March 08, 2006
Most Hybrid Cars Do Not Pay Back Higher Costs In 5 Years

Most hybrids do not pay.

Consumer Reports is revising the cost analysis in a story that examines the ownership costs and financial benefits associated with hybrid cars. The story, titled "The dollars and sense of hybrids," appears in the Annual April Auto issue of CR, on newsstands now.

Consumer Reports is correcting a calculation error involving the depreciation for the six hybrid vehicles that, in the story, were compared to their conventionally powered counterparts. The error led the publication to overstate how much extra money the hybrids will cost owners during the first five years.

The Prius and Civic hybrids produce a net savings of a few hundred dollars in 5 years but only with US federal tax credits.

CR's revised analysis shows that two of the six hybrids recovered their price premium in the first five years and 75,000 miles of ownership. The Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid provide a savings of about $400 and $300, respectively, when compared with their all-gas counterparts - as long as federal tax credits apply. But extra ownership costs during the first five years and 75,000 miles for the other four hybrids ranged from an estimated $1,900 to $5,500, compared to similar all-gas models.

I also suspect that Toyota is selling the Prius with a lower profit margin in order to build good will with governments and the public.

People who buy a hybrid in the United States now do so to make a statement or to satisfy themselves that they are saving energy. By a strict economic calculation hybrids would not make sense without a higher tax on gasoline such as is the case in Europe.

Toyota executives are blunt about the real allure of hybrids.

In Japan and Europe, the extra costs were approximately balanced by fuel savings.


“When you just use the argument of fuel efficiency, the purchase of a hybrid car is not justified. But this car has other interests, for instance environmental protection.”

Another Toyota executive was more blunt in his analysis: “Buying a hybrid is about political correctness, it is not about the money,” he said.

Toyota does not expect to get hybrid costs down to a level that cost justifies them for the American market until 2010. They must be expecting substantial advances in battery technology over the next 5 years.

Edmunds also found net costs from owning hybrids in the first 5 years.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 March 08 09:53 PM  Energy Transportation

odograph said at March 9, 2006 6:37 AM:

M1EK does a good job of noting the outstanding issues at CR, and reminds us that most people hear the story, but not the retraction(s).

Elsewhere I've heard of Rush talking on the radio about the original study ... any chance he'll mention the update?

I like all sorts of cars, and have owned all sorts of cars. I have a Prius now, but will probably have something else in the future. All I want to see is a fair comparison ...

But I'm becoming convinced that the "hybrid hype" campaign is a oddly opposed to that. I mean, it would be obvious to compare the midsize (EPA class) Prius to Toyota's other midsize car (the Camry). If they were looking for "equivalents" that's just what they'd do. If you ignore the EPA class and just look at passenger and cargo space, the Prius is still closer to the Camry than the Corolla. And yet Consumer Reports, and too many "hybrid hypesters" pick the Corolla.

Why? It's got to be to make sure the answer is one they like. There is no other rational explanation.

odograph said at March 9, 2006 6:45 AM:

Following through your Edumnds link, I see that they show a gain actually, Prius vs. Camry.

I'm not sure about their other comparisons because they choose different trim levels (for the Honda Civic) than Consumer Reports. When I run the Honda Civic Hybrid against the Honda Civic EX, I get a price difference of $1060. Consumer reports compares against the EX, Edumnds compares against the less expensive LX. Who's right? I guess we'd need to know the option packages bundled into the Hybrid. It wouldn't surprise me if Honda elevates everyone to EX (and charges for it, right along with the hybrid system).

Oh, you can run the 5 year cost yourself for various models and for your zip code here:

michael vassar said at March 9, 2006 7:51 AM:

Of course, it shouldn't have to be profitable in the US to have a market FAR larger than current production volume, just in Japan and Europe. Massive battery improvements over the next 5 years seem to be in the cards.

Al said at March 9, 2006 8:52 AM:

Why do people consume? Why do you buy 20 shorts when you can live with just two? why do people buy what they buy? At times consumption isn't driven by necessity. Priuses seem like the volkswagen beetle: consumers see it and fall in love with it instantaneously. I doubt whether many consumers really buy the little car to save money on fuel. This is like an ipod. You can buy a bigger radio, or Walkman or any other player, but many consumers want an ipod.

odograph said at March 9, 2006 9:06 AM:

I think there are a number of factors, but I think the high real world mpg (47+ from here or here) and relatively low cost also drive the Prius sales.

