Is it time to buy a hybrid or electric vehicle?

Published  5:25 PM HST Mar 26, 2012
Hybrid vehicle
HONOLULU -

With the average price of gas in Hawaii topping $4.50 per gallon, many drivers may be looking for a fuel-sipping alternative such as a hybrid or electric vehicle.

But before throwing down thousands of dollars more on a Toyota Prius or Chevy Volt, you may want to break out the calculator and do the math. 

According to experts, a vehicle with a standard four-cylinder gas engine may be just as cost-effective as those that run partially or completely on electricity.  

"You're talking generally thousands of dollars in the price difference, and that would buy a lot of gas for a long period of time," said Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst at automotive website edmunds.com.  "In some cases, seven to 10 years is average."

That came as a big surprise to Kaneohe resident Karen Joy, who guessed it would take as little as two years to recoup the higher upfront cost of an electric or hybrid vehicle.

"You’re kidding? Oh my gosh, that’s terrible," said Joy, when told it could take as long as a decade to recover the higher cost of a hybrid or electric vehicle through savings on gas.

It’s also important for car buyers to keep tax breaks and rebates in mind before they go shopping for a certain hybrid or electric vehicle. 

"You really have to look at the details for every individual car because it's going to vary significantly from vehicle to vehicle," said Caldwell. 

In addition, how you drive may also have an impact on your purchase.  A Prius gets better gas mileage in stop and go city driving, where the gas engine is less likely to kick in.

"So if you do a lot of highway driving, sometimes it doesn't make as much sense (to buy a Prius)," said Caldwell.

Still, there’s no doubt the soaring price of fuel is having an impact on people’s wallets.  Honolulu resident Raj Kumar used to pay $40-$50 to fill-up his minivan.  Now, he’s paying about $80.

"It's affecting everybody's budget," said Kumar.  "The middle-class people are suffering more because they live day to day or paycheck to paycheck."

However, the bottom line is the bottom line, and it pays to do your homework before rushing out and buying that new Prius or Volt.

"Customers really have to do their research and do the math," advises Caldwell. "I mean it's not fun, but it's something that's going to pay off at the end."

 Edmunds.com has a "cost to own" tool that can help car buyers decipher whether a hybrid or electric vehicle makes financial sense.  The tool is available at: www.edmunds.com/tco

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