Friday, April 28, 2006

A bit about hybrids

"If you want to stop global warming, drive a hybrid". Not exactly. Drive less may be a better suggestion.

Here are some important facts if you're thinking about a hybrid car:

1) A hybrid has both a standard gas engine and an electric engine. You do not plug it in to charge the engine - like the original electric cars - though there is a push to develop "plug-in" hybrids. The energy that is normally lost during breaking is used to charge the electric engine. The gas engine shuts off when it is not needed. That is why a hybrid like the Toyota Prius can get disproportionately good mileage in the city. And why if you walk by a hybrid on a side street or stopped an intersection it is practically silent (the gas engine is off, no idling).

2) Not all hybrids are created equal. The efficiency depends on the car and design. First, the Prius is one of the most efficient because of the aerodynamic design and light construction materials. It would be a good car without the hybrid engine. Second, the newer SUV hybrids are still SUVs. At best, they only get the mileage of a decent sedan. A 1980 Datsun would get better mileage than both simply because it is not as heavy. Third, some car companies are using the hybrid technology to bump up the car's acceleration, rather than save fuel. For example, the Honda Accord hybrid has good pickup, but it is barely more efficient than a normal Accord. The moral: read up - try this site - before shopping.

3) Fuel efficiency depends on how you drive, not just what you drive. Many hybrid buyers complain their car does not come even close to getting the mileage promised in the advertisements. Why? They drive fast, slam on the acceleraor, use the a/c a lot, don't maintain proper tire pressure, etc.

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