Why I’m Not Buying a Hybrid Ever Again

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

There are five big disadvantages of buying a hybrid automobile. If you’re thinking about buying a hybrid car, do yourself a favor and stop thinking about it. Unless you have a very unique situation, it’s not a good deal for you or our planet.

1. Politics

I want to deal with this issue head-on. Some people argue that by buying a hybrid car, they are supporting clean technology. As a result, they feel they are doing humankind a solid. There is logic here, but it’s not a complete picture. Here’s why:

buying a hybridA “good” hybrid these days still gets about 50 miles to a gallon of gasoline. Are those car companies joking? They should get 150 miles to the gallon. Vote with your dollars. Send a message to car manufacturers. Only buy the car that gets over 100 miles to the gallon. Do Mother Nature a favor and don’t sell out. Force “the man” to provide truly environmentally friendly cars.

Also, hybrids devour rare earth metals that are…well…rare. And as long as we’re on the political end of things, as we gobble up rare earth metals, we strengthen China’s economy because they are the world’s leader in rare-earth metal production. The Chinese are notorious for their mistreatment of workers. Don’t be a part of that if you can help it.

And what are we going to do with all those expensive batteries when they die? If you want to invest in green technology, buy good green mutual funds instead.

I’m not an economist, world leader (yet), biologist or environmentalist. I’m simply saying there are plenty of compelling reasons to view this technology as being hurtful to our environment and business climate.

2. Mileage

As I write this, I can see that most of the arguments are interrelated. As I said above, the best hybrid gets about 50 MPG. I did a quick search and found that regular cars like the Yaris (Japanese version) deliver better than 55 MPG already. In your face, Prius!

3. Cost

Hybrids are very PC right now, and as a result you’re going to pay through the nose for them – if you are lucky enough to find someone kind enough to sell one to you. Even if you compare a Prius to a Corolla, the Prius doesn’t make sense.

The Prius gets about 30% better gas mileage, but it costs $10,000 more to buy a Prius than a Corolla. So, the question is, how long will it take you to make up for that $10,000 premium? To calculate that, let’s assume gasoline is $3 a gallon and the Prius gets 50 MPG while the Corolla gets 36 MPG. So if you travel 360,000 miles using a Prius you’ll pay $21,600 for fuel. If you travel 360,000 miles using your Corolla you’ll pay $30,000. In short, even if you drive 360,000 miles in your Prius, you still haven’t justified the premium you paid for the hybrid. In fact, it might be cheaper at $3 a gallon to drive a huge and cheap Suburban than a Prius. More on this below.

Now, the cost issue doesn’t stop here. You see, the hybrids are made with very light materials. That means, every time you look at it funny, it’s going to crumple and cost you $500 or more to get it fixed. I know this for a fact because I owned a Prius. Every time I nicked a post, it crumpled like a cheap suit. This made it difficult to keep my low car insurance premiums low.

4. Size

I also don’t like the small hybrids because they are just too small. I’m 6’2” and I could barely fit in a Prius. Try it yourself. It won’t be comfortable.

5. Dangerous

Before you buy one of these tin cans, test drive it. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll feel very unsafe. Again, this might be a question of height and size, but it was really tough to see. As a matter of fact, per capita, hybrid car owners get more tickets and more accidents than non-hybrid car drivers. You can’t see out of the cars and nobody hears you coming. Not a good combo. I hate to say it, but if you insist on buying one of these cars, you better load up on  life insurance too (just in case).

Ultimately, this was the reason I sold my Prius and bought a nice, big, gas guzzling Lexus. Of course I bought my 2005 beauty in 2007 – just old enough to buy at a steep discount, but young enough to look feel and drive like new. Oh…and by the way…I have great visibility with my Lexus. As a result, I haven’t had a fender bender yet.

Where do you stand on the hybrid car issue?

 

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

TRACY July 10, 2013 at 10:53 AM

Any of you suckers remember the Geo Metro? HA that thing got 50 mpg 20 years ago. Hell there were tiny carburated cars getting 30 + n the 80’s.

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Jim L. March 29, 2012 at 7:17 AM

Bot one a month ago. Prius is luxurious compared to previous Corolla and with 20 miles addtn’l per gallon; feel am being a better steward. It’s not all about how much money I am saving. Do look forward to point where transport, electric or whatever, equals 1oo+ MPG.

