Are your driving habits suited for a hybrid vehicle?

Pain at the pump is starting to feel like a distant memory, with low gas prices persisting for nearly three years.

According to AAA, the national average price for a gallon of gasoline in the United States dipped below $3 in the autumn of 2014 and has stayed there ever since. The average hasn't exceeded $2.50 a gallon since the autumn of 2015, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration does not expect a spike in prices in the foreseeable future.

Given this trend of more affordable gasoline, hybrid vehicles may not seem like a worthwhile purchase. The lower gas prices mean the better fuel efficiency won't save you as much money. Still, a gas-electric hybrid can be a good fit for certain driving habits.

Hybrid vehicles save fuel in a number of different ways. The U.S. Department of Energy says the electric battery is able to run the vehicle at slow speeds, when gas engines are most inefficient; it can also provide assistance during acceleration, hill climbing, and other parts of the drive to help save fuel. During coasting and braking, hybrids use a process called regenerative braking to recharge the battery. Most hybrids will have a stop-start feature to shut off the engine during a complete stop, then restart automatically when you press the accelerator.

These features mean hybrids will perform very well if your commute involves a lot of stopping or low speed travel. Doug DeMuro, writing for the automotive site Autotrader, says hybrids accelerate well during slow speeds and are a good fit for city driving, which naturally features a lot of stop-and-go travel.

Consider the type of travel you usually do, and see if the hybrid is well-suited for it. Antony Ingram, writing for Green Car Reports, says diesel is often a preferred choice for frequent highway driving since it works well under constant throttle loads. However, hybrids typically have aerodynamic bodies designed to cut down on wind resistance during highway driving, and newer models often have a fuel economy that competes well with more efficient internal combustion engines.

Hybrid buyers may be interested not only in filling up the gas tank less frequently, but also being more environmentally conscious. These vehicles are quiet and generate low levels of emissions, helping cut down on greenhouse gases as well as noise pollution in your neighborhood.

Hybrid vehicles will save you money at the gas pump, but the repayment period will vary considerably based on your driving habits. Lucy Lazarony, writing for the financial site Bankrate, says you may only save a few hundred dollars per year compared to the fuel costs for a non-hybrid vehicle. The financial management company Quicken says you'll see greater savings if you do a lot of city driving or if you put a lot of miles on your vehicle each year.

You'll also pay more money up front for this type of vehicle. A hybrid often costs thousands of dollars more than a comparable vehicle due to the added cost of the electric powertrain equipment. The cost to replace a hybrid battery can also be prohibitively high, although this expense has dropped in recent years due to the increased availability of solutions such as reconditioned batteries.

Even with lower gas prices, hybrids retain a larger portion of their residual value than comparable non-hybrid vehicles. For example, the auto value resource Kelley Blue Book says a 2012 Toyota Prius with 75,000 miles has a trade-in value $3,000 to $3,500 higher than a comparable 2012 Ford Focus.

Tax incentives for hybrid vehicles used to provide another financial benefit for purchasing a hybrid vehicle, but these incentives were phased out at the end of 2010. If you are interested in an environmentally friendly vehicle that still has tax benefits available, you may consider options such as plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, or fuel cell vehicles.


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