How to Select a Hybrid Car

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Buying a car is a big decision, especially if you are buying a hybrid. Hybrid cars usually provide a more fuel-efficient vehicle and have greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions. A hybrid vehicle combines both a gasoline-powered engine and an electric motor. While a more traditional vehicle gets its power from a gasoline engine, a hybrid also uses the electric motor to generate power. And though a combination of gasoline and electricity, a hybrid vehicle is able to drive more efficiently, using one or the other depending on the driving conditions.

Finding the right hybrid for your needs is important. Do you drive long or short distances? Do you expect to have to haul any cargo on a regular basis? These are questions you must ask yourself when selecting a hybrid model. Whether you plan on buying a new or used one, you should ask questions and keep certain factors in mind, such as vehicle type, price, and safety ratings to make sure the vehicle you buy is right for you.

Part 1 of 2: Determine the hybrid you want

Making the decision to purchase a hybrid vehicle is an important choice. With a large amount of options to choose from, you might find it hard to decide which hybrid make and model is right for you. So when determining the hybrid you want, weigh a few options before buying, including hybrid type, the powertrain features you want, the hybrid vehicle's safety and reliability, and the vehicle's price.

Step 1: Decide on the type of hybrid. When buying a hybrid, you have many different types to choose from.

The different types of hybrids available include the following:

  • A parallel hybrid uses both a gasoline-powered engine and an electric motor for motive power. Depending on driving conditions, a parallel hybrid uses one or the other.

  • A series hybrids can travel a significant distance using the electric motor; and it only uses the gasoline-powered engine to recharge the electric battery while on the go.

  • A full hybrid usually runs initially on the electricity it has stored, switching over to the gasoline-powered engine to extend its range.

  • A mild hybrid, on the other hand, primarily uses the gasoline-powered engine as the driving force, which is then augmented by the electric motor, which helps to improve fuel economy.

  • A plug-in hybrid primarily uses stored electricity to provide the vehicle's motive power, switching to gasoline as the power runs out. The drivers of these type of hybrids can then plug them in upon returning home each night to allow the plug-in to recharge.

Step 2: Decide on the type of powertrain. The powertrain options available for a hybrid, depend in large part on the vehicle size.

Engine size depends primarily on whether you want a smaller model, which doesn't require as much power, or a larger vehicle, which needs the power of a larger engine to accomplish what it was designed for. Just like standard gasoline-powered vehicles, hybrid vehicles come in a variety of engine sizes, including a four-cylinder, V6, and V8.

Hybrids also run the gamut of different drive wheel types, including front-, rear-, or all-wheel drives. All-wheel drives, such as those made by Toyota and Lexus, use an extra electric motor to drive the rear axle on some of their front-wheel drive designs.

The different battery types used in hybrid cars include the more conventional nickel-metal hydride and the newer Lithium-ion batteries. Federal law requires that batteries on hybrids come with at least an eight-year, 80,000-mile warranty, though some require a 10-year, 150,000-mile warranty.

Step 2: Safety and reliability ratings. In addition to vehicle type and the powertrain it uses, you also need to consider the safety and reliability ratings of the hybrid vehicle.

You have two basic sources when looking for the safety rating of a vehicle, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

For reliability ratings, check out various hybrid car reviews from such sites as Consumer Reports and Autobytel.com. These sites can give you an idea on how reliable a hybrid is.

Step 4: Hybrid price. The final consideration you need to keep in mind when selecting a hybrid car is the price.

The budget you come up with determines what you can afford on a monthly basis when buying a hybrid car.

In addition, you need to determine how much you are willing to spend overall when purchasing a vehicle. This cost includes any financing you have to sign up for to afford the vehicle, any taxes you have to pay the state, and any registration fees, such as for tags.

When shopping, compare prices at dealership sites online to determine what the going rate is for the hybrid car you are interested in.

Part 2 of 2: Driving style

There is more to choosing a hybrid car than just vehicle type. Your driving style can play a big part in the hybrid car selection process. Whether you tend to make short trips, long trips, or haul a lot of cargo, you're driving style says a lot about the kind of vehicle you require.

Step 1: Short trips. Short trips with frequent stops best work with plug-in or series hybrids.

Hybrids that run on batteries alone are great for this type of driving style. The low mileage means you stay close to home and can rely more on the battery power that a short- or medium-range hybrid provides.

Step 2: Longer trips. For longer trips, you need the power provided by a full or parallel hybrid.

The combination of electric and gasoline power means you can travel longer distances while still remaining fuel efficient.

Step 2: Cargo haulers. Just like standard vehicles with larger engines, hybrids require more power when you want to use them for towing and cargo hauling.

Many hybrid SUVs and trucks come in larger-size engines, such as a V6 or a V8, and have large towing capacities.

Part 2 of 2: Compile a list

After you have determined the type of hybrid car you need based on your driving style and factors such as price, safety ratings, and vehicle options, you are ready to make a list of which hybrid cars you are interested in buying. To do so, you need to visit various sites online or look at your local classified ads to see what hybrids are available in your area.

Step 1: Visit manufacturer and dealer websites. Manufacturer and dealership websites allow you to see what is in stock directly from the vehicle manufacturer.

You can order a car online, selecting the options you want, and have it delivered to the nearest dealership. You can also go into the dealership and purchase a car directly from what they have in stock. Either way, make sure that what they are asking for the vehicle is what you want to pay.

In addition, used car lots have a variety of models as well. Just remember to get a vehicle history report, either from the used car dealership or Carfax, before committing to buying a hybrid vehicle.

Step 2: Online sites. In addition to the dealership, you can find a variety of used hybrid cars at many online sites.

Some of the more popular online used car sites include eBay Motors, Cars.com, and Autotrader.com.

Step 2: Local classifieds. Another good resource to use when searching for a hybrid car is the classifieds section in your local newspaper.

While not as user friendly as a mouse and keyboard, your local classified ads give you access to private sellers. Unlike a car salesperson, private sellers could give you a lower price than you can get elsewhere.

Buying a new or used car is a big decision, and, next to the purchase of a house, it is one of the biggest buying decisions you can make. It is important that you find the right hybrid for your needs. And once you finally do decide on the hybrid car you want, make sure to have one of our expert mechanics perform a pre-purchase car inspection to make sure the vehicle you want to buy is in great shape.


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Torrieanto did a fantastic job on a used car pre-purchase inspection. He was very thorough and took the time to explain the technical details and ramifications to me. He also gave me peace of mind with my purchase and a few negotiating points to further reduce the purchase price.
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