPG = $857
80 MPG = $750
90 MPG = $666
100 MPG = $600
How much money will I save on gas?
At the extremes, there is $3400 to be saved per year, or $283.33 per month. However, most people will not be switching from a 15MPH hog to 100 MPG Gen4 Prius Prime Plug-In, so let’s look at a more realistic comparison.
Let’s compare a standard Prius hybrid to a regular Corolla (as opposed to the hybrid version). The size, seating capacity, and driving experience are all very similar. The yearly savings if you choose the Prius will be $450, or $37 per month. This is not as exciting as saving an extra $3400 per year, but it’s better than a poke in the eye.
Is a Plug-in hybrid worth it?
If you instead bought a Prius Prime you could save $1114 per year, minus the cost of the electricity (~$100 for the year), and you’d need a garage or a space off the street near your house to park. (No special charging outlet is required for plug-in hybrids, unlike electric vehicles). Most plug-in hybrids can drive 10 miles or more on a charge, so depending on your use case, you may not need gas at all. However, that would likely mean that you don’t drive 12,000 miles a year, so the savings wouldn’t be as impressive.
There are many types of hybrids and many comparisons that you can make. You might want to compare the Camry hybrid to the standard Camry with a V6 (a savings of $850 per year with the 2023 models). Or the RAV4 Hybrid to the regular RAV4 ($400 per year with the 2023 models). In order to decide if buying a hybrid is worth it for you, plug in your own numbers.
Consider the type of driving you do
Hybrids shine in stop and go driving, opposite of conventional cars, which get better mileage on the freeway than around town. If you drive around town (or on the freeway in the Bay Area which is stop and go 90% of the time), you’re better off with a hybrid. Regenerative braking charges the battery when you slow or stop. If you travel long distances on open freeway, a hybrid may not be the best option for you.
What about when the battery fails?
One final thing to consider is the battery life. Toyota hybrid batteries are warrantied for 8 years or 10 years, depending on the model. If you plan to keep the car more than that, factor a replacement battery into your calculations. Currently a 12-year-old Prius hybrid battery is $2548 out the door, or $212 per year. Since the fuel savings between a 2011 Prius and 2011 Corolla would be $650 per year, even considering battery replacement out of warranty, the Prius saves you $438 per year.
Initial cost of a hybrid vs a conventional car
Typically, hybrids cost a bit more than a conventional car. It would be cheating to ignore this fact. With Toyota cars the hybrid version usually costs about 9% more than the non-hybrid version. In our previous example with the 2011 Prius vs the 2011 Corolla, the price difference is $5000, or $416 per year over 12 years. So, when we take into account the difference in sticker price and the inevitable battery replacement, we’re down to $22 per year savings.
Future fuel costs
One thing to consider when deciding whether it’s worth it to buy a hybrid car is fuel costs. If you’ve ever looked at solar power for home or work, you’ll know that the salesman will likely come up with some ROI calculations based on huge projected spikes in electricity costs. You could do the same when considering fuel prices over the next 10-20 years and it would likely make the decision of whether to buy a hybrid a no brainer.
Two of the downsides to electric cars are range and recharging time. A hybrid vehicle doesn’t have these issues. In fact, the opposite. Hybrids get great fuel economy and have better range that their gas counterparts.
A plug-in hybrid is even better. The Prius Prime easily goes 600 to 1000 miles (or more) on a single 10-gallon tank of fuel. Around 600 miles with no stopping or charging. Around 1000 miles per tank with a “normal” commuting mix and a single charge per day. And nearly unlimited range if the car is plugged in at home and work and the car is driven on the electric motor most of the time.
Buying a hybrid saves more than fuel!
However, saving money is not the only benefit of buying a more fuel-efficient car! The yearly difference in CO2 emissions is substantial. If you choose the Prius, you’ll emit 1.3 million grams less CO2. That’s a 38% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to the Corolla.
Buying a hybrid won’t fix everything
The final point to make is that there is a basic assumption that the choice of a car purchase may have a significant impact on the environment. Yet, the inherent problem is that in our society we expect to have individual, personal transportation, and our infrastructure is laid out such that the average person is lucky to work NEXT to the city in which they live, let alone within 20 miles of it, not to mention all of the extra-curricular driving we do.
So, at the root, hybrid cars are actually just a technological fix for an urban planning problem. For the environment to survive, we need to think about working closer to home, controlling sprawl, and simply put, making urban planning and infrastructure a priority for ourselves and our politicians.
Conclusion: Is buying a hybrid worth it? Yes.
Yes. You should buy a hybrid. Will you save lots of money buying a hybrid? Maybe. Maybe not. Do you think fuel prices will rise? The car will cost more initially, and there’s battery replacement to consider, but fuel savings that will more than equal these expenses unless fuel prices drop considerably.
And there are lots of other great reasons to buy a hybrid car. Hybrids have more power than other fuel-efficient cars. Then there’s reduced emissions and cleaner air for our families and especially children.
If you’d like to compare fuel economy and CO2 emission between the cars you are considering, check out fueleconomy.gov, where you’ll be able to find reliable information to make an informed decision when choosing your next car. Your tax dollars at work!