Hybrid systems come in different flavors, but most power their engines with a mix of gasoline and electrical power. This mix of power sources solved the battery-recharging issues that prevented widespread acceptance of purely-electric vehicles in the 1990s. The electrical power is stored in batteries that are charged partly by the gas motor but also, ingeniously, by the energy released when you apply the brakes on your car.
Different amounts of electrical power are used at different speeds. At higher speeds, for example, the electric motor is just chipping in, while at lower ones it may take over entirely. A dashboard display will tell you how much power is coming from each source as you go faster and slower, which savvy drivers use to see which speeds get you the best fuel efficiency.
All this innovation comes at a price though. Hybrids typically cost anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000 more than comparably equipped conventional vehicles. But thanks to new federal tax credits, which took effect on January 1, 2006, recouping the extra costs will take less time. Buyers of hybrid vehicles are now eligible for tax credits ranging from $250 to $3,400 that are based on a vehicle’s fuel economy and weight. The new credits can potentially save you much more money than the old $2,000 tax deduction (credits directly reduce the amount of tax you owe, while a deduction reduces your taxable income).
Currently, because of demand, buying a hybrid may take a little more leg work than with a traditional vehicle. This is especially true with popular cars, such as the Toyota Prius.
• Get on a Waiting List Early: Once you hear of an upcoming hybrid that you’d like to buy, it’s a good idea to get on a waiting list at your local dealership. This will help you avoid the longer wait lists that may occur after the vehicle hits the market. You will also probably avoid paying higher than the MSRP, which may happen after demand increases. On the downside, you will probably have to put down a deposit, which may be non-refundable.
• Be Flexible with Options: It may be hard to get your hybrid in the exact color and option configuration you have your heart set on. If you’re flexible and willing to compromise, you will increase your odds of getting a hybrid much sooner.
• Shop Outside Your Market: If you live in an area with high hybrid demand or very few dealerships, you more than likely have to wait longer for delivery. But if you’re willing to travel to another market, you may find it easier to get your hands on your desired vehicle.
Over the next few years, the number of hybrid models available are expected to triple. Many of these vehicles will be hybrid trims of current models, and will include an array of choices including gas-electric versions of the Lexus GS450, Chevy Tahoe and Hyundai Accent. The good news is that the increase in offerings should be make it a lot easier to drive away in a hybrid.