Before you run out and buy a hybrid because it’s the green thing to do, you should first educate yourself on some of the plusses and minuses of buying a hybrid. Just because it burns less fuel than the equivalent straight gasoline-powered vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean it will cost you less to operate in the long run, especially if you trade in a car that you weren’t planning to replace for a few more years.

One of the advantages of buying a hybrid is the tax break you can receive as an incentive. The Toyota Prius no longer qualifies for a tax break, but Mazda’s Tribute, for instance, qualifies for a $3,000 tax credit.

Another advantage is that in some places hybrids can use the HOV lanes and qualify for special parking privileges. In California, for instance, hybrids once could get a sticker to use the HOV (car pool) lanes even when the driver was alone. The state no longer issues those permits, but those who have the correct sticker affixed to their vehicle can enjoy that advantage. Used hybrids with the permits enjoy an elevated demand and command a premium in price as well. Many employers also offer close-in premium parking spaces for their hybrid owner employees.

Of course there’s the fuel savings also. Switching from gas-guzzling SUV to a compact hybrid car like the Prius will make a serious impact in your gas costs, but switching from a newer mid-sized SUV to a mid-sized hybrid SUV will never make sense from a pure economics viewpoint unless gas increases in cost to the $10 per gallon range.

Among the disadvantages is that the hybrid costs appreciably more than the equivalent gasoline-powered car. Even at $4 per gallon, it would take years to recoup that extra expense. At some point the hybrid’s batteries will need replacing also, and that will set you back thousands -- so the truth is, just because they burn less gas, doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily save money. A new study from Consumer Reports moderates that somewhat -- but only when depreciation is factored in, and that only comes into play if you sell the car.

Hybrids also don’t have the performance of their gasoline-engine counterparts. The steering and handling are not as responsive, and since they’re heavier, they tend to be harder on tires and brakes, so your maintenance costs are at least as much, and in some cases more, than traditional vehicles.

So while hybrids like the Prius do have their advantages, before you just run out and buy one because they’re “in,” be sure you know what you’re getting into from an economic and drivability viewpoint.