Hybrid Automobiles: The Wave of the Future?

I had never heard the term “hybrid” automobile until my wife and I started kicking around the idea of maybe purchasing a new car. I thought maybe the term “hybrid” referred to something like the “mini-SUV” that combines the concepts of one vehicle and places into a smaller frame.

But no, hybrid automobiles are “gas-electric vehicles” – the latest attempt of car makers to create an automobile that gets greats gas mileage, yet doesn’t burn up the ozone layer thanks to dirty emissions.

Don’t let the concept send you into orbit. You don’t plug you hybrid auto into the nearest wall-socket. The gas-electric hybrid still needs to be filled up at a gas station. It’s still driven like every other car you’ve ever handled. The notable difference is that the hybrid vehicle has battery packs and an electric motor that boosts the cars power and saves fuel and emits near-zero emissions.

The down side? The price. Current hybrid vehicles offered by Honda (Civic hybrid), Ford (Escape hybrid SUV) and Toyota (Prius hybrid) all run between $3,500 to $6,500 more than comparable gas-driven models.

Which begs the question: are today’s current car owners concerned enough about conservation and fuel emissions to shell out $22,000 or more for these new “cars of the future”. I’m not entirely convinced. It’s been said that most car owners (in the US anyway) only keep a car for about 4 or 5 years. And that just doesn’t seem like enough time for the owner to break even on his or her investment.

But there are perks involved for those who want to drive the extra mile (or pay the extra money). In California for example, Hybrid car owners can drive their new set of wheels in the states HOV lanes. Those are the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes reserved for carpooling. And you might score a tax break depending on your state and model of hybrid you own. Toyota is phasing out their tax break program for hybrids in late September. But Honda and Ford and some others will offer full tax credit into 2007. Check out the American Council for Energy-Efficient economy at:

www.aceee.org/press/0508hybridtaxcr.htm

Getting good gas mileage and low emissions shouldn’t be a benefit only the rich can enjoy. Two versions of automobile that have been quite popular in Europe for several years now are finally making the jump across the Atlantic to the US. I’m talking about cars that run on diesel fuel and vehicles that run on methane. Methane models in particular have long been a hit in Italy and other countries in the European Union. And it’s easy to see why: Meth-models run on conventional gasoline but also contain a tank mounted in the car’s trunk. A switch on the dash allows drivers to go from one fuel to the other. In America this kind of vehicle has been referred to as a “flex fuel” model and their popularity has been limited. With nearly 175,000 gas stations in the US only about 600 of them dispense methane or ethanol. Check out www.e85fuel.com for more information.

Diesal models as well are a big hit overseas but have yet to really reach their potential in the States. Diesel cars cast about $1500-$2000 more than conventional models, but generally get better gas mileage. Again however, it depends where you drive. In California, diesel cars can be sold. And several states on the east coast won’t touch them either. However, the word on the street is that in the next few years there will be a new wave of low-emission diesel cars that will make everyone happy.

In the meantime check out www.fueleconomy.gov for info on cars that can go that extra model on a gallon of gas. And while you’re at it keep the following in mind regardless of whether you purchase a new-fangled hybrid vehicle or a used SUV:

– accessories like roof racks and the horns of a Brahma Bull on your hood create wind drag which can lower fuel economy
– Check your tire pressure. Under-inflated tires can reduce gas mileage
– Don’t idle your car – that’s a huge as guzzler
– Change your air filter and oil filter regularly
– Don’t speed

Purchasing a new car or even a new used car is never an easy decision. Now car makers have made the process even more challenging by making you sweat over the vehicle’s impact on the ecology as well

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