Many of us have at least daydreamed about buying a hybrid vehicle. There are a bunch to choose from, with more on the way, and they'll help us smile a little more when we pull up to the pump.

So why haven't more of us snapped up these vehicles already? Well, for one thing, the vehicles tend to cost more than their conventional counterparts. That hasn't changed too much lately, but what has changed is the cost of fuel -- it just seems to keep rising. And the more it does, the more attractive hybrids become, financially. In addition, carmakers have been offering some appealing incentives -- the current average is $1,638 -- to buyers of hybrids.

At, Andrea Coombes tackled this topic. In the recent past, she wrote, "Auto-research firms found it could take up to 15 years, depending on the model, of gas-pump savings to offset hybrids' higher sticker price." But today, she noted, it should take less than a year to break even, when you compare the cost of a Toyota (NYSE:TM) Prius hybrid with a gas-powered Camry LE -- based on driving 15,000 miles per year.

So things are changing. An article in the Tulsa World quotes some statistics from the National Automobile Dealers Association: "industrywide sales of hybrids increased about 22% last year, climbing from 206,000 units sold in 2005 to 252,000 in 2006."

Discounts galore
Carmakers differ in how they deliver discounts on hybrids. Toyota, preferring not to offer explicit overall incentives, is lowering the cost of some of its options. Ford (NYSE:F) is offering $2,500 cash back to buyers of its Escape and Mariner hybrids, with another $1,000 going to the dealer -- some or all of which you can negotiate for. Honda (NYSE:HMC) has yet to start offering discounts on its hybrids.

Even Uncle Sam is offering discounts, in the form of tax rebates. Not everyone qualifies, and Toyota runs out of its allotted credits before the year is up, so if you're serious about buying a hybrid, and you want a Toyota, you may want to buy earlier in the year, rather than later.

What to consider
When you're doing your own math, consider how many miles you drive per year. The more you drive, the more attractive a hybrid should become. The Prius reportedly gets up to 60 miles per gallon (though when I poked around online, I found owners professing to be getting around 38 mpg to 52 mpg instead). Consider also where you think gas prices are heading. If you expect them to rise significantly and for the long haul, then hybrids should be much more compelling. Another factor is your next-best idea. If you want to drive either a hybrid or a Hummer, the hybrid should prove much more economical. If you're comparing a hybrid with an already rather fuel-efficient vehicle, such as a Civic, the decision is less of a slam-dunk.

Other considerations, Coombes reminds us, include insurance costs -- which could be either higher or lower with a hybrid -- and expected repair costs.

In the meantime
Even if you dismiss or delay buying a hybrid, you can still save money on gas. Just employ a few good habits, such as keeping your speed down, accelerating slowly and not having to brake too hard, keeping your tires inflated properly, putting your gas cap on tightly, having a clean air filter and spark plugs, getting tune-ups on schedule, and not driving around with your anvil collection in the trunk.

If you do want to investigate the possibility of getting a new car, do your homework. You can learn more about buying a car in our Buying a Car area. Check out our Insurance Center, too -- it offers a lot of money-saving tips for insuring your new purchase. You might also want to check out car vendors such as CarMax (NYSE:KMX) and AutoNation (NYSE:AN).

For more straight talk about money and how to keep more of it in your pocket while still making the most of life, check out our personal-finance newsletter service, Motley Fool Green Light. You can try it free for 30 days, with full access to all past issues, and there's no obligation.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of CarMax, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool isFools writing for Fools.