Pros And Cons Of Hybrids, Subcompacts, And Electric Cars

Pros And Cons Of Hybrids, Subcompacts, And Electric Cars bb3 Aug 17, 2010

By Staff writer State Farm™ Employee

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Even after five years, Elenor Chipman is still "absolutely thrilled" with her hybrid vehicle. This is understandable, given that she averages 50 miles per gallon. That’s important to Chipman, who lives in a small northwest Missouri town and commutes 70 miles a day to and from her job as a comptroller for a midsize manufacturer in Kansas City. Concerns about the cost of oil pushed this State Farm customer toward the hybrid, and driving it makes her feel like she’s doing something good for the environment.

"I never understood why we burn all this gas," says Chipman. "The technology is out there. We don’t have to consume this much oil." But Chipman recently experienced the downside of hybrid ownership when she had to replace a burned-out headlight. Because of the vehicle’s high voltage system, a trained and certified hybrid technician had to replace the headlight. And she had to return to the dealership to have the work done, a 30-minute drive for Chipman. The cost: $450.

Scary fuel prices and increasing awareness of environmental issues have pumped interest into green vehicles: hybrids, subcompacts and even electrics. While electric cars have yet to hit the road in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Vehicle Guide gives hybrids and subcompacts good to great scores for fuel economy and low greenhouse gas emissions.

As alluring as these trendy rides are, there will always be "buts." The mileage is fantastic ... but parts are expensive. They reduce emissions and are better for the planet ... but it still takes a lot of resources to make them.

Whether you’re thinking hybrid or microcar, see the following charts for consideration when you’re weighing safety, economy, and quality.

Find out how the way you drive affects the environment.


Pro Con
Safety Overall, subs earn solid safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): 5-star ratings in some categories. They consistently get Good to Fair ratings from Consumer Reports. For more information, check out The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reported disconcerting results from collision tests with subs vs. mid-size vehicles: Subcompact drivers face a risk of significant head and leg injuries. "It’s basic physics," says Jack Nerad, executive editorial director for Kelley’s Blue Book. "The vehicle with the greater mass fares better."
Economy Cheapest off the showroom floor -- an attribute that’s made subcompacts the hot ride in the past 12 months. Not coincidentally, subcompacts hold their value better these days. Of course, subs produce the best fuel economy among vehicles powered strictly by gasoline. MPG ranges from upper 20s to upper 30s. Highway Loss Data Institute reports that smaller vehicles have bigger average insurance claims. Thus, while many factors are included to determine insurance rates, smaller cars may have higher rates.
Quality When it comes to overall satisfaction and maintenance and repair costs, survey organizations like Intellichoice and AutoPacific consistently report favorable findings for the subcompacts. One way manufacturers keep sticker prices low on subcompacts is by spending scant time on factors such as noise and ride quality. "Ride and quiet is not going to be the same as in a larger, higher-priced car," says Jack Nerad. "But they’re worlds ahead of what we saw in the 1980s."


Pro Con
Safety NHTSA and Consumer Reports give most hybrids good safety ratings. And as the number of hybrids on the road continues to grow, emergency responders around the country are getting better schooled on working with them at accident scenes. Not all rescue workers have received the special training for responding to serious accidents involving hybrids and the high-voltage nickel-hydride batteries in the vehicles. The NHTSA is also looking into concerns about the quieter hybrid’s ability to "sneak up" on pedestrians and other cars; they just might not hear you coming.
Economy Hybrids will help you stay away from the pump for longer periods of time. The lower fuel costs will help you recoup the higher sticker price in about five years. And hybrids often come with federal and state tax credits. Oh, those pricey batteries! While generally quite reliable, if your battery dies, you’re out $2,000–$3,000. The sticker price also can be a bit of a shock, as can maintenance and repair costs.
Quality Organizations such as JD Power and Associates consistently bestow strong marks on hybrid vehicles. Nerad goes so far as to say hybrids have a "sterling reputation" for not breaking down. For some, the wimp factor comes into play here. You buy a hybrid to be kind to the planet and your bottom line –  not to be first off the starting line.

Electric Cars

Pro Con
Safety Though obviously untested in significant use on the road, electrics are believed to be about as safe as hybrids. As with hybrids, electrics aren’t built to announce their arrival. Pedestrians and other motorists who are accustomed to listening for traffic might not hear you coming in your purring electric. And like the batteries in hybrids, the lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles present safety issues.
Economy You may still pull into your favorite gas station for beef jerky or a 64-ounce Big Slurpee, but you’ll never pay at the pump again! Expect electrics to hit showrooms with pricey stickers and higher-than-you’re-accustomed-to repair and maintenance costs. But also like hybrids – and your laptop, cell phone and digital camera – these costs should fall with greater use.
Quality Early indications are that the lithium-ion batteries in electrics will be every bit as enduring as the nickel-metal hydrides in hybrid vehicles. The top concern with electrics is range. Though 94% of Americans travel less than 40 miles per day, the current electric’s range of around 100 miles per charge gives many drivers pause.

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