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Comparing Cost of Hybrids to Gas Only Cars

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When looking at cars, it is often a good idea to shop by price. But price is not just with the cost of the car itself, but also the ownership. After all, you can sometimes find a car that is cheap to buy but the maintenance and gas costs of it can be enormous. As a result, understanding how to figure out where the best deals are is important. This can save money in the long run, or the short run, depending on what you are looking for and how much time you want to spend doing the research. The goal of this article is to help better understand how to do your price shopping and understand how the gas prices factor in to the ownership. It is worth noting that we are not going to be going through exotics or anything here; just normal cars. As a result, we are just going to be focusing on the gas costs and ownership of the car in general (how much it costs to purchase it). Along with this, we are focusing on used cars, rather than new. You can, however, apply what you learn here to other dynamics of vehicles and new ones if you wish as well. The goal is to get the most informed decision possible. So let us get started!

Running the Math

First of all, let us pick two general car prices. Based on the past few weeks of research in to two types of vehicles, I have landed on the following used car prices (please note that your results may differ depending on where you live and what you are looking for, but this is to help illustrate how to put the information to use).

  • Hybrids – for the hybrid I have chosen, it is the Prius. This is mostly because it is in line with most others in terms of price, but offers by far the best performance on a miles per gallon basis
  • Gas only – for this, I have actually chosen a generalization based on some sports cars that I know get some decent mileage and have good prices. In my situation this is based on the Mazda Miata and the BMW Z3 and Z4

As for the prices I have landed on, we are looking at around $5500 for a used Prius (with a year around 2007 to 2009). The sports car would be around $3000 for a used 1995 to 2002 or so. Please keep in mind that all of these vehicles are older ones, but when well cared for are still viable options.

When it comes down to the gas mileage, the Prius, when hypermiling, should be getting around 60 miles per gallon. Your mileage will definitely vary from this, but it is what we will take as the average (and, for the purpose of determining value, is actually helpful since it is higher than what you will probably experience. When the math is run, you will see what I mean by this). For the gas vehicles, we are going to run around 35 miles per gallon. This is usually above what is “estimated,” although I have found that with proper driving styles and such it is more than doable on a consistent basis.

Now then, let us start running the math. The first thing we need to do is to determine the difference in price between the cars that are available. Let us do that now.

  • $5500 (Prius) - $3000 (Sports car) = $2500

In other words, for the “break even” point, we need to see how many miles the Prius would have to go to account for that $2500. Note that from this point on we care only about how much the Prius costs to run, because we are trying to make it account for the extra $2500 it costs above and beyond what would otherwise be spent anyways. To do this, we are going to estimate a cost of around $3.35 per gallon (which is about what it costs where I live at the time I am writing up this article). It is well worth noting that as the price of gas goes up and down, the value of the hybrid (in terms of savings) will also fluctuate. What we are looking at here is the spot value.

  • Let us divide the price of gas in to how much money must be saved. So this is $2500/$3.35. This leaves us with a result of 746.27, which would be how many gallons must be used. Now let us multiply this by how many miles per gallon the vehicle gets, which leaves us with 44776 miles. If the Prius was driven this many miles, at today's prices, it would have saved the $2500 it cost to purchase. At that point it would be at what I consider as the “break even” point; every mile after that point would result in some savings. But let us take things a bit further and consider how long it would take to drive that many miles; this is another important consideration.
  • Let us assume you drive to work 30 miles away a day, five days a week. This means you are driving around 300 miles a week. So let us take the miles you must drive total and divide that by the weekly driving. This leaves us with 44776/300, or 149.25 weeks. To break this in to years, we can then divide that by how many weeks there are in a year, or 52. this leaves us now with 149.25/52, or 2.87 years. So with that driving style, it would take almost three full years to hit the break even point.

Length of Ownership

Now that we have figured out how to break down the numbers, it is clear that even a small difference in price can lead to a massive time in which the car must be owned and driven. If the number of miles you drive changes during this period, that will further impact the break even time. Of course, if you do not plan to drive a car for an extended period of time this will also have an effect on whether or not it is worth getting the hybrid.

For people that are just looking for a short term vehicle to drive, or something to drive for longer trips but not very often, a hybrid will usually be a bad choice. While you are going to save money on the gas you are buying (being that you are getting twice the mileage for the same cost), you are spending more up front on the car and are unlikely to recoup that cost. Instead, you could buy a cheaper car that has worse gas mileage and still come out ahead.

Shopping for a Car Anyways?

If you are already shopping for a new car regardless, your choice may be swayed a bit more than what this guide covers. In a lot of cases, going out to buy a brand new car may net you a similar price on a hybrid as it would on whatever else you were out looking at. When this happens, it cuts down the time it takes to recoup the extra costs (or there may not even be any extra costs), which is where the hybrids really start to shine when it comes to their value. For example, if you are comparing a $24k car that runs on gas to a $24k hybrid, you will immediately be seeing benefits in picking the hybrid over the gas car. On the other hand, if you are looking to replace the vehicle you are already driving with a hybrid, the length of time it will take to recoup that extra cost is greater. Remember to always run the math before making any big decisions. And this is definitely a big one!

Conclusion

Making the move to a hybrid is not always the best choice. We are constantly pushed towards this idea that they are cheaper than anything else to drive, and while this is true to a point, the fact is that in most cases they end up being more expensive. Through this we have only even looked at the gas costs. When we consider things like replacing the hybrid battery and maintenance being higher (especially since hybrids have more computer based systems than most other vehicles), that makes the cost of having the hybrids even higher. And with each additional expense like this, it will take longer, and more driving, to make the move worth the cost.

It is also important to understand that the motives people have are also different. Some want to make the move to hybrids because they are better for the environment (and “going green” can be great). Some just like to have the awesome features that come with them, or to be more technologically advanced than most people. And some choose hybrids because they require less trips to the gas station. While this article focused on the gas price itself, that is simply not what everyone is pushing for. You will have to decide what you are looking in to hybrids for, and determine what your own personal benefit of making the move is.

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