Hybrid vs. Electric: Which is the Better Buy?

As gas prices skyrocket, more and more consumers are looking at the possibility of going hybrid or electric with their next car purchase. Three years ago, the only option was hybrid, which was only a good buy for some drivers, mainly those who did lots of in-town driving and not a lot of highway driving. These days, though, the Nissan Leaf and a few other all-electric models have made it possible to drive all day without putting a bit of gas in your car.

The question is, which car is the better buy? It all depends on how much you drive, what your lifestyle is like, and what you’re expecting to get out of a hybrid or all-electric car.

Basic Costs

First, let’s look at the basic costs of a hybrid or all-electric car. The most popular hybrid on the market right now is probably the Toyota Prius, which comes at a base price of about $21,000 – quite a bit higher than the base price of similar-sized gas guzzlers on the market today. The Nissan Leaf, on the other hand, can be had for around $30,000. A difference of $9,000 is quite significant, of course! However, let’s also look at what it might cost to run these cars.

Running Costs

The cost of running a Toyota Prius really depends on how much you drive and what type of driving you do. If you’re already in a fairly economical car, fuel-wise, you probably won’t save enough to justify the price difference between a hybrid Prius and a regular gas-using small car. If gas is about $3 per gallon, Joseph White of The Wall Street Journal argues that the average driver will save somewhere between $500 and $700 per year. Of course, gas prices are likely to be and stay higher than $3 per gallon in most of the country for the foreseeable future, so this could mean even better savings with the Prius or another hybrid.

The problem, though, is that you’re still paying a premium for this car, which may take you a while to pay off. If you’re only saving $500 a year at the pump, it could take five years or more to make up the difference between a hybrid Prius and another gas using model of similar size and quality.

Of course, you’re also paying a whole lot more for a Nissan Leaf, which doesn’t cost any money at the pump at all. Don’t forget, though, that you still have to pay for the electricity you need to charge up an all-electric car. Costs are significantly lower than gas costs, though, and range from $1.50 to $3 per day, depending on how much you drive and what electric costs are in your area. Again, though, how long will it take you to save enough money to cover the premium you’ve already paid for the Leaf?

Repair Costs

The cost of keeping your hybrid or all-electric car in repair is something else to think of. Hybrids are generally complex, and they can be rather expensive to repair if something goes wrong. Plus, many mechanics just aren’t familiar with them yet, so they may charge a premium for repairs on a hybrid electric car. All-electrics, on the other hand, have very simple engines. For now, car batteries are the most expensive parts, but the cost of those is expected to drop dramatically as technology improves in the next five to ten years.

Of course, even the simple engine of an electric car will be hard to repair if you can’t find a repair person who knows how to work with it!

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that whether a hybrid or electric is a better buy right now really depends on you – how much you’re willing to pay, how much you already spend on gas, what your driving habits are like, and even where you live. Sure, you can do a quick charge on a Leaf in a couple of hours at a restaurant or grocery store, but do you live in a progressive area that will have plugs available for your car? If not, you’ll have to be very careful about your driving to ensure you can get home to charge the car every night!

Right now for many drivers who are already in a fuel-economy car, neither option is necessarily the best. It may be better to stick with your gas driven car for a couple of years as prices drop on both the hybrid and the all-electric. Unless gas prices rise even more significantly, it would take a lot of driving to make up for the difference you’ll see in your monthly expenses with these cars!


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