Consider This Before Buying a Hybrid or Electric Car

In February 2006, the average price for a gallon of gasoline in the United States was about $2.20. But over the next six months, that price would rise by almost 50%, topping out at about $3.25. For commuters and families that relied on their cars to get them around their communities, there was a noticeable pinch in the family budgets. 

Ever since then, the sales of hybrid cars have taken off. Once thought to be an expensive choice only for environmentalists, many now believe owning these vehicles is the key to both saving money over the long run, and helping to slow down global warming.

Adding to the movement has been the emergence of all-electric vehicles. Though Tesla Motors  (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) gets most of the attention in this sub-industry, Chevy has its Volt and Nissan  (NASDAQOTH: NSANY  ) has its Leaf on the market as well.

But there's a key factor in determining if a hybrid or electric car is worth your money. Though its a well-known factor in the industry, its one that many folks looking to buy a car might not be aware of. In this video, Motley Fool contributor Brian Stoffel discusses what this factor is, how it might affect investors, and what consumers need to know.

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (6)

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  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 9:29 AM, ckgod wrote:

    You have forgot about the factor of releasing all the CO2 into the atmosphere?

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 9:46 AM, drax7 wrote:

    Pure misinformation considering teslas experience in Norway.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 10:50 AM, 5forfighting wrote:

    I have wondered about how much battery drain there would be in colder climates simply due to to the fact that in a combustion engine heat for the passenger area is residual from the cooling system of the engine. In an "all electric vehicle" it seems it could be a double hit given the reduced battery efficiency and the lack of residual heat from a combustion engine.


  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 11:13 AM, dimestop wrote:

    there are often many issues raised about Tesla... by those against it...

    the "biggest MISTAKE" I often see by ANAL-YSTS IS THIS:

    a. that YOU ONLY "HAVE ONE CAR" they presume in many of their arguments...THAT OWNING A TESLA ...means "and either OR"

    b. MOST PEOPLE - in REALITY - however...that CAN AFFORD A TESLA...


    meaning: if their is really an UNUSUAL TESLA ISSUE...then "YOU USE THE GUZZLER AT THAT TIME"

    the point of the TESLA to reduce THE NEED FOR EXPENSIVE GASOLINE... thereby "saving thousands of dollars A YEAR"...which basically SUBSIDIZE a good chunk of your cost and/or monthly payment...




    you "dumb analysts" get so caught up in "your SELECTIVE hypothetical analysis...

    that COMMON SENSE just seems to completely EVADE your "simple minds"...

    ...right now their is are 3 spare cars on my property ...none of which WILL BE SOLD if I buy a TESLA... (I am actually waiting for the "all wheel drive model" ...that's why I don't already own one...)

    about like that...

    for example: if I did have a TESLA...and it was already PLUGGED IN ...IN THE GARAGE AND CHARGING...

    and I had to run out to the convenience store...

    I WOULD JUST JUMP In "one of my spare guzzlers"...



    using a SPARE GUZZLER...occasionally IS "IRRELEVANT"...

    probably "in snowy ice" conditions... I wouldn't RISK THE TESLA ...that "day or two" anyway...

    SO I'LL RISK one of the SPARE GUZZLERS... getting a "fender bender" etc....



    actual consumers THINK ...and that's WHY TESLA IS BEING "BOUGHT UP AS FAST AS THEY CAN MAKE THEM...

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 2:44 PM, HJ66 wrote:

    Ummmmm, The gas mileage of an ICE is greatly reduced in the cold as well, as anyone who lives in a Northern climate like Wisconsin should be able to tell you. My experience is you can expect about the same drop in mileage he's talking about with his Prius.

    As far as the batteries, its pretty easy to keep them warm using their own power. yes it causes a small drain on the battery, but it is worth it in the range saved.

    Also, my understanding is that Li batteries (like Tesla) are less prone to the loss of energy as the temperature drops, so maybe less heating of the batteries would be necessary.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 3:59 PM, borlock wrote:

    Last week I drove my Tesla Model S from San Francisco to Seattle in 1 day (815 miles).

    Was freezing temperatures the whole time, but at no point did I feel I did not have enough range to get me to the next SuperCharger, or had to drive slow or whatever.

    We spent longer on our bathroom, coffee & food breaks than the time that the car actually needed to charge. Again - all of this in freezing temperature.

    Best of all: Total cost spent on energy: $0.

    Go beat that with a stick.

  • Report this Comment On January 10, 2014, at 6:33 AM, weaponz wrote:

    Brian Stoffel, you really need to stop embarrassing yourself. You have 0 clue what you are talking about.

