How Much Extra Should You Pay for Fuel Efficiency? Here’s How We’re Calculating It

Not the best used cars -- just 'ok' by rjs1322 on Flickr!Over the past few weeks, my wife and I have begun seriously shopping for a replacement for my truck. There are two big reasons for this: first, my truck has a long shopping list of repairs that need to be done to it in the next six to twelve months, bills totaling about $5,000 according to two estimates; and second, we’re concerned about seating capacity for our whole family since we’re hoping for a third child in the next year or two (and my truck is already very cramped just with the four of us – yes, it’s possible right now, but very uncomfortable).

This isn’t a burning need. I don’t commute, so on the occasions when I do need a vehicle, I still use the truck for short trips to the library or the grocery store. Other than that, we use our car for everything.

In short, this situation is making it possible for us to research the exact car we want and wait patiently to find it at the right price – the most cost-effective way to car shop.

Our biggest factors for purchasing a vehicle are interior space so our whole family can sit comfortably (including a potential third child), high reliability numbers from the manufacturer, a strong safety rating, and fuel efficiency. We don’t care that much about the glossy touches – I don’t really need a GPS in the dash, thank you.

One of our big challenges has been determining how much each of these factors is worth for us. With the reliability, safety rating, and comfortable seating, it’s hard to put a specific number on these issues – they’re more of a basic requirement before we’d consider purchasing a vehicle.

Fuel efficiency, however, is another matter entirely. You can actually do some raw number crunching and see how much fuel efficiency is worth for you. So let’s dig in.

Let’s assume that we’re looking at two more or less identical vehicles in terms of safety, reliability, and comfortable seating – we’ll use the 2008 Toyota Highlander and Toyota Highlander Hybrid for this example. The reason for this is so that we can get some real-world numbers to work with instead of hypotheticals.

According to MPG-O-Matic, the normal 2008 Highlander gets 17 city and 23 highway, while the hybrid gets 27 city and 25 highway.

So let’s walk through some of the basic premises here.

First, how much do we drive in the city versus on the open road? We drive about a 50/50 split. Most of our day to day driving would be considered mostly city driving, but we occasionally go on three or four hour trips to visit family and those are mostly highway. You may be in a different situation, of course, with a higher portion of city driving. For us, though, that gives us an average of 20 miles per gallon for the normal version and 26 miles per gallon for the hybrid version.

Second, how many miles do we expect to put on the car? This is a question you should ask yourself before any car purchase. We intend to buy a late model used car with as few miles as possible on it and drive it until it starts breaking down. So, we would estimate 130,000 miles – an average of about 13,000 miles a year for ten years. Again, you may have a different assumption here – I’m just walking through my own assumptions for my family.

Third, where will gas prices go in the future? I expect an average of $5 per gallon of gas over the next ten years. Right now, it’s lower than that, but I expect gas prices to go up over the next decade quite a bit. Over a shorter term, I would estimate a lower price – maybe $4.50.

So how much will I be spending on gas in each model? For the normal Highlander, I’ll drive it 130,000 miles at 20 miles per gallon, paying $5 per gallon of gas. I just divide the miles I’ll drive it – 130,000 miles – by the miles per gallon (20) to get the number of gallons I’ll use over the life of the car – 6,500. At $5 a gallon, I’ll be spending $32,500 on gas for this model over its lifetime.

For the hybrid Highlander, I’ll do the same – 130,000 miles, but at 26 miles per gallon, and $5 per gallon per gas gives me a total cost of $25,000 for gas over the lifetime of the car.

Thus, the improvement of fuel efficiency in the hybrid is worth about $7,500 over the lifetime. I wouldn’t quite value it that high, since dollars today are worth more than they will be later on, but it’s a good thumbnail to work with.

But is that $7,500 enough? Edmunds estimates the value of a 2008 Highlander Hybrid at $31,687 to $37,363. Meanwhile, a normal 2008 Highlander goes in a range of $22,726 to $28,290.

The difference? Almost exactly $9,000. In this case, the extra fuel efficiency isn’t worth the higher price (unless you believe gas will completely skyrocket way past $5 per gallon soon).

You can use almost the exact same calculation to compare any two similar cars. Let’s say I wanted to compare that 2008 Toyota Highlander to a 2008 Honda Pilot, which Edmunds prices at $23,476 to $30,736. The difference in prices would be about $1,000 with the Pilot being more expensive, but MPG-O-Matic reports a 22/16 split – meaning it’s a mile per gallon worse than the Highlander. For our purposes, the Highlander would be a better buy than both the 2008 Honda Pilot and the 2008 Highlander Hybrid.