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Austin March 27, 2012 at 3:49 AM

I don’t buy your first argument. How will we ever reach a 100mpg hybrid if we don’t start with what we have today? Are you assume that hybrids should magically be that fuel efficient and scientists and engineers are holding out on you? People that buy these cars are investing in our technological future and creating a demand for fuel efficient cars. If everyone took your mentality and no one bought a hybrid then why would manufactures invest in their development and make them better? “send a message to manufactures”? really the message you sending them is you don’t care about fuel efficiency or the environment or the future of cleaner cars.

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Neal Frankle March 27, 2012 at 9:07 AM

Austin, You make a good point and you could be right. But on the other hand, if we settle for only 50 mpg, what is their incentive to improve? Personally, I will not buy a car that doesn’t make economic sense and the hybrid simply doesn’t. If we hold out for a car that does make sense two things w/happen:
a. they’ll make it
b. the planet will be much better off.

That’s my stand on it….

Neal

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Car Dealers St Louis January 17, 2012 at 3:39 AM

Well, I don’t drive a hybrid and don’t intend on buying one cause it’s just not my style. I care more about aesthetics and I like the look of luxury cars more. However, I’ve been to So Cal and hybrids are extremely popular there, especially in South OC. It seems to be the hip car to drive; not necessarily because of the environment thing, people just seem to like it.

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Neal Frankle January 17, 2012 at 7:26 AM

Yes. People do dig the hipster style out here. Like I said, I had one but couldn’t stand it. Love my Lexus now!

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Matthew a Valentin February 9, 2011 at 2:39 PM

I totally disagree. I have owned better cars I now own a hybrid. The car is amazing is loaded with features and I bought the base model no extras. push button start automatic doors all I do is pull the handle. The car gives about 450 miles till the next full up. the tank is 10.9 gallons the .9 gallons being you reserve. It costs me $31 to fill up from E but not till I drive it 450 miles. The car was given one of the highest safety ratings in the industry two years in a row. Fine there are cars that will give you higher miles in japan but this is America this is as good as it gets. This article lost me because I thought we were discussing cost efficiency, fine if gas is still $3 a gallon a corolla might balance out but we know gas is going up now that comparison amounts to nothing. The car is great and anything better than that is worth getting right now the prius is it.

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Steven February 9, 2011 at 12:05 PM

For the record, I’ve never owned one, and right now can’t afford one. But when I can, I will strongly consider it.

If everyone waits until they get 100 MPG, they never will. There have to be intermediate purchases. Imagine if nobody bought a new computer until they reached 3.0 GHz, the computer industry would be dead.

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Steven February 9, 2011 at 11:59 AM

Some good points here, but you made a big miscalculation on the MPG difference. You compared highway mileage, not actual mileage.

From what the Toyota site says, the respective mileages for daily use are 48 MPG and 28 MPG (not 50 and 36), which is 70% better, not 30%.

You would break even at 224,000 miles. After that, you’ll be saving 4 cents per gallon. So, if over the life of your car you drive 300,000 miles you’ll save about $3400 after the $10,000 premium. You’ll burn 4400 fewer gallons of fuel, and decrease your car’s carbon footprint by 58%.

So, you save $3400 and reduce carbon, noise, and pollution 58%. Sounds like a deal to me.

But there is more! Assume gas averages $3.50. Then you would save $5,625 over the life of the car.

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Rob February 9, 2011 at 8:10 AM

*I meant to say “Use it to make yourself better”

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Neal@Wealth Pilgrim February 9, 2011 at 6:30 AM

You clearly know a great deal about this issue. Having said that, I got my numbers from the Toyota site on the cost. For MPG, I did some simple searches.

On accidents,try this http://www.newser.com/story/64676/hybrid-owners-have-more-accidents-get-more-tickets.html

Clearly, Prius owners do have more accidents and get more tickets. My own experience with the Prius proves this out as well.

Anyway, thanks for your very thoughtful comment.

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M Gonsoulin February 8, 2011 at 4:24 PM

Going to have to disagree with you on your comparisons. First of all, despite the logic, people usually buy cars that fit their lifestyle and attitude. “Needs” generally fall out of the equation – as almost any car (or even public transportation) will suffice.