Prius are still about half of the hybrids sold.

... you know, is the "kick" from not needing a fill-up for a few weeks, or only needing 8 gallons when you finally do, commensurate with the real cost? Probably not. If you don't "like" buying gas, you might enjoy a hybrid more than you should.

odograph said at March 9, 2006 9:38 AM:

I mean to say that it is arguable that the (base model) Prius is "rational" with current gas prices, and that explains its lead. Beyond that though, sure there are non-economic feedbacks supporting the Prius & etc. The most obvious in California are the carpool stickers.

al said at March 9, 2006 10:03 AM:

Hybrids will become really appealling when you can plug them into a power source to charge the batterry ie during off peak hours when electricity is real cheap or when you go to work and plug the puppy in and let it charge for 8 hours then drive home.

Were composite materials used to build the car, or as composite materials become cheaper and more appealing to the car industry it might be possible to build a hybrid capable of 120 miles per gallon. With the plug in option you might get 500 miles per gallon. This is analogous to use of DMFCs in laptops and cellphones instead of lithium ion batteries: you just need to refill the cartridge every 3 weeks.

A diesel- hybrid version may also be more efficient and have a longer range, but is more sophisticated. The technology is alredy used in big GE trains and big mining trucks to save fuel. When going down hill usign momentum or lesser fuel the truck or train stores the energy and that enrgy is used to pwer the truck uphill.

By the way a hybrid gets around 47 mpg rarely does it get the reported 60 mpg unless driven by an expert. Some diesel volkswagens gets similar mileage to a hybrid prius.

odograph said at March 9, 2006 10:16 AM:

I said 47+ actually. It's interesting. If you go to that second "here" link there are VW TDI reports too. The 2005 Jetta Wagon (similar size to the hatchback Prius) is listed at 44mpg. That's pretty close, though here in Califoria I'd be paying a big diesel fuel premium right now.

Given the wide availability of those real-world databases I'm dissapointed that more people don't simply point to them.

On the composites I agree, but the interesting thing will be how the public approaches the idea. It will need changes to current safety laws. At least I don't think they can build an ultralight that passes current crash tests.

Curious George said at March 9, 2006 11:35 AM:

Yeah, but isn't there just an element of "It makes me feel better" invovled in hybrid owning as well? Like-at least I'm a part of the solution, and not the problem? I think that piece of mind is worth a lot of money for some people.

odograph said at March 9, 2006 11:56 AM:

Sure George, it was part of it for me. My subaru wagon had a lot of life left in it, but I decided to "put my money where my mouth was."

Kurt said at March 9, 2006 1:54 PM:

I considered buying a hybrid last year. When I considered the total cost of ownership, the economics of hybrids dore not make sense because the batteries do have to be replaced every 4 years or so, at a cost of around $4,000 and the increased fuel economy does not make up for this. I did the calculation and figured that the price of gas would have to exceed $6 per gallon before a hybrid would make economic sense to me.

If the battery technology can be improved (presummably Toyota is working on this) such that they do not have to be replaced, then hybrids start to make economic sense. I drive a 2004 VW Jetta and get good fuel efficiency with it (30-35 MPG or so). I think the people buying hybrids are making a "non-economic" judgement on the value of energy, relative to the value of anything else they could spend their money on. I see no reason why I should make the same choices.

Different strokes for different folks.

charlie said at March 9, 2006 2:49 PM:

VW beetle and Jetta are some of the most economical cars around. Their diesel versions will get you around 45 mpg and last 20 years. This is why I am rather apprehensive of jumping into any fancy new technology wagon. A very funny thing people say that things like hydrogen or hybrids are appealing economically and enviromentally but fail to realize that such technology may be more expensive and emitt more pollutants if you take the entire lifecycle.


To my understanding fuel cells and hybrid batteries lose their effectiveness after 5 years. At around $ 4000 a pop and probably $ 20,000 for a fuel cell, change every five years might not bode well with motorists - when one considers diesels last very long and are very efficient.

Acid said at March 9, 2006 3:36 PM:

Battery prices will drop. Guessing, I would say from $4000 today, to $2000 5 years from now.
The price of fuel should be raised to $8-10 a gallon over 3 years. Enough time to prepare and change your car.

