The Hybrid Hype: Is Your Prius Saving the Planet?
If the auto manufacturers are to be believed, buying a Hybrid is the key to curing all our planet's ills, while padding our pocketbooks at the same time. The claim: that a Hybrid car will save you money on gas while reducing emissions as well as the use of said gas, thus saving money and the planet! On the surface, it sounds win-win; but the truth, as with most such topics, is far more complex.
Let's start with cost savings, as keeping more money in our pockets is something we are all out to accomplish. Is it really cheaper to own a Hybrid? Hybrids advertise much higher gas mileage than any other vehicle on the market. By using a combination of gas and electricity to power the engine, less gas is required to run the vehicle, meaning fewer trips to the gas station. In real life, most Hybrid owners report getting 10% lower mileage than advertised by the manufacturer. Still, it's true that the Hybrids do use less gas, and so you will probably see some savings at the pump. But fueling the vehicle is not the only cost to consider! Hybrid vehicles cost more right out of the gate - when comparing a Hybrid to one of the more fuel efficient gas-powered cars on the market, expect to see a sticker price $2000 - $5000 higher. And because their engines are more complex than your basic gas engine, you're facing higher repair bills too. Over the lifespan of your car, the average cost savings of a Hybrid versus a fuel-efficient compact car really doesn't amount to much.
Questions of dollars and cents aside, the really big selling point on the Hybrids is of course, environmental friendliness. On average, a Hybrid produces 25% - 35% fewer emissions than even the best of the entirely gas-powered vehicles. Still, the Hybrids on the market today are not electric cars in any real sense of the word. They still rely completely on gas to run, contrary to popular belief. A Hybrid car is able to store excess energy created by the car itself into a battery and apply that energy back into the running of the car, but without gas, it's not going anywhere. Huge steps have been taken towards making the batteries in these cars safer and recyclable, but most people still fail to send the batteries in to be recycled, either because they don't know it's possible or they can't be bothered. Either way, the batteries wind up in landfills. Of course, that's true of standard car batteries too, but no one is arguing that standard cars are better for the environment!
The bottom line: most experts agree that Hybrids are a step in the right direction, but they remain a long way from making any serious impact on either the environment or our pocketbooks. The cost savings is minimal, if any, and as long as the vehicles remain dependant on gasoline we aren't likely too see any serious reduction in emissions or our dependence on oil. Hybrids are at best a way to make a small impact while making yourself feel better about owning and driving a car. Want to really save money and the environment? Walk, ride a bike, or use public transportation as much as possible. The less you drive your car - any car - the more you will do to truly reduce emissions.