The politics problem is simply a red-herring; show me a product and I can find pluses and minuses depending on what side of the fence I’m on. The electronic chips and circuit boards in your Lexus also contain valuable materials in them that come from other (Asian) countries and that will be difficult to dispose of in an environmentally clean manner. And despite where the raw materials come from, there is a good chance that your Lexus or Toyota was built in Ontario, Canada. So I find your arguments against specious at best.

Your gas mileage comment was WAY off! I couldn’t find and example of a Toyota Yaris of any kind getting better than 29/35, and I’m willing to give it 40 mpg…which still isn’t Prius territory. Maybe there is a Japanese version or a Hybrid version that does better in normal everyday driving (not hypermiling) – but I couldn’t find one searching on the net! (Maybe your search abilities are better than mine.)

Note – if you’re talking diesels, I will agree that some diesel versions of regular cars get better gas mileage. But you can’t buy any of them in the U.S. due to emissions. So hybrids still seem to win the gas mileage contests in America – unless you count vehicle which you cannot buy here.

Out of your last three categories, Cost was the most objective comparitively – and there were errors there too! I priced a 2010 Corolla at $16,250 and a 2010 Type II Prius at $22,800 (destination charges were the same). That is a $6,550 ($7,000) difference – not a $10,000 one to be sure. And although the federal tax credit for hybrids (of $7,500) expired at the end of last year, 38 states have tax credits. Using those definitely make hybrids competitive with your Corolla.

I also couldn’t find a statistical difference between insurance for a Corolla versus a Prius. Hybrid owners MAY have more accidents and problems, but my searches didn’t turn up any evidence of it.

The last two disadvantages you listed were subjective; the Prius is the heavier than the Corolla (by approximately 300 pounds). Some of that is the battery pack and the interior layout may not favor taller people – and that’s a shame. The new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid might be a bitter fit…or the Ford Escape Hybrid as well. Hybrids these days aren’t an all-or-nothing proposition.

As far as being “dangerous”…I couldn’t find any evidence of that when I researched your disadvantages. There was a single study by San Francisco-based Quality Planning that got lots of press – but I couldn’t determine whether it was nationwide, limited to California, etc. Once again, just because a statement passes the “gut check” doesn’t make it true. If you can find more studies and evidence (preferrably from non-insurance friendly organizations) it might better help to prove your case.

Not knocking you for your choice or change in vehicles; luxury cars generally have size and that “bank vault” feel to them that reassures people. However, all cars are compromises…and hybrids (beyond the fuel savings) represent non-luxury, non-sport, technology cars. Basically a ‘gadget’ car that appeals to nerds.

Regardless of any contrived “good for the planet” hype or “advantages/disadvantages” analysis, I think the market segment for what hybrids represent will continue to grow. The popularity of Ford’s “Sync” system, in-car GPS, in-car bluetooth and other technologies just proves that! :)

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Future Money-Bags February 6, 2011 at 4:17 PM

Nice comparisons. I on the otherhand am ignoring hybrids, as you stated they still use Gasoline and still are expensive, and need to be ‘filled up’ twice…

I’m waiting for electric cars to become cheaper. Tesla Motors has a nice sports car, that is more than just nice for an electric car, but nice for any car!

Sure it has a relatively high price tag, but its just beginning its production. With the new manufacturing site purchased, I believe they will soon be able to start mass-producing these vehicles, as well as lower-end models, to reduce price. I don’t think it will take more than 2-3 years for us to see a lot more competition in the Electric car industry.
Offering more cars, that average-income families can purchase!

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karyn February 2, 2011 at 11:23 AM

I was happy to see this post because I feel frustrated by the number of people trying to do the right thing but I don’t believe hybrids are a great answer. But I was hoping you would mention the diesels! We have a VW Jetta diesel – nice size, 55 mpg, well-built engine, and no battery. We run it on biodiesel when we can and it could easily convert to vegetable oil. I know biodiesel has issues too, but it’s got the most potential for now. And the Jetta has a great safety rating and while it’s not American, it’s not Chinese.

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Jessica07 February 1, 2011 at 1:40 PM

I was just reading an article yesterday that had a humorous take on electric cars (yes, I know they’re not equivalent to hybrids). Anyway, they were saying how if you buy one, you need to plan on saving for a new one or relocating, because due to their lithium batteries, the storage capacities continually decrease. So, where you can go 100 miles, round trip, on one battery, it won’t be long before you can only travel 50 miles, round-trip. That could quickly become a bummer. :) (Note: I don’t know enough about the mechanics/electricity sources to know if this is all true.)

