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Hybrid cars: green – or not?

It ain’t trendy being green. Easy? Oh, easier than one might think, but trendy? No, not if you’re serious. Hybrids really aren’t very green. Think of what a hybrid car is – two complete drive systems, massive, truly massive amounts of batteries and the whole gasoline caboodle: engine, transmission, fuel tank, etc. to boot! Hybrids are heavy and complex and expensive to manufacture and maintain, both in terms of cash and the environmental cost.According to Consumer Reports, the Toyota Prius averages 44 miles per gallon, all around. My 1991 Ford Festiva averages 45 MPG day in and day out. It has gotten as high as 53 miles per gallon and as low as 39, but 45 is the true average. Better than the Prius, you note? But wait, there’s more! The Prius has lots of expensive batteries and these batteries wear out. Checking with Toyota mechanics, the battery pack lasts an average of five years and costs $4,000 parts and labor to replace. That’s about $800 per year just for batteries.According to the Kelley Blue Book, average driving distance for a car is 13,000 miles per year. Divide that by my Festiva’s 45 MPG, times $3 per gallon and you get $864 per year, just to push that little old Festiva down the road. The Prius at 44 MPG costs $886 per year in gas, plus the $800 per year in battery amortization for a total of $1,686 per year to push that Prius down the road. What other vehicle costs that much to drive around 13,000 miles per year? Well, one getting 23 MPG, a mid sized SUV, say.When people buy the Prius, they are encouraged to just look at MPG and not the total cost of going down the road. It costs as much to run a Prius as it does to drive an SUV! Which is harder on the environment? Hard to say. Batteries are nasty to manufacture and are filled with non-green chemicals. Drive a Prius if you’d like to make a fashion statement (just as SUV drivers do) but don’t think you’re being green.The greenest thing a vehicle driver can do is also happily the thriftiest thing! Buy an old economy car (or a new one), care for it carefully and drive it forever. How many whole cars do not need to be manufactured if you drive a Festiva or Civic for 30 years, say? No, not very fashionable but you were serious about being green, weren’t you? Saving money is often quite green, a happy win-win situation.By now you probably think the Prius is an awful fraud of a car. Not so fast! The Prius encourages people to think about environmental things, just by being out there. The car is a symbol. The Prius is also a test bed for new ideas. Yes it is a kluge, but it is a baby step toward what we really need to be green and what we need to stop handing gobs of money to people that hate us – true electric cars. Until they get here, I’ll be in my ancient but beautifully maintained economy car, the 91′ Ford Festiva. It’s blue. When you wave, use all your fingers, okay? It’s going as fast as it can.

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