Driving and Owning a Hybrid

People like their cars, and they like the way they drive and handle. A big question is how the performance of an HEV measures up to conventional autos. In this section I describe the important aspects of HEV day to day operating characteristics. In some respects HEVs are actually better and more fun to drive. There are, however, some drawbacks worth noting.

Performance and handling

People expect that hybrids will perform much differently than conventional autos, but this is not the case. In fact, under most driving conditions, hybrids can actually outperform conventional autos. Some of the most expensive auto makers are now offering hybrid versions of their conventional standbys, and there is no performance sacrifice. Lexus, for instance, is now offering hybrid versions of their top-of-the-line luxury sedans, and they would not be doing this if they weren't confident that buyers would react positively. The Cadillac Escalade is fast and powerful, and General Motors is advertising the fact that the Escalade gets better gas mileage than a Subaru (the heretofore energy-efficient brand name).

Electric cars are limited in range, so it's no surprise that, because of their reliance on internal-combustion engines to recharge the battery "on the go," hybrids can travel much farther than electric cars. What many people may find surprising is that they can travel significantly farther than ICE-powered vehicles, too. The typical conventional auto needs to be refueled every 300 to 400 miles, but hybrids routinely offer ranges greater than 500 miles.

Other things to know about the performance and handling of hybrids include the following:

✓ The hybrid's ICE is sized to transport an average, not a peak, load. While this affords a large measure of efficiency to the overall operation, it also means that hybrids aren't made for speed and power. To get the most fuel efficiency and range out of a hybrid, however, requires modifying your driving habits to maximize the amount of time the hybrid's electric engine is providing the power. For many, that means changing what they expect out of their car: sheer speed and power or increased mileage and decreased emissions.

✓ Most of the gains in pollution reduction and mileage increase come when the hybrid is operating in all-electric mode, and so hybrids are more advantageous in city driving (short trips) than rural driving. This is the opposite of conventional autos which offer better performance in highway driving than city.

✓ People want to feel the power buildup as they accelerate. To the drivers who are accustomed to the "normal" engine sounds — the roar of the engine when the car runs fast, the sound the engine makes as the transmission moves through the necessary gears, and the low rumble of an idling — this seemingly random starting and stopping of the ICE can be a little off-putting. It doesn't offer the same sound feedback that most drivers have come to expect (and a few actually love).

Maintenance

Hybrids use ICEs, just like conventional autos, and these need to be kept tuned and running at peak performance. And hybrids require the usual routine of oil changes, wheel alignments, and so on. But they also require periodic electrical testing to make sure the control systems are running the way they should. Above all else, the large battery packs hybrids use need to be maintained and tested on a periodic basis. Not only are they filled with dangerous chemicals, but they wear out, especially if they're abused. They're also very expensive to replace. And in extremely cold weather, battery banks lose power and may not operate properly.

Hybrids are more complicated than conventional autos, there's no denying it. Unlike a problem in a conventional auto, which can be reliably determined by any competent mechanic at an auto repair shop, the cause of a problem in a hybrid isn't very intuitive, and there are relatively few technicians trained in hybrid technologies. Electrical systems are difficult not only to comprehend, but to repair and troubleshoot. For these reasons, the cost to repair a hybrid may be very high. And if you're out in the middle of the boondocks, you may not even be able to find somebody who can repair your broken down car.

There is very little infrastructure dedicated to the parts and servicing of hybrids, at this writing. This will change over time as hybrids become more common. Even if the repair infrastructure improves dramatically, hybrids will still be expensive to maintain. Parts may be difficult to get, unlike with conventional autos where parts stores are on every corner, and the workers behind the counter know precisely what you need and how to install it.

(UNG/ Another maintenance consideration is how to dispose of spent batteries.

Disposal of batteries is expensive. You can't just throw them away; they need to be specially processed by qualified recycling centers and these may be far and few between. While the shops that swap battery packs will dispose of the batteries, it's expensive and ultimately the consumer is going to pay the price.