Remember, though, gas mileage is only one factor in your calculations. You should determine what factors are important to you before beginning your search and make sure you’re selecting a vehicle that meets those qualifications. At a minimum for everyone, I’d look for a minimum level of reliability and then focus on the best fuel efficiency you can get for the buck.

Here’s your game plan.

First, figure out what criteria are important to you. I encourage you to consider good reliability as a minimum requirement and also use fuel efficiency as another. Beyond that, make sure it fits your needs – and your family’s needs. If I were single, for instance, I’d probably just get a tiny, very reliable small car with strong fuel efficiency, as those are the only factors I would really care strongly about.

Second, filter through all cars based on those criteria. Identify as many models you can that meet your minimum needs. I would stick to brands that have a history of reliability (information you can easily find from auto magazines and Consumer Reports), but after that, it’s really a filter based on what you need. For us, we’re looking strongly at a van or SUV, simply because of the potential of three children.

Third, get prices and fuel efficiency numbers on those models. Sites like MPG-O-Matic and Edmunds are great sources for numeric data. You may also want to cruise a few local dealerships and get some idea of their asking prices (recognizing that they’re negotiable to an extent) and also get an idea of the value of your trade-in and of your down payment.

Once you have that, start crunching numbers and find the vehicle that’s the best value for you. We’re still in this process, but as you’ve seen above, the Highlander is definitely in the running (though we’re looking more at 2006 and 2007 models – late model used). Good luck!

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  1. K says:

    Excellent analysis. People spend so much on hybrids when it doesn’t make financial sense. If you care about the environment so much that you are willing to pay a premium, then that’s another issue.

    Now is a good time to get good deals on the 2008 models, especially of non-hybrid SUV’s and trucks, so you lucked out in that area. Even better if you can buy before the demand for 4WD picks up.

  2. mpgomatic says:

    Trent – Take those official gas mileage estimates with a grain of salt. Or an entire shaker.

    You can easily blow past the EPA numbers if your typical routes include a good bit of 40 MPH and under speed limits … once you learn how to drive the Highlander Hybrid for maximum efficiency by gliding in electric mode.

    We achieved 30.3 combined in our week with the Highlander Hybrid and would have gone higher if more of our driving was in-town and at lower speeds.

    Thanks for the link!

  3. Karen M says:

    We have a 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid, rated 33 mpg highway, 35 mpg city. We also live in Southern California, with terrible traffic problems. The hybrid was the right choice for us because we end up in stop and go traffic almost every day. When traffic slows to a crawl, the engine shuts off, allowing the motor to do all the work. Essentially what is happening is that we are not paying for gas to sit idle in a traffic jam. The engine doesn’t come back on until 40 mph (or if you floor the accelerator).

    I know this isn’t the right solution for everyone. Most areas do not experience the traffic that we do. However, for us, this has meant going from filling up twice a week to once a week, saving us about $200/month. At this rate, we will break even with a hybrid in less than three years.

    Also, gas mileage varies greatly from hybrid to hybrid. Even here, our Escape gets about 8 mpg better than the Highlander. And we actually get a bit better gas mileage than others do, as we are more conservative drivers that many people.

  4. Joe says:

    Aren’t there some tax credits for purchasing hybrids that apply in this scenario?

  5. Dennis Robert says:

    From solely a financial point of view you are saving money, and it only makes sense that this blog would give us the money view.

    For me personally, I feel a responsibility to lower my personal dependence on foreign oil and use our natural resources as efficiently as possible. This places a much higher value on fuel efficiency and alternative energy than just the possible dollar amount saved.

  6. Or at the risk of sounding too simple: sell your car and get a bicycle!

    You said you don’t drive much. Why not find a way to have one vehicle and save all those extra expenses from the second car?

  7. smurfett says:

    I think when it also it depends on what you consider the hidden costs are. Does it cost more to maintain one car vs the other? What about resale value? Some cars hold their values better than others. What do you think is the cost of polluting the air? You don’t see that costs now, but pollution adds to allergies and asthma rates, which potentially means more medical costs for you down the line. Those things also affect children way more than adults.

