Sunday, November 9, 2008

Why Hybrids Aren't Cost-Effective

Total Cost Of Ownership. I shouldn't have to say much more than that. Sure, a new Prius or Civic Hybrid will save you money on gas. You'll get 40-50mpg and be the envy of all your green neighbors. But you just spent $25,000 to $30,000 for the privilege! And some years from now you'll have a battery pack to replace which may cost more than the car will be worth by then!

You can save a lot of gas money at the pump by buying one of the older cars that get incredible gas mileage. In many cases you won't even have to give up automatic transmission, air conditioing, or even full-size comfort. I put a few examples below, and I will try to make this a regular feature, profiling a new little-known gas saver each week.

1) 2000-2005 Chevrolet Impala

This is not an old car, nor is it a small one. But with the 3.4 liter V-6 engine, overdrive automatic transmission, and a tall final drive ratio, it can easily get the EPA rated 32mpg or more on the highway. According to the EPA's website,, some Impala owners get 35-37mpg in 80-100% highway driving. City mileage was rated at only 20mpg but many owners report 23-26mpg in town. You get 6-passenger full-size comfort, a huge trunk, and GM reliability. I'm currrently trying to find one for my wife. Private owners are selling them for $3,000 to $6,000 and you can even find low mileage GM Certified 2005 models for under $10,000.

2) 1993-1996 Dodge and Plymouth Colt, Eagle Summit, and Mitsubishi Mirage

These cars were sold under many names, but they are all the same basic car. With the 1.5 liter 4-cylinder engine and 5-speed manual transmission, they were rated at the time by the EPA to get 32mpg city and 40mpg highway. You could get these as 2-door coupes, 4-door sedans, or wagons. The wagons typically used a larger 1.8 liter engine which was optional on the coupes and sedans. Some models even had a large 2.4 liter engine instead. The larger wagons had 3 rows of seating and could still get 24-28mpg in mixed driving. In what else can you seat 7 people and still get mid-20s for mileage? Maybe a Highlander Hybrid, but why spend $30,000 or more for one of those when you can find a mint Mitsubishi Expo microvan for well under $3,000? Automatic were available at a small mileage penalty as well.

3) 1996-2002 Saturn S-Series

Two generations are covered here and no matter what engine, transmission or bodystyle you pick, you'll get at least 25mpg in town and 35mpg on the highway. SOHC engines with manuals typically see closer to 40mpg highway. You can choose from 3-door coupes (with a small side door on the passenger side to ease access to the rear seat), 4-door sedans, or 5-door station wagons. Right hand drive versions of the wagon were made for rural mail delivery as well. Older Saturns are an even better pick if you really want to save money, but avoid the first year 1991 models as they were significantly less reliable. Saturns are also a great choice in states where salt is used for snow control as most of the Saturn body panels are made of a plastic polymer and can't rust!

That's three lines of cars that offer incredible mileage without giving up a huge chunk of your wallet. I'll have many more to come soon, including Hondas, Nissans, and Toyotas for you foreign car lovers. Some of you may remember the Civic VX, Sentra SE-R, and Tercel EZ, and I'll get to all those soon!

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