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The pros and cons of owning a hybrid vehicle

On the Road Cover Story

cars.com On the Road Weekly Publication

9:52 AM EDT, March 21, 2012

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You’ve heard the hype about hybrids.  But what are the real benefits and disadvantages to owning one?  

Hybrid car sales have dipped in recent years. However, supporters note that vehicle sales in general have also decreased over that period, meaning it's possible hybrid car sales are indicative of a larger slump, and not necessarily an adverse consumer reaction to hybrid cars.

Whatever the reason for dwindling sales, it’s clear consumers have been reticent to embrace hybrid cars, especially when compared to other eco-friendly lifestyle changes that have caught on seemingly en masse.

Why to buy a hybrid

Buying a car is never an easy decision. Deciding to purchase a model that's fundamentally different from one you've ever bought before is even more difficult. One of the most obvious benefits of driving a hybrid is the environmental benefits. A hybrid's low emissions mean less greenhouse gases, which can include harmful carbon dioxide. Fewer emissions make for a healthier planet. Hybrid cars are a smart choice for consumers whose chief concern in the environment.

There are more practical reasons to buy a hybrid car. Better gas mileage means you’ll pay less at the pump, which can add up to significant savings over time.

Hybrids have both an internal combustible engine and an electrical system, enabling drivers to switch back and forth between the power sources to make their vehicle more efficient, burning less fuel when the conditions allow and using less electrical energy when the conditions would otherwise drain the electrical power system.

Why to avoid a hybrid

Hybrid cars' biggest problems are largely economical. Resale value of hybrid cars pales in comparison to that of traditional automobiles. Much of this lower resale value is thanks to the battery needed for hybrid cars. Hybrid car batteries typically need to be replaced once per decade. When selling a preowned vehicle, drivers might find that vehicle is less attractive to prospective buyers if that battery hasn’t been replaced or was last replaced several years ago.

Lower resale value is especially tough to stomach when considering the initial cost of hybrid cars, which often makes them less attractive options. Hybrids are often considerably more expensive, and researchers note that the cost savings of hybrids are not realized until after several years of ownership. While this figures to change as the market continues to offer more hybrid cars, this offers little comfort for today’s consumers.

Safety is also a concern when considering a hybrid car. Hybrids use high-voltage batteries to operate, which can prove disastrous should an accident occur. Manufacturers insist this isn't a problem, as the batteries are designed to turn off in an accident. However, some consumers subscribe to the "better safe than sorry" approach and feel hybrid batteries are simply too risky.

Much like any big ticket decision, deciding whether or not to buy a hybrid car requires careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages before driving one off the dealership lot. 

-Metro Creative Connection