  8. girl150 says:

    Check out http://fueleconomy.gov/. It can help you calculate these different variables, and you can compare many old as well as new models of vehicles to each other.

  9. krisj144 says:

    I $5 per gallon of gas over the next 10 years is a _drastic_ underestimation. It is already well over that in Europe now.

  10. krisj144 says:

    I need to add that I think anyone considering the environmental and economical implications of a car purchase should really take a long look at diesel. There isn’t much available in the US at the moment, but it really is the fuel of the future (e.g. algae biodiesel).

  11. Jason says:

    Trent,

    The future misses and I are also looking to upgrade shortly (95 Jeep Grand Cherokee). We have a son and were pretty much on your line of thinking. The Highlander was our #1 for a while and we thought about used.

    Some points from our investigating – hopefully save you some time:
    1 – The Highlander Hybrid (as you’ve calculated) isn’t worth it. MSN Auto ran a top 5 worst hybrid values and yep, there’s the Highlander
    2 – The 2008 Highlander is a completely new build. Bigger everywhere, lots more storage. Be sure you’re wholly comfortable with the older model before jumping in whole hog.
    3 – The Highlander is your standard crossover – ie. on a car frame. We have since shifted our focus to the 4runner. Comparable gas mileage, better third row seat (both space and fold down – you did notice the Highlander 3rd row only folds down as one piece…) and on a truck frame. Sure the ride’s rougher, but nothing quality tires and shocks can’t compensate for (unless you get the sport – but that’s a different trade off.
    4 – Towing – I don’t plan on towing much, but it’s in the future – back to truck frame vs. car
    5 – Cost/Benefit – A high quality 04-05 4Runner goes for $12-14k. About the same as a highlander with all the above benefits – but minus 1mpg
    6 – Offroad – Don’t even think about it with the Highlander. This might be a significant issue with Iowa winters.
    7 – Look. I know I know, but that’s why it’s all the way down here. The Highlander looks soft. The 4Runner, not so much. This goes back to the frame and purpose.

    So yeah – we’re in the market for an 04-05 4runner paying $6k cash plus credit union financing, though we might swing for a new one now that 09′s are on the lot and Toyota’s running 0% APR for 60 months (and many dealers are stacking cash back on that – base 4Runners are around $22-23k)

  12. Hey Trent, Trent here.

    You may have addressed this elsewhere, and I missed it, but it seems like you are missing an even more basic question: do you need that second vehicle?

    What are the needs? You say “This isn’t a burning need. I don’t commute, so on the occasions when I do need a vehicle, I still use the truck for short trips to the library or the grocery store. Other than that, we use our car for everything.”

    If that’s the extent of what you use it for, it strikes me that there would be other options—less convenient, but more economic—that could be made.

    If all you’re using the vehicle for is trips to the library or the grocery store, you should take and crunch how much per month that is costing you vs. how much it would cost to take a taxi or bus. Or simply the cost of waiting until the car is home before heading out to the grocery store.

    Or perhaps there’s public transit. Or a bike. When I lived in the city, I got by fabulously with a bus pass and a bike. The bike got me anywhere I needed to go within 15 km, and the bus pass got me everywhere else. Now that the city transit in Vancouver has bus racks, life’d be even easier. Too bad I don’t live there anymore.

    Other options: does where you live have a car co-op? Or maybe if you need the truck for the occasional haul job, you could rent. Again, renting a vehicle one day a month is probably going to be less than cost of ownership. Yes, ownership makes sense when the cost of renting is about the same or greater than not owning. But a vehicle is not a sound investment. Unlike a house, which appreciates in value (usually), vehicles lose..what…15% of their value as soon as you drive off the lot and keep dropping from there.

    We own our vehicle outright, the cost of ownership per month is around $300. That’s a bus pass and quite a few taxi rides that we”d save not owning a second vehicle. Two months and you have yourself a really great bike.

  13. Craig says:

    I believe a 2008 Highlander Hybrid would be eligible for a $650 tax credit. Other vehicles are worth more. See this link for the amounts: http://taxes.about.com/od/deductionscredits/a/hybridtaxcredit_3.htm

    This needs to be added to the equation as well!

  14. Jason says:

    Oh yeah, buying an 08 now that 09s are on the lot. I’ve also heard rave reviews on the Escape, it’s on our to test drive list.

  15. Debbie M says:

    I’ve also decided to stay with a regular car rather than a hybrid for my next car, mostly because even my city driving is mostly on the highway (where differences aren’t as big) and also because I think hybrids are more complex and thus more likely to need costly repairs.