Environmental impacts

A key fuel-saving advantage of a hybrid is the automatic shutoff and start procedure for the gasoline engine. When the vehicle is stopped, the gasoline engine is off, which saves a lot of gasoline. It is estimated that if every ICE engine in the country were simply turned off when the car was not moving, aggregate fuel consumption would go down 8 percent. Of course, turning off your engine every time you stop isn't practical with a conventional vehicle, but with the hybrid, this very thing happens automatically. In driving short distances or creeping along in stop and go traffic (a common scenario of city driving), the ICE engine never even comes on at all.

This, in addition to the regenerative braking capability and smaller, fuel efficient internal-combustion engine, allows hybrids to achieve significantly better gas mileage figures (fuel economy is often 35 percent or more better for a hybrid than a conventional auto of the same size), along with significantly reduced pollution levels.

kBE# The first hybrids cut vehicle emissions of global warming gases by a third to a half, in comparison to ICE-driven vehicles of the same size and class. More recent models have cut emissions by over two thirds, and technological advancements promise even better performances. Bottom line: The overall pollution generated by HEVs of both types is much less than for a conventionally-powered vehicle using an internal-combustion engine, even when the electrical pollution from the grid (if it is used to charge the battery bank) and from the on-board batteries is taken into account. Hybrids emit only 50 percent of the carbon dioxide of conventional autos, and only 10 percent of the carbon monoxide.

The economics of hybrids

HEVs cost more than conventional vehicles. The up-front investment is higher than for an equivalent internal-combustion-driven vehicle, and it takes some time to recoup this via better fuel economy. Despite the higher cost of hybrid vehicles themselves and the higher maintenance costs, the cost of driving a hybrid vehicle is much less than for a conventional vehicle because hybrids are smaller and more efficient. In addition, tax breaks, subsidies, and incentives are available from many different government agencies, thereby making the economics even more attractive.

If carbon taxes are instituted, the price differentials between hybrids and conventional autos will disappear, and hybrids may someday outnumber conventional vehicles on the road.

Buggaboos and boogeymen: Unwarranted fears

There are a number of negative myths that seem to follow hybrids, but most of them are unfounded. The track record is still being tallied, but hybrids have proven themselves safe and economical over the last decade. Here are a couple of the most prevalent myths.

They're dangerous

There is a recurring myth about hybrids that simply won't go away. The story holds that police and emergency personnel are put at undue risk from hybrids because their electrical systems operate at higher voltages. But the threat hasn't panned out.

Hybrid battery packs are well sealed and can take a collision without rupturing. The high voltage systems are well contained and marked so that emergency personnel know what they're confronting. With training, emergency personnel know exactly how to deal with a hybrid accident. They know to remove the ignition key, which disables the electrical system.

As with all cars sold in the United States, hybrids must meet the stringent requirements of the federal motor vehicle safety requirements. The same seatbelts, airbags, and electronics are used on hybrids as with conventional vehicles. In addition, hybrids have more intelligence than conventional autos and there are additional safety features built in that take advantage of the increased intelligence.

They're too new to take a chance on

One of the biggest hurdles right now for the hybrid industry is the notion that the technology is going to mature quite a bit in the next few years. We have all seen this effect with computers and large screen TVs, and we feel as though the same effect will apply to hybrids. There is a maxim that says, "never buy the first generation of any product." This is true of cars as well as electronics.

A marketing poll found that people are leery of hybrid cars because of their relative complexity. But the fact is, hybrids have been around for a long time, and the technologies are well proven.

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Hybrid Cars The Whole Truth Revealed

Hybrid Cars The Whole Truth Revealed

Hybrid Cars! Man! Is that a HOT topic right now! There are some good reasons why hybrids are so hot. If you’ve pulled your present car or SUV or truck up next to a gas pumpand inserted the nozzle, you know exactly what I mean! I written this book to give you some basic information on some things<br />you may have been wondering about.

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