How to Buy a Hybrid

A hybrid car is a vehicle that usually uses two powertrains to make up the engine: a gasoline motor and an electric (non-gasoline) motor. This two-part engine helps to reduce fuel consumption, making it more environment friendly.

The small gasoline powered motor is used to supplement the electric motor, and vice versa. When the electric motor is running low on electricity, the car automatically switches to the gasoline motor, which runs the car, and, in some cases, helps recharge the electric motor at the same time.

Hybrid cars are becoming more and more popular in the American market for many reasons. For some, the idea of becoming more environmentally responsible is important. Others might consider the more local, practical benefits: a hybrid car is a smaller, quieter car that can get fantastic gas mileage, potentially saving the buyer a lot of money down the road. Either way, consumer appeal for hybrid cars is growing, and the market is responding accordingly.

There are many things to consider when deciding to purchase a car, and there are no exceptions when you’re considering a hybrid car, either. You must determine things like what make and model is best for you, what size car you need, how it rates among other cars in its class, the price, safety ratings, and so on.

Part 1 of 3: Understand how a hybrid car works

When hybrid cars first hit the market, there were only two options: Honda or Toyota. Today, however, there are over 50 different hybrid options on the market. Deciding on which one is best for you first requires understanding how they work.

Step 1: Decide which type of hybrid is best for you. Not all hybrid cars are created equal and before you decide to buy one, you should understand the basic differences between the options available to you. See the table below.

Types of Hybrids
Hybrid System Source of Power Example
Series hybrid Gas engine powers a generator that keeps batteries charged; only electric motor accelerates car Chevrolet Volt
Parallel hybrid Wheels are driven by either the electric motor or by the gas engine, depending on driving conditions Toyota Prius
Full hybrid Uses electric motor capable of accelerating the car from a stop and up to speed; gas engine provides additional power when needed Ford C-Max
Mild hybrid Electric motor supplements gas engine to accelerate car Honda CR-Z

Step 2: Decide which size of hybrid. You have the option of purchasing a compact car, a full-sized sedan or an SUV. It’s important to decide which size of hybrid you’re looking for before you begin shopping as the price will fluctuate depending on which model you’d like.

Step 3: Determine your price range. Before making any major purchase, it’s important to know what your price range will be. Hybrid cars tend to me a little bit more expensive than their gas-engine counterparts, so be ready to spend more on a hybrid. Having a specific range that you’re willing to spend will help you to stay within your budget when it’s time to actually purchase the vehicle.

Part 2 of 3: Compare hybrid cars on the market

After getting a general idea of how much you’re willing to spend and what size and type of hybrid you’d like to purchase, you need to compare what options are available to you on the market.

Step 1: Decide which features are most important to you. All hybrids will be fuel efficient, however, different makes and models provide different types of features. Below is a list of traits you should take into consideration.

  • Size. Some hybrids have large batteries which take up more space in the vehicle
  • Gas mileage: Compare city driving to freeway driving
  • Power: Decide whether you want a car that accelerates quickly or not

Step 2: Make a list of makes and models that appeal to you. You can use this tool to compare different makes and models. Below is a screenshot from the website of which options you’ll be able to search and compare.

hybrid car listing
Image: Fuel Economy

Part 3 of 3: Purchase a hybrid car

Each person is as different as his or her car, and that goes for the buying process as well. Some people value and prioritize different pieces of information to different degrees, and what’s best for one person, might not necessarily be what’s best for another person. For instance, some people might consider price as the most important factor, while others might consider safety features most important.

With this in mind, each piece of information below is interchangeable, and doesn’t necessarily have to be considered in the order in which it’s presented.

Step 1: Consider your location. Before considering a hybrid vehicle, you might want to consider where you live first.

Consider the following points — do you live in the city that is relatively flat, where you might do minimal, slow driving, often avoiding the freeway? Or do you live in a more rural, mountainous region, where places are more spread out, hilly, and where you have to drive on the freeway more often?

Since hybrid cars vary in many different ways, you might want one that is more economically conducive to city driving rather than mountain driving, or vice versa. These engine differences affect the vehicle’s performance, and the distance they can drive on their batteries, affecting the fuel economy, and, therefore, any savings in gasoline that might benefit you.

Best Hybrid System for Different Driving Styles
Driving Style Hybrid System Features
City driving Series hybrid Has larger battery and more powerful motor to drive the car in full-electric mode; most fuel efficient
Mixed driving Parallel hybrid Electric motor only supplements gas engine power; not as efficient as full hybrid
Highway driving Mild hybrid Relies primarily on gas engine for power; least efficient but provides longest driving range

Step 2: Decide the size of hybrid vehicle to buy. Once you know what engine type will benefit you the most, depending on where you live, decide what size vehicle is best for you.

Hybrid vehicles range in size from small two-seater compact cars, to large eight-seater SUV, and there are many other sedans and coupes in between. Consider your seating needs, storage space and parking space while deciding on a size of hybrid vehicle to buy.

Step 3: Consider your budget. After you’ve narrowed down the style and class of vehicle you want, start narrowing down your search further by considering price and operating costs. Just as there are a huge spectrum of styles, there are a huge spectrum of prices, ranging from low $20,000, all the way up to, and surpassing $100,000.

Also, when considering the price tag, you might want to consider the federal and state tax credits that can help lower or offset the overall cost. Consider the length of the warranties as a part of the price, usually, the longer the warranty, the more reliable the vehicle.

In any situation, determine how the vehicle will fit into your annual budget by knowing how much of a down payment you will need to make, followed by monthly payments, and potential maintenance costs.

Step 4: Consider the operating costs. Since hybrids usually come at a higher price tag than most gasoline powered vehicles, you might want to calculate how long it will take you to match the increased purchase cost from the considerably cheaper operating costs.

hybrid car portal
Image: Edmunds

Step 5: Perform an online search. Visit websites like Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book, and Consumer Reports to read reviews about the hybrid cars you’re interested in. Consider the reliability ratings from different makes and models of different years, and match those with the price to help you make a decision.

Also, determine the certain safety features you want, like anti-lock brakes, airbags and stability control (which usually come standard on all new hybrids). High-tech features like rearview cameras, collision/intrusion alert, smartphone interface, navigation systems, Bluetooth capability, keyless entry, heated seats, and automatic climate control are now options for mainstream car manufacturers and luxury car manufacturers alike.

Step 6: Test drive the car. Once you zero in on a few different vehicles that meet your needs, start shopping around at local dealerships. Call to make appointments for test driving the different options you’ve chosen so that you judge their comfort levels and drivability.

Once you find a hybrid car you know you like, start talking financing options with dealers to try and find the best price.

Deciding to buy a hybrid car is very similar to making a decision on how to purchase any other vehicle: size, style, color, packages and upgrades for comfort and/or style are all decisions you must in order to start narrowing down your options. The only major difference when considering a hybrid car is the quality of the gas economy you can benefit from, which translates to a more environmentally friendly vehicle.

If you are planning to buy a used hybrid car, get a certified mechanic, such as one from YourMechanic, to perform a pre-purchase inspection for you.


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