About Hybrid Cars: Pros & Cons

By Leslie Whittaker

The hottest automotive trend that combines gasoline and electric to power a fuel-efficient car that typically gets between 40 to 60 miles per gallon, hybrid cars rely on the green image and advanced technology to roll them off the sales floor. The notion of a hybrid car is as old as the car industry itself yet consumer demand did not dictate serious research until the late 1970s. As the consumer decision making the most impact on the environment, purchasing a hybrid vehicle over a traditional car has both numerous pros and cons.

Type

honda insight

These days, hybrid cars come in many shapes and sizes but the three most popular hybrids are the Honda Civic, Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. In 2008, the list of hybrid vehicles also included Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Tahoe, Dodge Durango, GMC Sierra, GMC Yukon, Roewe 750, Saturn Vue, Saturn Aura and Toyota Camry. Car manufacturers plan on releasing new hybrid versions of their most popular vehicles each year.

Function

Hybrid cars primarily lessen the CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions from cars but hybrids have other functions as well, such as protecting the environment, eliminating lead based batteries, decreasing petroleum usage, producing less smog, only kicking in the gas when necessary, and decreasing emissions over heavily populated cities.

Evolution

The earliest hybrid vehicles, designed in 1899, by Ferdinand Porsche utilized a gas-electric technology. Even though hybrid vehicle technology is as old as cars themselves, until recently, manufacturers had not given too much thought to developing hybrid models. The first official milestone in hybrid technology came in 1905 when an American engineer fashioned a patent application for a gasoline engine--electric motor powertrain. This paved the way for increased hybrid vehicle interest but it waned in the 1920s. It wasn't until the late 1960s, when internal combustion engines raised the public health concern, that hybrid vehicle technology regained interest. GMC spent over 20 million dollar from 1977 to 1979 on electric car development and research. As environmental smog and pollution increased, Germany introduced the Volkswagen microbus taxi hybrid. In mid-December of 1997, Toyota began selling the Prius almost a century after the first hybrid's conception.

Risk Factors

2008 Saturn Vue

While hybrids possess many great environmental benefits, they also come with a few cons as well. For instance, while regarded as more environmentally friendly, especially when compared to a car's lead-based battery, hybrids utilize metal hydride and lithium batteries in their machinery. Regarded as more environmentally friendly than lead-based batteries and substantially less toxic, nickel based items are known carcinogens that typically lead to an array of health problems. Environmentalists are still deciding how these new batteries will impact the environment. Due to the complex computer system needed to make this car work, hybrid owners should expect more complex and expensive repairs than a regular car. While hybrids are reputed to be more reliable than gasoline-only vehicles, when it comes to repairs, most hybrids have to be taken to the dealership for repairs which usually costs more. Also, there may be an impending shortage of many of the rare materials used to make hybrid cars such as the rare earth element, dysprosium, which is utilized in fabricating motors and battery systems. Thus raising the potential that hybrid manufacturing is in danger of becoming extinct. While hybrids are beneficial for the environment, they are not as advantageous to the wallet as perceived. Sure, they cut down on gas consumption but only if driven predominantly in the city under 40mph. Otherwise, they switch to the gasoline engine and utilize approximately the same amount of gas as smaller cars like Corollas and Civics. Recouping the cost difference between a hybrid model and regular model takes a couple years. A recent study by "Consumer Reports" concluded that only a hybrid Prius and hybrid Civic actually make up for the initial cost difference within the first five years of ownership. Safety is also a concern of many when it comes to hybrid vehicles. Some people fear the danger that could arise from the high voltage electricity of the electric battery in a hybrid vehicle despite manufacturers claiming that the batteries will automatically shut down in the event of an accident.

Benefits

First and foremost, hybrid cars cut harmful emissions by 25 to 35 percent over even the most fuel efficient vehicles. Hybrid cars are more efficient in city traffic and the battery never needs to be plugged in as the gas motor charges batteries when the car is running and the hybrid battery can accept three times as many change cycles as a lead battery and it works better in colder climates. Hybrids achieve greater fuel economy than internal combustion vehicles and their advanced aerodynamic body and electric motor improve gas mileage significantly. Plus, in the United States, there is a tax incentive for purchasing a hybrid that can reduce the cost by $3,400. On top of this, some states and communities also offer additional perks such as free parking for hybrid vehicles. Overall, if in the market for a new car, hybrids are a healthy, fuel-efficient alternative.

About the Author

Leslie Whittaker has been a published writer, graphic designer and communications consultant since 2002. Published works include articles in "Professional Car Wash & Detailing" and "Statis" magazine as well as copy writing for numerous web sites including eHow.com, ReferredU.com, and anythingcarwash.com. Whittaker holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and communications from the University of North Carolina.