In 1997, the Japanese automotive manufacturer Toyota released its first hybrid vehicle, the Prius. It would be released in the United States three years later and, since then, Toyota has sold over 15 million hybrid vehicles worldwide. Along the way, hybrid technology has stirred some strong opinions. It’s been beloved and misunderstood — and, in some cases, even hated — even as hybrid vehicles become more commonplace.
“People look at us like we were strange that we got into the hybrid repair here because the Midwest is not the hotbed of hybrids,” said Eric Carlson, a co-owner of Erving’s Auto Repair and Grand Rapids Hybrid, the only hybrid specialized repair facility in the Michigan city. “But we persevered, we hung in there until they became more mainstream.”
Carlson is a master hybrid technician with an L3 hybrid certification from ASE, the highest available certification in the aftermarket industry. He maintains that hybrid vehicles are the best of gas engines and electric engines put into one vehicle. “I call it basic transportation,” he said.
So, why the hate for hybrid vehicles? What exactly are they anyway? And if I decide that I want to buy one, what do I need to know? I turned to two experts to break down some of the myths, and offer a few words of caution as you consider if a hybrid vehicle is in your future.
How does a hybrid car work?
What does hybrid in cars mean? A hybrid vehicle has an electric motor in addition to the traditional (or combustion) engine. “The vehicle switches back and forth between the two, depending on various factors,” said Jaime Spedden, a certified Hyundai technician in Omaha, Nebraska. “If you’re doing a lot of in city driving at a lower speed, you’re going to be using the electric motor more than the gas engine. That’s why they get such good gas mileage.”
Why do hybrids draw such venomous reactions?
Carlson said that he can sympathize with people’s discomfort with change since “the automobile stayed the same for 100 years.” Change didn’t happen overnight, but once the Prius came out, “it had a goofy look and still has kind of a goofy look,” he said.
“I happen to love the goofy look,” Carlson said. “But it’s not forever, it wasn’t for everyone.”
Some people, Spedden said, still look at hybrids as if they’re all like the Prius or the original Honda Insight. “They expect something ugly and slow,” she said, but that’s simply no longer the case.
“Hybrids now are simply another trim level of standard vehicles, including trucks and SUVs,” she said.
How much do hybrid vehicles cost to maintain?
There are many articles across the internet bemoaning the costs of hybrid repairs and maintenance. Carlson staunchly disagrees. In his eight years of owning Grand Rapids Hybrid, and working on the vehicles, he’s consistently found that the costs of maintaining a hybrid vehicle are actually less than a traditional internal combustion engine.
Repair Pal’s reliability tool, based on overall repair and maintenance cost across makes and models of all cars, confirms that many hybrid vehicles regularly cost less to maintain on an annual basis. Across all vehicles manufactured, annual repairs and maintenance cost $652. The Prius averages $408, Honda Insight $392, the Lexus hybrid car, a CT200H $386.
Carlson tells me that hybrid vehicles allow the internal combustion motor to not do as much work, preventing costly repairs down the road. “If nothing else, the wear and tear on the engine is significantly less,” he said. “Once it’s rolling down the road, significantly less power is required.”
And that’s not all! Many hybrid sedans have smaller wheels, so tire replacement costs less, by as much as half according to Carlson. Even brakes last longer due to regenerative braking, a unique hybrid process for essentially recharging the battery through your braking. “Most Prius brakes last around 100,000 miles before you have to replace pads and rotors,” Carlson said.
How much does hybrid battery replacement cost? (Hint: Not as much as you’d think)
The biggest misconception about hybrids is the frequency and cost of the battery replacement. Many brands offer a warranty on the hybrid battery that is as long as the federal emissions warranty requirements of eight years or 80,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Some brands, including Toyota, Hyundai, Chrysler, and others offer 10 years, and 100,000 – 150,000 miles or longer, with a warranty that typically extends to the second owner.
Carlson says that he knows that people think that you’ll have to pay $10,000 or $15,000 every five years to replace the battery, but for most hybrids, “that’s just a load of hogwash.” He says that most of his customers don’t ever replace the hybrid battery, and those who do, only need it around the 12 to 15-year mark.
At Grand Rapids Hybrid, it cost around $3,000 to replace a Prius battery. The exception to this rule belongs to the Ford Escape, at around $10,000. Repair Pal’s estimating tool shows that the Ford Fusion hybrid is a pricier one to replace as well, coming in at just over $6000.
What are the downsides?
Hybrids have downsides, one of which may be a smaller cargo area. In some, but not all, hybrid vehicles, the battery pack is in the trunk, taking up cargo space, or hindering your ability to lay the seat flat to put in a longer item.
Hybrid vehicles also cost more to buy, coming in at $2000 to $4000 or more than the same model that has strictly a gas engine. Most hybrid buyers find that this is worth it, due to the savings in fuel costs. Additionally, JD Power found that hybrid cost an average of $42 more to insure per month, due to more expensive technology leading to pricer repairs, and higher vehicle replacement costs.
Finally, fuel efficiency is reduced in cold weather, and while driving on open roads or highways.
So is a hybrid the right choice?
Depending on your lifestyle and vehicle needs, a hybrid may not be for you. However, hybrid technology is not new — and the myths that surround it need to be dispelled. And if you thought that a hybrid wasn’t for you because the Prius wasn’t a fit, consider the multitude of cars, SUVs, and trucks currently available with hybrid technology. According to Carlson, for the average driver, this is the best technology currently available.
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