Art’s Automotive’s Official Hybrid Take

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Q: “I am thinking of buying a hybrid vehicle; what do you think?”
A: At Art’s automotive, opinions differ; however, we all agree on certain key factors:

1. Most importantly, don’t buy a hybrid to save money; purchasing one of the “starter” economy cars will most likely be the least expensive option overall. Cars like the Yaris, Fit, Versa, etc. will likely be the cheapest option, even when the cost of fuel is added to the equation. Cars aimed at the first-time buyer are lightweight and have pretty good fuel economy. They also have fewer systems and accessories and are likely to be less expensive to maintain. Usually these cars will offer the lowest cost of ownership and are fairly environmentally friendly. Where the hybrids shine is offering good fuel economy, great emissions, and a comparatively luxurious, but at a higher cost.

2. Buy a hybrid to put your money where your mouth is. No, you are not going to save the world one hybrid at a time, but you can show the big car manufacturing companies that it pays to make vehicles that are more fuel efficient, and that will steer the trend.

3. Fuel economy depends on driving style and commute. Buying a hybrid does not guarantee you’ll be able to achieve the same MPG as stated on the EPA sticker or what some guy with a hyper-miler blog reports. We’ve had some customers buy hybrids only to find that their driving style does not fit well with a hybrid vehicle. If you are a very aggressive driver, you will not benefit from regenerative braking because when you brake hard you’ll exceed the motor/generators maximum torque and the friction brakes will need to make up the difference. Aggressive drivers will also likely be dissatisfied with the throttle response and acceleration.

4. Don’t buy a hybrid if you leave your vehicle sitting for long periods. If you leave your hybrid sitting for long periods you will shorten the battery life. NiMH (nickle-metal hydride) batteries are currently the most common batteries used for hybrid applications. NiMH battery packs have a high self-discharge rate can loose 20% of their charge in month while just sitting. NiMH battery packs are normally regulated to 40%-60% SOC (state of charge), so when you park your vehicle, the SOC% will be between 40%-60%. If you park the car when the battery is 40% SOC% and lose 20% SOC from self-discharge during storage, the pack SOC% will be only 20%.

Why is this a big deal? Two reasons: first, the car may not be able to start with 20% SOC, and there’s no way to “jump” a HV battery pack. Second, for reasons I’m ill equipped to explain, over-discharging a NiMH battery pack can cause one or more cells to reverse polarity, permanently damage the pack. A couple months of sitting may ruin an HV battery pack on a nearly new car.

5. Buy a hybrid because you care about the environment!  The lowest emissions rating is “ZEV”, zero emissions vehicles. Only pure electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles meet the criteria for the ZEV rating. The next step is AT-PZEV (advanced technology partial zero emissions vehicle). Hybrid and compressed natural gas vehicles are the only vehicles that can meet the AT-PZEV standard. AT-PZEV vehicles have emissions 90% lower tailpipe emissions than the average new car, have no evaporative emissions, and have a 15 year / 150K mile emissions warranty.

Do the folks at Art’s Automotive think hybrids are reliable enough to buy themselves? We have 4 hybrid vehicles among 13 employees, so about 30% of us think hybrids are worth spending our own money on. Hybrids are as reliable conventional cars, but the batteries will degrade over time and eventually fail. Many battery packs have a 10 year /150K mile warranty. With a long warranty, you’re guaranteed a reasonable life. As stated earlier, hybrids are typically more luxurious than their conventional counterparts, and luxury cars do typically cost more to repair if they break.

Bottom line? Yes, if you’d like a hybrid, go ahead and buy one!