    I agree with other commenters that there are additional costs to using more gas beyond just the current financial ones.

    Please note that many regular cars (which probably are cheaper, use less gas, and are easier to park than vans and SUVs) can seat five and have a spacious trunk.

  16. Peter says:

    Very good analysis, and certainly some food for thought. I will, however, raise one thought on your statement of “We don’t care that much about the glossy touches – I don’t really need a GPS in the dash, thank you.”

    When I purchased my current car (a Toyota Prius, as it turns out), I debated on the in-car GPS unit. I ended up getting it, and while it may be a luxury to some, here in the San Francisco bay area I’ve found it to be a necessity. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve made use of it. Of course, it’s great for finding a given address, but it’s even better for locating a business (ie. “Where’s the nearest Target, and what’s their phone number?” etc.) From here on, I can’t imagine ever getting a car without GPS (and while a stand alone system would be fine, it’s a temptation for breakins, more work to setup, etc.)

    So, depending on what part of the country you’re in, think twice about not having GPS.

  17. Oh, yeah, I don’t immediately recall your justification of getting a truck versus a car, or minivan, or something that was inherently more fuel efficient. Do you do a lot of hauling? I’ve got a nissan versa, a compact hatchback that’s been able to carry almost anything I’ve needed so far, and it gets 25/35. If I need to haul anything bigger, which is seldom, I can bug one of my friends with a truck, or rent one from Uhaul. I think that ends up being much cheaper in the long run, especially if most of the time I’m the only person in the car and I’m hardly ever carrying much.

    In fact, I’m looking at the potential cost savings of adding a vespa scooter for really short, light trips.

  18. Derek says:

    I think buying a car solely for fuel efficiency is a mistake. If the car has 300 miles per gallon but you expect to haul your 30 foot boat… you have some problems.

  19. Benjamin says:

    Nice breakdown. My wife and I are in the exact situation. We have two kids, and a small volvo sedan that is getting up there in miles.

    We are looking at different vehicles with similar requirements as you mentioned. Interestingly enough we have even been looking at some Toyota HIghlanders.

    However, if you buy an “average” new vehicle today, you will almost certainly pay more in depreciation than you will on gas or diesel over the next 5 years?

    According to Kiplinger’s personal finance, the average new car loses 60% of its value over the first 4 years of ownership. If you pay the average price of a new vehicle sold in the U.S. of $28,400, as reported by the National Automobile Dealers Association, you are losing $17,000 over this 4 year period.

    The depreciation on the average new car is costing the consumer $4260 per year or $82 per week! If you drive your vehicle 15,000 miles a year and average 18 miles per gallon, your only going to pay $80 a week in gasoline with gas priced at $5.00 a gallon!

    These figures are based on averages and your individual expense may be less or more, but the bottom line is this: If you are looking at buying a new vehicle, and you are willing to pay the associated costs, go ahead! Just remember that the high price you pay in fuel, will likely have nothing on the fortune you will lose in depreciation.

  20. Mike Sty says:

    Holy crap! I Just did this for an Engineering Economy project.

    Don’t forget to evaluate the time-value of money. In other words, consider that money you may save on the down payment will accrue interest.

  21. Emily says:

    Long time reader, first time poster.

    What about buying a hybrid used? I’ve never really understood buying a new car anyway (they depreciate in value so fast, so you might as well catch them just after they’ve done that).

    I just bought a 2003 Toyota Prius for $3k more than the kelly blue book price of a Corolla. I get 10-15 more mpg, and I trust it’ll last at least another 50k miles (the breakeven point, unless my math is off). It’s clearly the most economical decision, plus it’s more environmentally sound, which I think is worth a lot.

    Great work, Trent. Your blog is in my top three favorites.

  22. Hi Trent,

    I’d also like to see you consider resale value in these calculations. Here in California, many dealers have stopped accepting SUV’s as trade-ins. I guess if you plan to drive it into the ground, it doesn’t matter as much, but that is still a factor.

    Also, considering the hybrid is only $1500 more with a $5/gal cost of fuel, I’d probably get the hybrid. I’d consider it a bet on fuel prices being above $5 a gallon in the next few years. Also, I’d rather spend extra money on a car that will hold its value better, than spend extra money on something that has no value (gas).