Duncan Spiers said at March 10, 2006 6:21 AM:

I do not see how there can be any environmental argument in favour of these cars. Unless of course there is something I am just not seeing?

They may reduce CO2 emission at the end of the exhaust pipe, but the electricity has to be generated and this usually means the burning of fossil fuels at the power station. No matter how efficient, the fact is that energy is going to be lost in the chain of conversion of fossil fuel to electricity to kinetic. It seems to me that it should be more efficient just to stick to the simple and more direct fossil fuel to kinetic.

So the proper arguments for purchase appear to be restricted purely to the financial.

odograph said at March 10, 2006 7:51 AM:

Duncan ... these are not plug-in hybrids.

Where does the $4000 and 4 years come from? My information is that Toyota has been making hybrids for longer than 4 years, and has not had to replace any batteries due to age or expiration:

How often do hybrid batteries need replacing? Is replacement expensive and disposal an environmental problem?

The hybrid battery packs are designed to last for the lifetime of the vehicle, somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 miles, probably a whole lot longer. The warranty covers the batteries for between eight and ten years, depending on the car maker.

Hybrids use NiMH batteries, not the environmentally problematic rechargeable nickel cadmium. "Nickel metal hydride batteries are benign. They can be fully recycled," says Ron Cogan, editor of the Green Car Journal. Toyota and Honda say that they will recycle dead batteries and that disposal will pose no toxic hazards. Toyota puts a phone number on each battery, and they pay a $200 "bounty" for each battery to help ensure that it will be properly recycled.

There's no definitive word on replacement costs because they are almost never replaced. According to Toyota, since the Prius first went on sale in 2000, they have not replaced a single battery for wear and tear.

charlie said at March 10, 2006 8:20 AM:

Battery prices will drop. Guessing, I would say from $4000 today, to $2000 5 years from now.
The price of fuel should be raised to $8-10 a gallon over 3 years. Enough time to prepare and change your car.


Battery prices could also hit $ 8000 4 years from now if commodities continue to record the upward trend that has been propelled by industrialization Asia mainly China and India. I assume that batterry prices could also go up due to increasing demand from other car manufacturers and other sectors that may want to use this technology.

If the fuel price rises past a certain threshold and stays there, there will be a flurry of innovation and substitutes. In the past the reason why substitutes have died off is because high prices have only been temporary.

odograph said at March 10, 2006 8:38 AM:

Charlie, I'm trying to give you a chance here. Do you have any links to REAL data on battery replacement?

I'm sure we are getting a lot of strange memes dropped through the blogosphere by GM partisans ... and who knows, maybe employees. Are you repeating what might come from them ... or do you have real data?

Nick said at March 10, 2006 9:25 AM:

One thing to keep in mind is that the Prius Li-Ion battery lasts a very long time because it uses a very shallow depth of discharge (about 25%). The nano-electrode Li-Ion batteries now coming out (e.g., A123systems M1 battery in the DeWalt 36-volt power tools) can charge and discharge much more quickly, and to a much greater depth (There's a wide range of even better batteries in development: Firefly, Eestor and others in earlier stages - they will probably be even better, at a lower price, but they're not proven yet). When you increase discharge depth by a factor of 3, then you instantly cut the cost of the battery by two thirds.

Nick said at March 10, 2006 9:38 AM:

Consumer Reports assumes a traditional depreciation rate for the Prius, equal to the Corolla. Back in the real world, Prii are barely depreciating at all. I'm sure they figure that eventually the Prius depreciation will return to the mean, but it's a very arbitrary assumption, and one that is pretty clearly biased against the Prius.

I'm very disappointed in CR. A fairer analysis would use lower depreciation, and compare the prius against a cost somewhere between the Corolla and Camry (the Prius is clearly better than a Corolla, but it's hard to argue that the Prius is really as big as a Camry). That would also reduce the insurance differential.

The other comparisons are also bad. For instance, the Accord hybrid was tuned for power, rather than economy, and is substantially more powerful than the conventional Accord, and has a pretty high trim level built-in.

