Compare Hybrid Car Pros & Cons

Discussion of Hybrid Pros & Cons by category (environmental, economic, performance, maintenance)

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 Pros & Cons 

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
Pro : Hybrids help save our environment because they reduce greenhouse gas emissions (CO2). The greater the MPG, the lower the amount of CO2 produced when traveling a fixed number of miles. Hybrids also reduce air pollution by emitting much lower rates of smog-producing gases (nitrogen oxides --- NOx, carbon monoxide --- CO, etc). Smog gas levels produced by the top hybrids are up to 9 times lower than non-hybrids according to the EPA. On the EPA's 10-point scale (10 being lowest level), most non-hybrids have pollution scores of 6, compared with hybrids generally having scores of 9. The difference in score translates to 3-to-9 times as much polluting gas emissions, depending upon the chemical (see EPA Standards). Con : Hybrid versions of cars cost between $5,000 and $10,000 more than non-hybrids. Why spend extra money on a hybrid when some conventional vehicles have nearly as good MPG ratings, and have substantially lower costs? (see our list of Top Non-Hybrids). Rebuttal : Driving hybrids lessens the need for oil drilling, which would mean less destruction of wildlife habitat, less chance of oil spills, and in general less oil-production-related-pollution. With respect to conventional vehicles, the two highest MPG non-hybrids (Smart ForTwo and MiniCooper) are both 2-passenger vehicles with comparatively little luggage space. Also the EPA pollution ratings for the latter two cars are 6 and 7-out-of-10 respectively versus 9-out-of-10 for the top hybrids, a difference factor of 4-to-7 times in polluting gas emissions. As for the higher purchase cost, see the ECONOMIC ISSUES section below.
Con : It requires a fair amount of energy to manufacture the NiMh (nickel metal hydride) batteries used in current hybrids, because they are large, and generally manufactured in China then shipped to the US where most hybrid cars are sold. Rebuttal : The NiMh battery for a hybrid vehicle is only manufactured once for each vehicle that is likely to last 15 to 20 years, and when recycled the nickel is extracted and then can be used to more efficiently produce another battery (see Recycling Your Battery).
Con : Disposal of the nickel in spent hybrid batteries may be hazardous to the environment if not done properly. Pollution can result where nickel is mined or disposed of improperly, mainly because it can dissolve in water in some forms. Some people are allergic to nickel if exposed to it directly, although nickel in forms such as 5-cent-coins is generally safe (see Nickel Toxicology). Rebuttal : Toyota and Honda say that they will recycle dead batteries and that disposal will pose no toxic hazards. Toyota puts a phone number on each battery, and they pay a $200 bounty for each battery to help ensure that it will be properly recycled (see Hybridcars.com, Honda Press).
ECONOMIC ISSUES
Pro : Operating a more fuel efficient hybrid will help to reduce US dependence on foreign oil (see Can Hybrids End Dependence). According to the EPA, city driving accounts for 55% of all miles driven, and some hybrids (including the Prius and Escape) achieve a higher MPG rating for city driving. Con : Hybrids cost approximately $5,000 more than equivalent conventional models. The hybrid MPG advantage is reduced when drivers use air conditioning and/or make short trips. When filing your income taxes, keep in mind that tax credits for hybrids models expired at the end of 2010 (the now exist only for 100% electric cars). Rebuttal : A typical hybrid will pay back its higher cost via long-term fuel savings within 10 years (see our Fuel Savings Calculator). The short-trip-problem may be solved by 2009 plug-in hybrid models (see Prius Plug-in).
PERFORMANCE AND USABILITY ISSUES
Pro : Most hybrid models drive very much like equivalent conventional models. Con : There are no hybrid sports cars or convertibles currently sold. Many hybrids have slower acceleration times than their conventional counterpart models. Another criticism is that some of the controls on the Prius are not very intuitive (see About.com Review).
MAINTENANCE ISSUES
Pro : Hybrids come with power-train warranties up to 70,000 miles and battery warranties of 8-10 years. Due to regenerative braking, brake pads last much longer because they are not used for most braking (see Regenerative Braking). Hybrid maintenance requires advanced mechanic training, but as more and more hybrids are sold, many more trained technicians and shops will be available to service them. Con : Hybrid engines and drive trains have more parts and are mechanically more complicated, so long term maintenance costs will likely be higher. Hybrid batteries may need to replaced in as little as 10 years, at an typical $3000 expense if purchased today from the manufacturer. Rebuttal : The cost of NiMh batteries is reducing each year. It is likely that manufacturers will reduce their prices in less than 10 years, and also likely that there will be 3rd parties selling compatible batteries.
WHY NOT WAIT FOR FUEL CELLS?
Pro : Buying a hybrid vehicle signals to car makers that car buyers want to buy and own more fuel efficient cars. No auto manufacturers currently allow purchasing fuel cell vehicles --- only leasing or limited trials are available. Part of the reason is that fuel cells themselves currently cost $225 per kilowatt (see CarSeek Article), which translates to $22,500 for even a small vehicle like the Honda FCX which uses a 100-kilowatt cell. To lower production costs plus build a delivery infrastructure (service stations etc.) may require as much as $200 billion in investment by government and private funding (see Congressional Committee Study). Con : It is perhaps wiser to wait for hydrogen fuel cell based cars, because they are true zero-emission vehicles. Rebuttal : Hydrogen is dispensed at stations in volatile liquid/high-pressure form, so vehicles cannot be self-serviced. In the most viable design for cars, fuel cells require a catalytic membrane that uses platinum, a toxic heavy metal which presents major disposal issues (see Fuel Cell Vehicles). Manufacturing the liquid hydrogen used to refill the cell currently requires electricity, about 60% of which is produced by burning coal or natural gas (see DOE Stats). It is arguable whether burning gas in a power plant is better than burning it in a car engine.