    -Erica

  23. Lissa says:

    Another thing to factor is cost of maintenance. We owned a Prius for a number of years. One of the minions from the dealer was driving it to return it to us after some regular service and wrecked the car. Although the car was totaled we did see the estimates for repair. The battery replacement was $1500. When evaluating the pros and cons, keep in mind that repair of the high-tech cars are very, very expensive.

  24. I always shake my head when people talk about running out to buy a hybrid in order to save money on gas. Usually it ends up costing you more overall to go and buy one of those. Choosing a fuel-efficient used car can be a much better choice. Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration any environmental concerns, but the people I’ve seen consider this are generally thinking in pure financial terms.

  25. Kristine says:

    Kristen,

    You are right, it does not take into account the costs of celan-ups, drilling in our national parks, and inevitably sending our children to war to keep to keep our oil-based economy going.

    One way or another, it will cost you. Frankly, 2000 more the less “costly” option. It’s not just about dollars and cents, it’s about dollars and SENSE.

    For 2000 more, you can do your part to give your children a better world, and keep them more safe. Pricelsss.

    Redad “The Long Emergency” by Kunstler, a non-fiction exploration of our society’s economic direction as oil becomes scarce.

  26. Kevin says:

    Whoever asked about tax credits – there usually are credit for hybrids as well as some diesel cars – the new 2009 VW Jetta is one I have seen. But they only apply to new cars. So Trent’s family, buying a used car, would not be eligible for the credit.

  27. Trent says:

    The 2008 Highlander was just a car I chose for an example.

    As for a one car solution, my wife and I are discussing it. The biggest problem is actually Iowa winters, which makes some child care issues very difficult. If my kids are at daycare and my wife is at work on an Iowa winter day and one falls sick, I have no options to get that child, period.

    What we are hoping for is that my wife will get a job in our town, in which case we’d almost immediately try a one-car household.

  28. PJ says:

    Factors you didn’t take into account:

    1) Differing maintenance costs – battery packs are very expensive to replace if they go bad, though their reliability seems to be somewhat environmentally related: extreme climates kill batteries.

    2) “Voting with your money” – This matters less since you’re not buying new, but I think it’s important to use the leverage of one’s pocketbook to try and point producers in the right direction. Buying a hybrid or other fuel efficient car says to them “More of this please”.

    3) Resale value – You say you’ll drive it into the ground, so maybe this doesn’t matter, but it might if you end up needing to sell it or trade it in at a later date.

    4) Insurance – Don’t overlook the difference in insurance premiums for car-based vs truck-based vehicles and especially for some hybrids and small cars that get classed as “sports cars” for some odd reason. This can be many, many thousands of dollars of your “ownership lifetime” of the vehicle.

  29. SlaveToMyLenders says:

    Hi Trent,

    I see that you feel you need to have a car because of child-care issues, but as the Other Trent mentioned, are there taxis available? If you only need a car ‘just in case’, and can manage all the other types of trips (groceries and library) by waiting til your wife’s car is available, then if there’s a taxi option this might save a considerable amount of money.

    That said, I did without a car for years when my husband worked away Mon-Fri and we only had one car. It’s sooo nice now that he’s working locally (bicycles to work) and since I work from home, the car just sits in the driveway. It is nice to have a car there if we need it. But if it started costing a lot more to keep, we would consider going car-free and renting a car as needed or just taking taxis. I realize that you might not be able to get taxis where you live, and that even a little shop to buy milk might not be within walking distance, though, which makes it tough to be without a car for 9-10 hours a day.

  30. Laura says:

    Love your calculations. Went through a similar mental exercise in January after my 14yo Subaru wagon got the smackdown from an inattentive driver.

    We chose the 2006 Pilot (wider backseat and 3rd row seating for the extra child seat), and had a fantastic experience purchasing a former rental vehicle through Enterprise rental return. I have always hated buying cars, not that I do it often, but knowing the price (we got a low-mileage vehicle in excellent shape with a clean vin report at $1000 under Bluebook). I’ll buy the next car the same way I think (hopefully in 14 years).
    thanks, Laura

  31. Karen says:

    Hi Trent

    I’m guessing that your situation regarding two vehicles is more complicated than you stated above.

    I can’t see that one child falling sick while your wife is at work justifies the expense of a second vehicle. I don’t know your situation exactly but I’m guessing that public transport is not accessible. Could you use taxis? Does this situation happen a lot? Thousands of dollars for piece of mind seems excessive.