It's possible they felt pressure from Detroit to do a "hard-nosed" look at hybrids. On the other hand, they've always been very conservative about new things: it's a conservative consumer protection approach. I tend to assume that if CR likes something new, I can rely on that, but if they don't, I have to look further to fully evaluate it...

odograph said at March 10, 2006 9:46 AM:

That's why I'm a Prius buyer, but I am not an add-on battery buyer ;-)

Actually you can tell I'm middle of the road in another way ... I like diesels, and would have had a VW TDI wagon if California had been allowing them in. The obvious wins right now are efficient conventional cars (Honda Fit or Civic, Toyota Echo or Corolla, etc.), the small diesels (in the US just from VW), and the "efficiency hybrids" (Honda Insight and Civic, Toyota Prius).

Something like the Ford Escape (2WD) at 31 mpg does pretty well ... but depending on needs, it might be more efficient to choose the Focus Wagon (5spd) at 29 mpg (using the "real world" links given above).

It is interesting that the Escape is edging out the Focus Wagon on the road though ... I wouldn't have thought that the bigger and heavier hybrids would work out that well.

odograph said at March 10, 2006 9:48 AM:

Amusingly, Detroit is not happy with this CR issue either:

"Detroit Fuming Over Consumer Reports Top Ten Picks"

They (CR) probably feel like no one loves them right now. Detroit is upset about their take on reliability, and hybrid owners are upset about their mathmatics.

Randall Parker said at March 10, 2006 3:55 PM:


Last time I checked (about a year ago) Priuses had NiMH batteries.

Depreciation: Sometimes when a car is popular for a while it depreciates slowly. But as soon as production catches up with demand it starts depreciating like any other car. Someone who bought a Prius 4 years ago might get a really good price now. But someone buying one now won't get as good a price 4 years hence.


GM partisans? You mean there are such people? Have you ever worked for GM? Their employees are not exactly rabid enthusiasts for their company.

The whole super-competent Machivellian plotter image of US auto makers is ridiculous. From the inside of those companies they look like bumblers.

Randall Parker said at March 10, 2006 6:48 PM:

odograph is correct about the long life of Prius batteries. The battery designs have even been improved since the Prius went on sale and the new Priuses can expect even longer battery lifes than the originals. I did a post about hybrids once (might have been on ParaPundit in the Energy Economics archive) where I included some claim by the Japanese battery manufacturer that they expected the batteries to last at least 7 or so years but probably like 15 years (forget the exact numbers). Their problem was that they did not have enough historical data to prove the longer lifetime figure.

What I'd like to know: If we consider the interest cost on the batteries (basically treat them as a capital investment) how long does it take for the batteries to pay back for each hybrid model?

In other words, rather than say that this or that hybrid pays back or does not pay back in 5 years why not calculate how long it takes for each hybrid to pay back?

The calculation is complicated because a car will pay back in a smaller number of miles of the car is driven more miles per year. The reason? The capital cost doesn't accumulate as much interest cost in a year than it does in a longer period of time.

Also, to make the calculation accurate one also has to treat the gasoline cost as akin to an investment and calculate a cost-of-money interest cost for it. $1000 spent on gasoline in the first year for one car should accumulate a greater interest cost than if one spent $500 per year for 2 years.

odograph said at March 11, 2006 7:43 AM:

If you mean energy payback, I saw some article recently. I'll see if I can remember where. If I recall correctly, for any car (hybrids included) the energy costs of manufacture are about 10% of the total lifetime energy consumed (when you count fuel).

On GM employees, salesmen, etc., I'm not trying to say there is anything for sure, but some of this just looks like astroturf. I'll say that without assigning a weight to the observation.

Randall Parker said at March 11, 2006 11:04 AM:


No, I'm talking about financial payback.

odograph said at March 11, 2006 11:55 AM:

I can "fact check" the "payback" arguments people make, but the fact is I don't believe in them.

There is no rational buyer in the world who just considering "A or B." Certainly no one is considering just "Prius or Camry." Assuming they need a midsize sedan, they are probably looking at the whole range of midsize cars. Perhaps the need is for more of a hatchback and it is Prius or Scion xB or PT Cruiser.

So why do people pretend? I suppose it's because it lets them write a pseudo-factual analysis of "hybrid hype." If we prtend that the Prius faces competition from (just) the Corolla, we can pretend a mathmatical result (based upon nested assumptions of depreciation, insurance rates, miles driven, and future gasoline costs).

No, I think the real way to look at this is to step back and just note that the Civic Hybrid and the Prius are average-priced cars, that happen to get great mileage and generate low emissions.

