Hybrid Cars: Six Important Things Everyone Should Know (But May Not)

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2012 Lexus RX 450h

2012 Lexus RX 450h

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Hybrid cars are increasing in popularity all the time in the U.S, but they still make only a small proportion of new vehicle sales, and as such some people still aren't clued-up on their benefits.

Hybrids use two powertrains--in the U.S, that's generally a gasoline engine and electric motors. Together, they aim to reduce fuel consumption by using smaller engines which spend less time running, while maintaining or improving performance thanks to electric assistance.

To go some way to fixing the misinformation and lack of information, we've had a think about things everyone should know about hybrid vehicles.

Don't feel bad if you're looking at this list in bewilderment--everyone has to start somewhere. And buy yourself a drink if you already knew them all!

If you'd like to know about other efficient vehicles, why not check out our guides to things everyone should know about electric cars, and things everyone should know about diesels?

(1) Hybrids work best in the city... and many on the highway too

While the diesels we covered the other day are at their best in highway driving, many find the opposite to be true with hybrids.

With an electric motor to deal with low-speed driving, some hybrids can spend large amounts of time using no gasoline at all, in the city. Not every hybrid can do this--mild hybrids like those from GM and Honda can't run entirely on electricity, for example--but even then, the assistance of an electric motor means you'll use far less gasoline getting about than in an equivalent non-hybrid.

That isn't to say they can't work on the highway either, though.

The aerodynamic forms of many means long periods at highway speeds can also be surprisingly fuel-efficient, and higher electric-only speeds of some vehicles means you might not use much gasoline on shorter, higher-speed trips either.

(2) No, you won't have to keep replacing the batteries

Is this myth still floating about? Unfortunately so--many people think that buying a hybrid new, let alone second or third-hand, means you'll soon be paying half the value of the car to replace the batteries.

That simply isn't the case. Not only do hybrid batteries last an inordinately long time in most cases--even under duress, like those in New York taxis--but they no longer cost the earth to replace if the car is in your tenure by the time its battery needs replacing.

And really, there's not enough data around to even suggest it'll definitely need replacing--in many cases, the car itself might be past its use-by date before the battery expires.

(3) They're really easy to drive

One of the things many people enjoy about hybrids is how easy they are to drive. Just because there's plenty of complication under the hood, it doesn't mean you'll need a quantum physics degree to operate them.

2013 Toyota Prius liftback

2013 Toyota Prius liftback

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The vast majority use automatic transmissions for a start, and some--like those from Toyota or Lexus--don't even trouble you with gears, instead using seamless continuously-variable transmissions.

Of course, for those that like more of a challenge, most provide you with displays showing just how much power you're using, turning gas-saving into a videogame-style challenge.

It's actually quite addictive to drive hybrids like that--keeping an eye on the battery meter and power bars to use as little energy as possible. Just remember to pay attention to the road, too...

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Comments (19)
  1. Is this really possible: I got in a brand new Toyota hybrid cab in NYC last week and asked the driver about it. He said he'd had it a week and it was costing him $15 a day in gas versus $45 for his old cab. Is that kind of difference really believable or did I just fail to understand his heavy accent?

  2. Driving a Hybrid Usually doubles your fuel economy....I have driven a Prius for 4 years and before that another Toyota model.....YES.....if you drive a bit caringly you will do very well....Prius gets 51 mpg/city/50 highway.....enjoy the savings....

  3. @Brian: Absolutely possible! The old Ford Crown Vics ran about 12 to 14 mpg in stop-and-go Manhattan traffic. Mileage of 36 to 50 mpg isn't unreasonable for a Toyota hybrid, especially if it was a Prius liftback.

    What he may not have mentioned was that he probably has to bribe the dispatcher with a portion of that savings to assign him the hybrid versus the remaining Crown Vics ....

  4. It was the bigger Toyota (Camry perhaps) not the small Prius but the driver was remarkable in his seemingly unique ability to actually pull away from a green light with poise and grace. He somehow managed a slow build up of speed rather than the usual NYC desire to squash the passengers' faces against the plexiglass window.

    He was weird I tell you.

  5. City driving and stop and go freeway is where the pay-off is. All 65 or 70mph and it takes 10 years to pay-off at $4 per gallon. All city or stop n go and you pay off the difference in 4 or 5 years.

  6. There are more comments in this thread
  7. Cool. I get a coffee.

  8. i owned an early toyota prius and it got better mileage on the highway, not in the city. Others had the same epxerience. Is that only true of early hybrids. It seemed like it was just a really efficient car, and the hybrid part was just hype.

  9. forgot to check notify me

  10. "There really is a hybrid out there for just about everyone."

    No, not yet. Still no hybrid minivan yet.

  11. In the eighties I ran several tiny 12 ft. long cars capable of low fifties to the gallon, In the nineties a mid size diesel did the same but was polluting and noisy. At the turn of the century an Insight hybrid gave me 83 mpg avg Imp then a Prius mid to low fifties Imp for the last nine years. After a week with a Leaf I feel as though I have jumped decades ahead with questions I never even asked myself being answered to my satisfaction. For anyone debating purchasing a hybrid it should be a no brainer for its only an intermediary step between the past and future which is already here, don't get left behind.

  12. Blame it on the NHTSA for crash standards which increased the weight of a compact car, meanwhile motorcycle riders are still allowed to nearly kill themselves.

  13. Regarding item (2), there has been at least class action lawsuit settled in favor of plaintiffs (me, for one) regarding hybrid batteries dying. My 07 Civic Hybrid was down to 17% capacity in Dec 2012. It's about $2500 incl. labor to replace it. Honda has not agreed to replace it thus far (my car is still under the hybrid battery warranty period). Problems are reduced MPG and extremely slow acceleration at times. I do not know if it will need to be replaced again and again, but I do not intend to find out.

    The vast majority of hybrid & electric vehicles have no specific statement about battery capacity in their warranty.
    My web page here regarding capacity loss:

    Any errors on my web page, please let me know.one

  14. I bought a new Honda Insight in 6/01 with a battery warranty of 10 years/150K miles. In 8/11 (2 months after the warranty expired) at 154K miles the "IMA" battery light came on. The car was worth $6,500 and the new battery cost $5,400 - which did not increase its value to $11,900. The new battery has a 3-year/36K warranty and probably expires in 2/14. If hybrid battery warranties truly outlasted the car’s useful life, i.e., “Battery guaranteed for life!” people driving cars for 10+ years would not be caught in a used hybrid dilemma selling a car worth $5,075 (NADA) but having a potential future battery liability greater than the car’s value. (I bought the hybrid as a long term experiment and the dilemma is more conclusion than whine.)

  15. According to Edmund's website, the Volt costs about the same to own as a Honda Civic over 5 years, and is estimated to save about $5k in gas during that time.

  16. Among all 2011 cars evaluated by Consumer Reports, the Volt had the highest reliability, even compared to Lexus and Infiniti.

  17. Hybrids or very efficient cars for inefficient drivers is a waste of money. Most people speed everywhere. I have people pass me to get to the red light ahead! Why? Wastes fuel, brakes and tires. Yet this is considered "normal." No time save, consumables wasted? This a no brainer. All of this takes awareness. A distance and time record shall be a good start.

  18. An efficient EV in the hand of "inefficient driver" still produces better mpg and/or mpge than any other ICE...

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