    First of all, I will get this out of the way, windchill is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the temperature.

    Even if it is cold, your battery would warm up to proper levels when in use. That is not why you are losing mpg.

    The reason is simple, you have a tiny battery in your prius. So when you use heating, the energy comes from the battery. The energy from your car is not recharging your battery fast enough to keep up with the heating. This is solved if Toyota would use a bigger battery giving you more buffer.

    On a gasoline car, your heat comes from the waste heat from the engine. Batteries give off heat, but they are very efficient so the heat is not enough to heat up the cabinet. So the heat has to come from power.

    That said, that is not to say that gasoline cars have an advantage during the cold. At issue is also during winter, air molecules are closer together. This creates more air resistance, and while this impact EVs as well, it impacts gasoline cars more due to the inefficiency of the engine.

    A pure EV like a Tesla Model S would have consumption like this:

    4% from air resistance

    13% from heating

    For a total loss of 17% during winter. A gasoline car loses about 15-25% from air resistance due to the inefficiency of the engine.

    Now of course not all EVs are the same, some have better battery management systems than others. But either way, your statement about batteries losing efficiency is inaccurate, because again the batteries are warmed up during operation.

    One of the tricks EV owners have utilized is preheating the car when it is connected to an outlet. So when they drive they don't need to use the heat or at the very least use minimum as the interior is preheated. This can be done hassle free with an app.

  • Report this Comment On January 10, 2014, at 12:55 PM, GuyinWNY wrote:

    Ok, everybody knows you get poor mileagein the winter. Doesn't matter what kind of car you drive, if it burns gas then it's going to suffer due to the cold air, the change in gas additives, slippery road conditions, whatever.

    I have a Prius also. I stuff the grille to limit the flow of air to the engine compartment and that really help bring the mileage back up to near summer time levels. This is common knowledge on the Prius forums. Get a block heater and it gets even better. As it would for ANY gas car. The battery management system is very well tuned in the Prius. The cold weather is NOT affecting your battery nearly as much as you think, but mostly affecting the gas powered engine. You really need to go to Priuschat .com and do lots of reading!

  • Report this Comment On January 10, 2014, at 3:29 PM, laurasloot56 wrote:

    Hi Brian and Fools... Thanks for posting on the topic of eco friendly cars.

    After a wonderful 12 years and 206K miles together I parted with my Ford Escape this summer. After much research I passed on all of the electric and hybrid cars in favor of the very fuel efficient (i can get up to 50 mpg) VW Passat TDI clean diesel.

    So far no problems getting through our Polar Vortex with temps here in DC in the single digits.

    I welcome input from others but believe the new clean diesels to be more socially and environmental friendly than the other options.

    1. Mining the rare earth metals (in Bolivia, China, Mexico, Congo) needed for these batteries has both a negative social and environmental impact.

    2. Once consumed these batteries end up in ... where? ...landfills... not biodegrading.

    3. Electricity generation has its environmental impacts too.

    4. By products of the new clean diesels aren't great but overall better than the environmental impact of the other 2 options

    3. Most diesel engines last "forever" because they have few moving parts. There is a lower overall impact if we can keep what we have running well and not create need for new cars. (Ill keep this one for a very long time.. until TSLA gets the solar thing perfected)

    5. New diesel cars can run on Bio diesel (see ticker DAR... bio diesel co a MF recommendation)

    Anyway... that's what I did. I can find diesel for less $ than premium gas and I get over 700 mi/ tank. This car has TONS of POWER (not actually measured in TONS but you get the idea)

    So there are a few more thoughts for the hopper.

  • Report this Comment On January 11, 2014, at 1:07 PM, borlock wrote:


    Not that I'm dissing your decision (the TDI is a great car and you'll love it), but I'm not sure it was 100% informed?

    1) Agree mining rare earth metals are bad. But generally only Hybrids, like the Toyota Prius use large quantities of them for its batteries and motors. Modern EV's don't use them for their batteries, and Tesla doesn't use any rare earth metals - not even in the motor.

    2) Search for "Tesla Closed Loop Battery Recycling Program"

    3) So does diesel production

    4) It's just that Diesel isn't common in the U.S so you don't hear much about it, but NOx is pretty bad stuff to breath in.

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Brian Stoffel

Brian Stoffel has been a Fool since 2008, and a financial journalist for the Motley Fool since 2010. He tends to follow the investment strategies of Fool-founder David Gardner, looking for the most innovative companies driving positive change for the future.

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