    Best Wishes
    Karen

  32. J says:

    One of my carpool buddies has three kids. They have a minivan and a small 4-door sedan. He uses the sedan for carpool duty and when he has to take one or two kids somewhere, and the minivan when he needs to move all three.

    I’ve actually found that it’s a rarity when our whole family goes anywhere together now, so we are doing OK with a compact wagon and a minivan, ourselves. I wouldn’t hinge your new car purchase on having to fit all three children if you already have a vehicle that can do that.

    Also, from personal experience having owned both, if you are looking for a family hauler, the minivan outshines the SUV in pretty much every category — fuel mileage, comfort, purchase price, value, etc. We bought the AWD Sienna since we occasionally have to deal with snowy roads, and it’s even rated to tow 3500 lbs!

  33. Jeff says:

    Don’t forget

    a) property tax increase for more expensive car (not every state or locality has this)
    b) opportunity cost of the use of the extra money

    To judge the opportunity cost by potential economic reward, consider what the money could have earned with a conservative investment.

    To judge the opportunity cost by energy cost savings, a comparison is needed with other energy-related investments. For example, it is silly to spend so much extra for a hybrid if you still have a house full of incandescent lights or if you’re heating your attic in the winter due to inadequate insulation.

    Our common “sense” of energy and money needs to be developed far past the level of a simple gas-price/gas-mileage/miles-driven/sales-price equation.

  34. docs money says:

    Wow well done for taking the time to work it out. Whenever making a big money decision it is always worth looking into the long term costs, and if you can make money – make it or save.

  35. Jen says:

    thank you! i have been trying to explain this to people for months! i’ll be sending them the post :)

  36. Mitch says:

    @Karen M

    The Escape Hybrid, according to Ford, is rated at 29/27, not 35/33. If your mileage is that much better due to your driving habits, you would see the same increase in any vehicle, not just the one you happen to be driving currently.

  37. Karen M says:

    Actually, Mitch, no. But I was wrong, also. According to the EPA (via New York Times auto review) the mileage is 34/30 city/hwy. This is also the estimate on the Ford website. Possibly your numbers are from an earlier model where the battery wasn’t as strong. And, actually, I have changed my driving habits because of this vehicle. I consciously accelerate slower so the engine won’t kick on until necessary. The Escape also has a feature that shows the driver what their mpg is at any given moment. It has become a personal challenge to get the best mpg possible.

    So although my mileage is slightly better than what the EPA estimates, it is better than what you think the mileage is.

  38. Mitch says:

    Those figures are for the front-drive model. Trent has stated that he wants an all-wheel-drive vehicle, and 29/27 is correct for AWD.

  39. Mitch says:

    Also, the Highlander Hybrid is unavailable in front drive, so you can’t really compare the two.

    My point about driving habits is that if you were to use the same tactics in any vehicle, hybrid or otherwise, you would see an improvement in gas mileage. This is true of even the largest SUVs–I can easily get 20 mpg+ out of my V8 Chevy Tahoe that is rated at 18 if I consciously change my driving habits.

  40. just an opinion says:

    By the way, only tangentially relevant: Why don’t we require ALL NEW CARS TO HAVE A GAUGE THAT SHOWS HOW MUCH MILEAGE YOU ARE CURRENTLY GETTING based on your driving (as hybrids do)??? This immediate feedback system tends to in and of itself make people drive in a more fuel efficient manner, as they are getting real time information about the cost of their driving habits.

  41. Josh says:

    I’d be interested to see the comparison with an all electric car, as these are becoming more widely available. The one I’ve seen that seems the most practical is from Phoenix Motorcars. They have two options a truck and an suv. Both are priced around $45,000. I’d like to know how they stack up as you’d have to buy either one new.

  42. Sharon says:

    The assumption that you will drive the car into the ground after getting your 130,000 miles out of it is lovely, but if you end up with your expensive hybrid totaled early on, all that up front expense is now down the drain.