Payback? What's payback? Most people need a car. The average new car price in America is around $27K. You can get a Civic or a Prius for that.

... and then after you spend just this average amount, you start saving money, and maybe even doing a little enviornmental good.

odograph said at March 11, 2006 12:00 PM:

Randall, how fast does your current car "pay back" it's investment?

Randall Parker said at March 11, 2006 12:27 PM:


My car was built in 1979. I drive maybe 1500 miles a year (my commute round trip is 2 miles when I go to an office to work - and part of the time I work at home). A new hybrid would cost me many times more - just from depreciation alone - than I now spend on my car and gasoline. My own financial analysis is easy to make. A hybrid would cost more than what I now use given the way I use it.

The comparison between similar cars makes the most sense because it makes more things equal aside from the presence/absence of the hybrid feature.

odograph said at March 11, 2006 1:59 PM:

Actually, your "replacement" mental model is probably closer to reality. People buy one first car in their lives, and then from there on out it is replacements. If you wanted to play with some interesting numbers, you could look at the average life expectancy of a new car, and then the average age of a trade-in, for the next used car.

I expect, if we actually could look at that data, we'd see people who just "want" a new car, and feel they can afford it.

Now, what "should" someone buy, when they go to trade in? I say they are already buying whatever they want, and these kibitzing calculations are just noise.

Pfft, I am continually amazed as I look at the cars around me on the road at the vast array of tastes and preferences they represent. Given that huge variety, I cannot believe that "similar cars" boils down to "just two" as in these "hybrid hype" calcs. It sure as heck isn't Prius or Corolla, and for me it wasn't even Prius or Camry.

For me (just one of that vast array of people) it was Prius or Subaru wagon. Both are small, suitable for road trips, will carry a mountain bike in the back, or two mountain bikes on racks.

odograph said at March 11, 2006 2:02 PM:

I always miss something in my proof-reads - "and then the average age of a trade-in, for the next new car."

(I could add that the space with the seat folded down in the Prius makes it the equal of a "small wagon")

Paul Dietz said at March 12, 2006 5:08 AM:

Certainly no one is considering just "Prius or Camry."

You are neglecting brand loyalty. If a consumer has had good experiences with one car maker, he may be reluctant to switch to another maker. Toyota has treated its customers very well over the last several decades, delivering reliable, affordable vehicles. A long-time Toyota customer in the market for a car of this size may very well just consider Prius or Camry.

odograph said at March 12, 2006 7:39 AM:

OK, Paul. But that might illustrate how these fixed comparisons narrow us down to smaller segements of the car-buying public, rather than (say) the entire readership of a major US newspaper (or magazine).

Yes, some few might have narrowed their choices to just the Honda Civic (with just EX trim?) versus the Honda Civic Hybrid. Some others might have narrowed their choices to just the Camry or Prius ...

but I think this might be one of those cases where by focusing in on a "controlled" example we lose sight of the bigger picture.

The bigger picture is that Americans pay more than the $22.4K my Prius was tagged at every day. This is not an expensive car. It does not need high level mathematics to justify a payback. And it is not like anyone is out there calculating "payback" between the Civic trim levels (LX vs EX), or between Ford Mustang engine options. This is a game of pretend reserved for the hybrids that are already inexpensive and thrifty.

Randall Parker said at March 12, 2006 8:56 AM:


People who pay $30 or $40k or $60k for a car do so to satisfy other desires quite different from the desire for fuel efficiency. Those people could afford a Prius. Yet the bulk of them continue to not buy a Prius.

Some who spend $22k look at the Prius and see that they get less of other features as compared to other cars that also cost $22k. Some want those other features. They might want more space. They might want more options. They might want speedier acceleration. There's no limit to the number of wants out there.

If people want the other features of the Prius aside from the fuel efficiency they will compare it to cars that are otherwise similar but not hybrids. They will compare the costs. They will ask whether the added cost of the Prius is worth paying for or even if they can afford to make the higher monthly payment.

odograph said at March 12, 2006 9:29 AM:

I'm sorry, but that doesn't make sense to me. The bit about "satisfy other desires quite different from the desire ..." is obviously you putting your values on someone else.

Again, if you are talking about someone who has to stretch for a new car, why are you doing an arbitrary comparison between two twenty grand cars?

