red car drivingHybrid cars have become a long-lasting craze around the globe, driving straight off the dealership lots and into our hearts. Car companies are doing an excellent job of painting hybrids as defenders of the environment that also save you money at the gas station, creating this beautiful “two birds, one stone” scenario. But what are these vehicles really costing you? Between the hype and the advertisements (such as this classic one with Kermit the Frog), it’s easy to get lost in the information – so let’s sift through the bells and whistles and decide if a hybrid car is right for you.

What Is a Hybrid Car?

Before we dive in, let’s nail down the basic definition of a hybrid vehicle. Jordan Perch, contributor for the DMV and hybrid car enthusiast, explains that “in order for a car to be considered a hybrid, the main requirement it needs to meet is to have at least two sources of power, most commonly combining electric motors with an internal combustion engine.” While most drivers on the road are still using vehicles that are solely powered by gasoline, electric cars have been around for over a hundred years. It wasn’t until 1908 when Henry Ford debuted the Model T, which cost less than half the price of an electric car, that the combustion engine became the norm.

However, with advances in technology, as well as a growing population that is environmentally conscious, hybrid cars are not only becoming a realistic option for drivers, but also a (potentially) beneficial one. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, hybrid cars “combine the benefits of gasoline engines and electric motors.” It’s easy to see why people are becoming interested in getting their hands on the wheel of a hybrid vehicle.

The Cost of the Car

That being said, you may have noticed that hybrid cars are still a minority on the roads, and this is largely due to the cost of the vehicles. While we’ve come a long way since the days of the Model T, hybrid cars are still more expensive than conventional vehicles. “In general,” says Perch, “hybrid cars cost about $5,000 more than comparable gasoline-powered ones.” An extra $5,000 stops a lot of potential buyers in their tracks, but the long-term costs and savings should be considered as well.

In response to these high costs, hybrid aficionados often tout the fuel efficiency of their vehicles, suggesting that, due to the improved gas mileage, drivers save more money with hybrid cars than they would with conventional vehicles. This is debatable though, as it depends on the gas mileage of the car, the cost of the car and the length of time the driver owns the car.

In many cases, hybrid cars do provide better gas mileage (usually 5 miles per gallon more than traditional vehicles), but the hefty cost of these vehicles can outweigh this benefit. “When comparing ownership costs for a hybrid and a similar gasoline-powered car over a five-year period, the hybrid can turn out to be more expensive,” says Perch. “Owning a hybrid becomes much more affordable after about seven years, after it has been completely paid off, which only leaves fuel and maintenance costs to think about, and that’s where hybrids have a huge edge over conventional cars.”

Before buying a hybrid car, you need to consider how long you plan to keep the vehicle. According to a 2012 study by R.L. Polk & Co., the average American kept their new vehicle for just under 6 years, which is not enough time to break even with a hybrid. Therefore, you will need to consider a hybrid vehicle a long-term investment in order to get the best bang for your buck.

In order to better understand this balancing act of the costs and savings that come with hybrid car ownership, check out this calculator from Money-Zine.

It’s Not Easy Being Greenish

While the potential savings at the pump entice many car buyers, others are more interested in the environmental benefits of owning a hybrid, believing that hybrid electric vehicles allow for fewer carbon emissions. While this is essentially true, it’s easy to forget that, in most cases, the electricity needed to power the batteries creates carbon emissions during production (think power plants).

According to a study by the Alternative Fuels Data Center, in a 100-mile trip, a conventional car emits 87 pounds of CO2, a hybrid electric car produces 57 pounds of CO2, and a plug-in hybrid electric produces 62 pounds of CO2. Even an all-electric car will produce 54 pounds of CO2. While hybrid vehicles greatly diminish the amount of greenhouse gasses being released into the air, the process of creating truly clean cars is still a work in progress. That being said, as power grids begin to shift toward cleaner methods, such as solar, hydro, geothermal and wind, the use of electrical power becomes more and more viable from an environmental standpoint.

Coming ‘Round the Bend

The future for green cars, especially hybrids, is getting brighter with each passing year. Not only are electric hybrids becoming cheaper and more efficient, but car companies are continuing to invest in technology that will improve them. “Toyota, the undisputed leader in hybrid vehicle technology, is adamant that hybrids are a far more viable alternative to conventional cars,” says Perch. “It’s safe to say that hybrids are here to stay.”

If you’re interested in learning more, check out some of the best hybrid cars of 2015.

Have you owned a hybrid car? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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