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Choosing the Right Hybrid Vehicle

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Hybrid Vehicles Have Different Fuel Economy, Emissions Ratings

Hybrid systems use regenerative braking to capture kinetic energy instead of allowing that energy to escape unused as heat. They also pause engine combustion when the car is stopped, in order to save fuel.

According to Cars.com, there are two types of hybrid systems available: the kind in which the engine is dominant, as with Honda and Saturn, and the kind where the electric motor is dominant, as with Toyota, Ford, Mercury, and Lexus.

Fuel economy is one of the most popular ways of measuring the efficiency of hybrid vehicles. Initially, vehicle manufacturers test pre-production prototypes, in controlled laboratory conditions, and report the results to the EPA. The EPA reviews the results and confirms 10 to 15 percent via their own tests at the National Vehicles and Fuel Emissions Laboratory.

While new EPA testing methods better account for actual city and highway driving conditions, your fuel economy may vary based on factors such as aggressive driving, maintenance habits, use of air conditioning, and weather.

According to the EPA, their estimated combined mpg is calculated by assuming 55 percent city driving and 45 percent highway driving. You can calculate combined mpg using the equation

(.55 x city mpg) + (.45 x hwy mpg) = EPA estimated combined mpg

Emissions rating is another environmental consideration when purchasing a vehicle. According to the EPA, hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen combine with sunlight and form smog, which can irritate the lungs and eyes. While catalytic converters, exhaust gas recirculation and electronic fuel controls reduce pollution, emission levels still vary among vehicles. A score of 0 – 10 describes a vehicle’s emissions rating. A score of 10 is best and 0 is worst.

2008 Hybrid Cars Ranked by Fuel Economy

  • Toyota Prius: 48 city, 45 hwy, 46 combined mpg
  • Honda Civic Hybrid: 40 city, 45 hwy, 42 combined mpg
  • Toyota Camry Hybrid: 43 city, 37 hwy, 40 combined mpg
  • Nissan Altima Hybrid: 35 city, 33 hwy, 34 combined mpg
  • Saturn Aura Green Line Hybrid: 24 city, 32 hwy, 27 combined mpg
  • Lexus GS 450h: 22 city, 25 hwy, 23 combined mpg
  • Lexus LS 600h L: 20 city, 22 hwy, 21 combined

2008 Hybrid SUVs Ranked by Fuel Economy

  • Ford Escape Hybrid: 34 city, 30 hwy, 32 combined mpg
  • Mercury Mariner Hybrid: 34 city, 30 hwy, 32 combined mpg
  • Mazda Tribute Hybrid 2WD: 30 city, 34 hwy, 31 combined mpg
  • Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid: 25 city, 32 hwy, 28 combine mpg
  • Mazda Tribute Hybrid 4WD: 27 city, 29 hwy, 27 combined mpg
  • Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid: 24 city, 32 hwy, 27 combined mpg
  • Toyota Highlander Hybrid: 27 city, 25 hwy, 26 combined mpg
  • Lexus RX 400h: 26 city, 24 hwy, 25 combined mpg
  • Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon: 21 city, 22 hwy, 21 combined mpg

2008 Hybrid Cars Ranked by Emissions Ratings (According to the Union of Concerned Scientists)

  • Nissan Altima Hybrid: 9.5
  • Honda Civic Hybrid: 9
  • Toyota Prius: 8
  • Toyota Camry Hybrid: 8
  • Saturn Aura Green Line Hybrid: 8
  • Lexus GS 450h / LS 600h L: 8

2008 Hybrid SUVs Ranked by Emissions Ratings (According to the Union of Concerned Scientists)

  • Toyota Highlander Hybrid: 8
  • Lexus RX 400h: 8
  • Ford Escape Hybrid: 7
  • Mercury Mariner Hybrid: 7
  • Mazda Tribute Hybrid: 7
  • Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid: 7
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The Hybrid Question: The Marriage of Electricity and Gas

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Hybrid means a combination of two distinct parts that result in a third. The key element of this third is that the characteristics of the two initial parts remain constant. In the case of a Hybrid, the two distinct things are Gas and Electric power systems that combine to form a unique gas/electric engine.

The hybrid engine uses the power of electrical current from the electric motor, and the explosive chemical reaction from the gas engine.

What is So Good About a Gasoline-Electric Engine?

The great thing about the hybrid engine is its ability to switch power sources without any input from the driver. In other words, the driver doesn’t even notice when the car is using electricity or gas to drive – unless it’s visible on a dashboard display.

In fact, designers aimed to build hybrid cars that switched imperceptibly to maximize the comfort of the driver and passengers, so as to come as close as possible to driving a non-hybrid car. The goal was to introduce the technology in a way that was not intrusive to the driving experience that engineers had spent billions on creating with non-hybrid vehicles

Environmental Advertising

But there is something that is perceivable everywhere a hybrid drives – the badge that says “hybrid”. Given the public’s fascination with so-called “green” technologies”, a hybrid badge stands out from the crowd, and automatically labels a consumer and manufacturer as environmentally conscious.

Why do Hybrids Save on Gas?

Hybrids use battery technology to store electrical energy. Their electrical energy is generated by either plugging the vehicle into an electrical socket, using the braking of the vehicle to generate a charge, (similar to getting a light to run of a moving bicycle tire), or a combination of both.

This electrical energy can be sent directly to the motor to drive the wheels, allowing an almost silent movement of the vehicle. The battery and motors are powerful enough to move passengers with the same speed and acceleration as a gas engine – all without using a drop of gas.