Why don't you tell them to go get a nice little Echo and save about ten grand?

odograph said at March 12, 2006 9:30 AM:

Oh, and it is an important note that the "hybrid hype" folks do not compare "cars that are otherwise similar but not hybrids" - they do this particularly phony comparison to the smaller Corolla.

odograph said at March 12, 2006 9:42 AM:

BTW, I don't have a problem with anyone running the numbers for 5-year cost of ownership on all the cars they are considering. Putting in your payment options (are you really financing, and how much?), your insurance rates (from your broker), along with your yearly mileage and fuel costs ... all that will be better and more accurate than the "canned" comparisons the "hybrid hype" folks offer us.

Then you can place your personal values (the "utility" you will experience) against your projected costs.

Randall Parker said at March 12, 2006 9:43 AM:


No, I'm not putting my values on anyone. I'm watching people buy very expensive cars that hold no appeal to me. I'm watching them pass over buying the Prius.

A comparison between two $20k 4 door sedan cars from the same maker is not arbitrary.

odograph said at March 12, 2006 9:56 AM:

I picture the Prius and Civic Hybrid as a "medium income" car, but actually the numbers show that the affluent are buying them.

If the car is median-priced, but the buyers are higher than median income, that might say they are not being "passed over."

And "not arbitrary," but not the whole truth either. Certainly not when they ignore the closer match of the Camry, to paint a false picture with the Corolla.

odograph said at March 12, 2006 9:59 AM:
Bradley Berman, editor of the online publication Hybrid, said more insurers are likely to offer hybrid-owner discounts.

"I think it will catch on because the demographics of hybrid buyers are very attractive," Berman said. "They are more affluent than the average car buyer, they're older. In terms of insurance, they drive more safely."

- more here

Bob Badour said at March 12, 2006 11:58 AM:
I picture the Prius and Civic Hybrid as a "medium income" car, but actually the numbers show that the affluent are buying them.

I don't find this surprising at all. There is only one sure-fire way to accumulate wealth: habitually live beneath one's means.

bigelow said at March 12, 2006 2:13 PM:

Whatever motivates hybrid buyers, it should not be environmental –owing a car is not environmental. Perhaps ‘it’ is the belief that they will be able to drive when others can’t afford to? I assume hybrid buyers are at least aware that is fuel is likely to keep getting more expensive rather than less.

Remember fuel rationing, odd and even purchase days, all that? Now, as for cause name your poison … a wider war in the Middle East, Nigeria stops exporting or maybe Peak Oil hits.

odograph said at March 13, 2006 6:46 AM:

In a rational sense, you can first choose the miles you will drive in the coming year(s), and then look at how car choices will change the costs (environmental and economic) of those miles. In terms of how many miles to drive ... I try to walk or bike for a fraction of local trips. I think the health benefits of that are more immediate than the environmental or economic.

I do think that future-proofing yourself with respect to gas prices might be part of hybrid appeal, and if gas ever got tight being able to squeeze 500 miles out of a fill-up might be useful ... but there you get into real corner cases. I think rationing is a low probability event.

I wonder though how they'd do it. To be "fair" would they give SUVs more gas than a hybrid?

odograph said at March 13, 2006 9:55 AM:

Related trivia: 84 percent of new car sales in China are to first-time buyers. In the U.S., just 1 percent are.

From Marginal Revolution

Nick said at March 15, 2006 11:36 AM:


"Priuses had NiMH batteries."

My memory was fooled by speculation I've read recently about Li-ion for future models.

"as soon as production catches up with demand it starts depreciating like any other car."

Yeah, that's where the highly conservative approach comes in, and that may be ok. Still, this is an unusual vehicle which has been around for a while, and it's not clear when supply will catch up with demand. Also, this is a different situation than something that's fashionable because of it's sheet-metal - the fundamental design gives an opportunity for higher reliability and lower maintenance cost, an opportunity which seems to have been realized. Their judgement still feels a little questionable to me.

real estate guy said at October 20, 2006 1:31 AM:

I'm a little confused. People always say hybrids are a bad deal because it takes 5 or so years to pay them back. If it took 30 or 50 years I would agree since cars frequently dont last that long. But as far as investments go 5 years doesnt seem that bad. In 5 years you have most of your money back and you still have a hybrid. In 8 to 10 years you come out ahead when comparing initial cost to gas savings plus you still have a hybrid.

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