In the past few years, hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) have been getting a lot of press, both good and bad. As with any new technology—that is, any technology newly offered to the public—there are proponents and opponents to the wide use of HEVs. Pros and cons are bandied about freely, and it can be difficult for the average person to weed out any useful information. Here is a brief, simple synopsis of the advantages and disadvantages of HEVs.
The most obvious benefit of HEVs is lowered environmental impact. A vehicle that’s powered solely by electricity produces absolutely no emissions. Admittedly, a hybrid vehicle does emit some carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but only from the gasoline-driven engine. If your vehicle is powered by electricity 50% of the time, it will reduce harmful exhaust emissions by 50%.
Hybrid vehicles are quieter, and cause less noise pollution—an important consideration in urban areas. The engine only runs when the vehicle is being actively propelled forward. Over time, this trait also cuts down on overall energy consumption.
Another obvious benefit is that HEVs run on a fuel source that is already readily available, and that does not depend on foreign oil. The United States already has numerous electrical power plants that are already producing vast amounts of electricity.
For the most part, hybrids are easy to fuel up. The majority of hybrid vehicles on the market today have batteries that can be plugged in and recharged; an adaptor allows most hybrid owners to “fuel up” their vehicles at home. Some cities make charging stations available, as well.
However, there are downsides, as well. HEVs use a lead-acid battery. These can take a long time to charge, sometimes as long as 10 hours. This is not so much of a problem if you’re at home and plan on leaving your car to charge overnight, but it can be decidedly inconvenient when you’re traveling. In the future, as HEVs become more prevalent, you can expect charging stations with the capacity to charge batteries in a fraction of that time will to become available.
Another drawback is that while hybrids do vary somewhat in the distance that they can travel on a fully charged battery, the average is about 60 miles per charge. Again, this isn’t much of an obstacle for a hybrid vehicle, which can switch over to gasoline power at need—but decidedly inconvenient for a car with fully electrical propulsion (EV). In addition, the batteries have a limited shelf life—roughly three years—and are extremely expensive to replace.
Researchers are experimenting with other types of battery, such as nickel-metal hydride, nickel cadmium, and lithium-ion batteries. At present, these types could offer better performance, but the costs are prohibitive.
Lastly, the purchase cost of a hybrid vehicle is a major deterrent for many people who are considering “switching over.” HEVs are still more significantly more expensive that their gasoline-driven counterparts. To some degree, decreased fuel consumption, better fuel economy, and reduced maintenance costs serve as a counterbalance to the higher cost. There are also governmental tax credits, at the federal and sometimes even at the state level, for individuals who purchase hybrid vehicles.
Is it worth it to replace your current vehicle with an HEV? That depends. Only you can say. Do your research, and do the math. Look at all of the different factors involved, and make an educated decision. Only you can know if an HEV is the best choice given your life, your preferences, and your budget.