Limits of Electric Engines

There are limits to electrically driven motors, the primary one being range. Even with current technology, the range of the battery driven motor on a hybrid is far less than a simple gas engine. Gas engines are part of the hybrid equation to take over when the batteries have lost their charge.

A Clear Green Choice?

Even with a fully functioning gas engine, the addition of the electric drive system to create a hybrid has a significant impact on the total amount of gas burned. Hybrids allow a reduction in emissions at the tailpipe per distance traveled.

Hybrids do save on gas, but the extra price charged to have a combined gas/electric drive system can cut into those savings. One thing is for sure, a hybrid engine will produce fewer emissions on average per kilometers driven than a gas-only engine, making it a good choice for the “green’ conscious consumer.

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Why Buy a Hybrid Car? Green Cars on Hydrogen Fuel

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Hybrids, or cars that run on gas and alternative fuels are not a new concept but for many people, they are more of a science fiction accessory, rather than a reality. There are many reasons why people prefer to buy a hybrid car, and some of the three most important ones are that hybrid cars are eco-friendly cars, they are fashionable, and they cut energy expenses.

Hybrid Cars Are Eco-friendly Cars

Cars and the other vehicles are among the major air polluters. While it is not realistic to expect that the use of cars can be drastically reduced, thus reducing the pollution and saving the environment, running cars on alternative fuel – i.e., hydrogen – which unlike fossil fuels does not pollute the environment, is a serious contribution to a better world. Unlike hydrogen cars, hybrid cars do use some gas, but in comparison to traditional cars, which run only on gas or diesel, the negative effect on the environment is times less.

Hybrid Cars Cut Energy Expenses

In addition to the positive effect of hydrogen cars on the environment, their second main advantage is that they cut energy expenses. Today, when gas prices have increased drastically, the economic benefits of alternative fuel cars, are not something to be underestimated. Hybrids run on oil and hydrogen, and since hydrogen is cheap, or practically free, this can reduce energy expenses by 40% or more.

Additionally, running a car on hydrogen leads to increased mileage and less wear of the parts. Even these perks are convincing enough that hybrid cars are a good buy, but since hydrogen-fueled cars are green cars, many governments stimulate their purchases via tax credits, tax deductions or other financial measures, which further make the purchase of hydrogen-fueled cars even a better deal.

Hybrid Cars Show Attitude

Going green is a trend in many aspects of life and cars are not an exception. Sure, hybrid cars have many advantages as already discussed and only these advantages are enough to make them a market hit. What is more, car manufacturers have responded promptly to the increased demand for hydrogen-fueled cars, and now almost any of the major car manufacturers offer a hybrid car.

Hybrid cars are not cheap, but they are affordable. Of course, for the people who want to show their pro-environment vote, the price comes second.

Hybrid cars will continue their advance in daily lives. Hybrids are still new on the market, and it is hard to find a used hybrid but in a couple of years, when there will be lots of used hybrid cars and hopefully an even wider assortment of new hybrids, it will not be surprising is hydrogen-fueled vehicles become the majority on the road.

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Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Cars

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Electric cars, such as the Tesla Roadster, and plug-in hybrid cars, such as General Motors’ proposed Saturn VUE SUV, have several characteristics in common. Both offer better fuel economy than traditional gasoline-powered cars, both emit fewer pollutants than conventional cars in operation, and both employ both gasoline-powered and electric components.

Electric Cars

A purely electric car uses electricity to power the wheels of the car. This electricity is stored in the car’s batteries, which are recharged both during operation and overnight.

Recharging during operation is done by one of two means. One is regenerative braking, which involves using the motor to slow the wheels of the car, with the energy generated by the braking process used to recharge the battery. The second is by means of a gasoline-powered generator, which kicks in to produce electricity to help power the car and recharge the batteries once the batteries have been drained of their initial charge.

The batteries are also recharged when the car is not in operation and is plugged into the electric grid.

Plug-in Hybrid Cars

In the case of a plug-in hybrid car, the gasoline-powered engine is used to power the car when it is operating at cruising (i.e., highway) speeds, with the electric motor assisting when the car is accelerating or climbing hills and extra power is needed. The car uses its electric motor to power the car when it is traveling slowly, such as in city driving conditions. Once again, the electricity used to power the electric motor is stored in the car’s batteries, which are recharged both during operation and overnight.

Recharging the batteries of a plug-in hybrid during operation is similar to recharging the batteries of an electric car, except that it is only the excess power from the gasoline-powered engine that is used to recharge the batteries. As with electric cars, the batteries are also recharged when the car is not in operation and is plugged into the electric grid (hence the name, plug-in hybrid.)

The Potential Downside to Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Cars

While both types of cars generate lower emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas implicated in global warming, and other pollutants during operation, they are not necessarily better for the environment than conventional gasoline-powered cars, because they are no greener than the source of electricity in the area of the country in which they are operated.

Where Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Cars are Best

Both of these types of cars offer substantial advantages in areas of the country in which electricity is generated from “clean” technologies. These areas are the Pacific Northwest, where most of the electricity is generated by hydroelectric plants, and the Eastern Seaboard, where most of the electricity is generated by burning natural gas.

Where Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Cars May Not be Better

In those parts of the country in which electricity is generated in coal-fired power plants, electric and plug-in hybrid cars lose their “green” edge. This is due to the fact that the emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and mercury, of coal-fired plants are very high – high enough to overcome the advantage that electric and plug-in hybrid cars offer in operation.

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