    Also, repairing a hybrid is a whole new ballgame, and readers who save money by doing their own work on a regular car will face potentially fatal risks with the hybrids. If you do choose to work on it at home, expensive protective equipment will also be needed to be purchased and it is ESSENTIAL to get the proper training in how to do it safely. http://www.asashop.org/autoinc/june2006/collision.htm

    There is also significant risk to first responders on the scene of a severe collision. If those first responders have had the proper training and have the proper safety equipment, all is well. If, on the other hand, a well-meaning Good Samaritan on the scene tries to help, that could turn fatal to the Good Samaritan and/or the folks s/he is trying to help. http://editorial.autos.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=435450

  43. Mike says:

    There is a small but possibly significant error in the assumption that the average of 17 MPG and 23 MPG is 20 MPG. Although in the example the miles driven at each MPG are equal, the problem is that the common denominator for the two figures is gallons, not miles.

    If you knew ahead of time that you would burn an equal number of gallons at 17 and 23 MPG, then you could indeed average the two figures, but this does not hold true with an equal number of miles. You can average the two figures for equal mileage IF they are expressed in Gallons Per Mile (average the fractions 1/17 and 1/23). Or, just calculate the number of gallons used separately for each MPG. In the example, calculating it this way would show almost $750 additional gasoline expense over the 10-year period.

    (Figures rounded)
    6500 miles at 17 MPG uses 382.35 gallons
    6500 miles at 23 MPG uses 282.60 gallons
    For a total of 664.95 gallons.

    13000 miles at 20 MPG uses 650 gallons.
    The difference of 14.95 gallons per year is 149.5 gallons over 10 years, or close to $750 at $5 per gallon.

    The error is much smaller for the hybrid calculations. ($37 gasoline expense beyond that which was calculated). So the real difference between the gasoline costs of the two vehicles increases by just a touch over $711 to about $8211.

  44. Grant says:

    Why would you even consider an SUV? If you want a safe, reliable vehicle that gets good gas mileage and seats 5, get a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry (with side airbags). Compared to an SUV, these are safer, get as good or better gas mileage, and are as cheap or cheaper to purchase. I’m guessing they’ll also hold their value more, especially if gasoline stays in the $3+/gallon range.

    SUVs are more dangerous than cars for several reasons. 1) They are built on truck frames and are considered trucks, and are not subject to the same safety standards that passenger vehicles are. 2) Stopping and maneuvering a 6,000 pound truck is not nearly as good as for a car weighing half as much (avoiding collisions in the first place is a big part of safety). 3) The higher center of gravity of SUVs leads to more rollovers (at least twice as many), a situation which causes many more injuries/fatalities. 4) People take more risks when they think they are in a “safer” vehicle, like an SUV. This is called risk homeostasis. More risky maneuvers and/or speeding equals more collisions.

    When I see SUVs speeding along an icy highway in the winter, I think to myself “the laws of physics still apply.” Just because you have 4-wheel drive or weigh more than most cars doesn’t mean you can stop the vehicle any faster or will be safer driving into a jersey wall when you lose control.

  45. Mitch says:

    @Grant

    The Highlander is built on a car platform, not a truck platform. It weighs 3900 lbs. (Camry weighs 3300). Highlander pulls .76 Gs around skidpad (handling test, equal to Camry). Goes through slalom at 58 mph (handling test, Camry 61 mph). 60-0 brake test in 127 feet (Camry 134 feet). It also seats 7 and carries 95 cubic feet of cargo (Camry seats 5 and carries 15 cubic feet). The Camry would use about $500 less in gas per year based on the estimates Trent provided (assuming V6 Camry, which would be a good idea with the weight of 5 people and cargo). Also, the safety ratings are very similar, and the standard antiskid system eliminates a huge percentage of rollovers.

    If it handles as well, brakes better, carries more people and stuff, and still manages decent gas mileage, the Highlander beats the Camry hands down in my book.

  46. Dan says:

    Excellent cost breakdown and comparison! I know the basis of The Simple Dollar is to find ways to lower costs (and I value that principle very highly); however, don’t forget about the environmental impact comparison. While it may cost more for the hybrid, less harmful emissions are definitely worth considering. Ultimately, Earth is the only planet we have and we haven’t been doing a good job taking care of it…

    On another note, http://www.fueleconomy.gov is a good source for fuel economy ratings too.

  47. Charles Cohn says:

    We had been driving a Chevy Express full-size van which we use as a camper. One night we were driving along the Interstate when two cars on the other side collided. One of them caromed across the median and hit our van broadside.

    My wife ended up with some broken ribs, when all I had was a few bruises. I’m sure that if we had been driving a more politically-correct vehicle, we could have been seriously injured or killed. So I went right ahead and bought another Chevy Express.

    No amount of fuel savings is worth getting severely injured or killed.

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