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Jay Banks February 28, 2011 at 6:19 AM

Jessica,
I think that these assumptions are based on the Li-Ion batteries that we all have in our cell phones, laptops and other appliances. We all know that these truly can lower their capacities in a year, two and will eventually end being useless after several years. But comparing those big and expensive batteries in cars to these little batteries isn’t a very good idea because the batteries we have in our laptops fail mainly because we don’t follow the rules on how to operate them without doing damage to them (e.g. draining a Li-Ion battery dead can result in total failure). Car batteries have measures to counter this. Many industry vehicles have been operating on batteries for at least a decade and nobody seems to notice that.

IMO, a hybrid can be a good lifestyle decision, and can pay off in a town where I would drive using battery power to work and home, but economically, for longer journeys, it’s a nonsense. It’s still too expensive. Let’s wait for the full electric.

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Morland Gonsoulin February 28, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Both hybrids and full-electric cars (Toyota Leaf) have propulsion batteries that are thermally isolated and heated (as well as cooled) by alternate power sources (e.g., the battery used to start the car) depending on the temperature. The first generation battery packs for the Prius were engineered to be reliable to the 100,000 mile standard and are getting much greater than that real world. As Jay said, the technology for keeping chemical batteries in their optimal in vehicles is worlds different than a cell phone or laptop; more “idiot-proofing” has gone into them.

The main thing to remember when buying EITHER a hybrid or electric is the main purpose of the vehicle. Newer hybrids, like the Hyundai Sonata seem to be more economical for long trips – while others are good for city driving. It all depends on what you’re getting the vehicle for.

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krantcents February 1, 2011 at 11:25 AM

I agree. I would add the cost of battery replacement to your equation.

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Neal February 1, 2011 at 8:42 AM

Sloan, you make good arguments. For my money, you have to start somewhere. I for one won’t buy another hybrid until it gets 100 mpg. Also, I never buy new cars anyway. I agree that there is a lot of rare earth metals being used but we have to start somewhere.

My solution has been to move close to work and drive as little as possible. So far…so good.

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Sustainable PF February 1, 2011 at 8:48 AM

Touche. I am a 12 minute walk to work – we don’t drive a whole lot aside from groceries and longer trips to other cities (which are much more fuel efficient than city driving).

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Sloane February 1, 2011 at 11:39 AM

You are right. We have to start somewhere and Toyota is already working to get off of the rare metals in their batteries. Which they wouldn’t be trying if their prius wouldn’t have sold so well. (And of course if China wasn’t limiting distribution) They know the demand is out there and they are bettering their product because of it.

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Sloane February 1, 2011 at 8:17 AM

I’m going to have to disagree with you on this post. There are different sizes of hybrids that are just as safe as a gas car or just as small and unsafe. If you travel a lot, the savings in gas will out way the extra cost of the purchase – which it seems A LOT of Cali’s commute a lot for there jobs. The rare minerals in the batteries are the same rare minerals found in your cell phone, laptop, gps, ipod, cordless phones – are you giving those up as well? AND you can recycle batteries. You talk about China, we buy oil from the arabian countries which treat their people like crap as well. You buy a hybrid now, this shows that we are interested in this technology and they will make better cars cheaper unless the oil company stifles this industry again. We would be way ahead on this if it wasn’t for the oil companies. I think your next article should be: 5 big advantages of buying a hybrid OR buy stock in rare minerals.

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ilovelamp February 8, 2011 at 9:28 AM

Sloane,
Could you define “travel a lot”? I believe the article did the math for you – over 360,000 miles to offset the cost differential… How many miles do you plan on putting on that car again?

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Evan February 1, 2011 at 8:05 AM

There are those that pay that premium and LEASE IT!

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JT McGee February 1, 2011 at 8:00 AM

The most efficient vehicle is a vehicle already built.

Really, the price to efficiency to savings ratio doesn’t really seem to be worth it. I’m a fan of buying any old economy car–Ford Focus, for example–for $10k less than those pricey hybrids.

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Sustainable PF February 1, 2011 at 7:41 AM

Hybrid mpg is based on highway and city use. For those who drive primarily in the city they will see much better mpg ratings as the fuel part of the engine won’t kick in a lot of the time.

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