Buying a small hybrid car

Last updated Wednesday 30 April 2008

The short-cut to urban fuel efficiency

If you can afford the extra outlay, a small hybrid could repay the urban driver in fuel savings and other financial perks, while also giving the planet a much-needed breather.

Cars with two engines - one petrol and one electric - are claimed to halve the emissions of the average petrol car.

And while hybrids may be 10-20% more expensive to buy, lower road tax and congestion charge exemptions also help make your money back. For a start, your road tax is only 40, a third of that for a Ford Fiesta. (See Direct Gov for more information.)

The fuel efficiency of hybrids depends on where you drive them. While city drivers will reap the greatest benefits from the electric engine, diesel cars may deliver lower emissions to motorway commuters.

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Photo: Buying a small hybrid car

Saves about 1,070kg of CO2 a year

85 Bloomers are doing this

CO2 reduction 3 out of 5

Cheapness 5 out of 5

Popularity 2 out of 5

Cost 14,000 - 38,000

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How does it work?

Pub Fact

  • In 2006, around 9,000 hybrid-petrol electric cars were sold in the UK
  • The first hybrid vehicle was developed back in 1899 by Dr Ferdinand Porsche
  • Hybrid car sales saw sales growth of 20% in 2006
  • Most drivers use the maximum power of their engines less than 1% of the time
  • Cars generate one sixth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions
  • Average fuel efficiency has increased slowly in the UK, by 8% since 1995. In the USA it has actually decreased
  • Transport is the only sector where carbon emissions are predicted to continue to rise (by 5-7%) between now and 2020

The hybrid contains a petrol engine and an electric motor and automatically selects the most efficient engine for the driving conditions - usually electric for slow, town driving and petrol for high-speed long hauls.

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What's the debate?

Critics claim the virtues of hybrids have been overstated. One concern is that their manufacture produces more carbon than making traditional cars, sparking a debate over whether notoriously oversized Hummer 4x4s are actually better for the climate than hybrids. In reality, recent research by the Pacific Institute shows that hybrid cars have a much lower climate impact than Hummers - and generally save much more energy than is used in their manufacture.

Another issue is that most hybrids have petrol engines which - when in use - are less fuel efficient than diesels. This is true, although the efficiency of the electric engines compensates for this. Diesel-electric hybrids are expected to hit the market by the end of the decade.

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What's stopping me?

"They cost how much?"

New hybrids cost from 17,000-38,000. Battery pack replacement is rare but if something does go wrong, manufacturers are providing generous battery warranties (generally about eight to ten years and 80,000 to 100,000 miles). As Top Gear's James May helpfully puts it: "It's money where your mouth is time, greeny-chops".

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How do I do it?

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Baz, Shropshire 2009-01-25

It's true that the hybrid car is great in slow traffic, stop start conditions are perfect for electric vehicles. However, consider this, When you have driven the car in traffic for a while the battery will need to be recharged. The engine starts automatically to do this and if the traffic is heavy, there you are sitting in a traffic jam with the engine running. Sounds familiar? This of course is the worst scenario, the better use cycle would be on a journey when you drove from home into a crowded town centre where the battery would take over and carry you through the traffic to your destinaation. Then on the homeward journey tha battery would have enough charge to get you out of the congestion onto the open road where the engine would start and charge the battery for the journey tomorrow. Oh! just one other thing (Columbo style) where is the energy coming from to charge the battery? I think the answer is PETROL.
I am sure the gains are there to be made, but consider two issues,
1 The gains are overstated
2 The gains will depend upon the traffic conditiond encountered.

Do they fit a 13A plug to these things?

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Carbon is the fourth most common chemical element in the universe, and carbon compounds - in other words, carbon chemically combined with other elements - are the basis of all known life forms on earth. Pure carbon appears in many apparently diverse forms, from diamond to graphite to charcoal, but it is much more commonly found in substances such as coal, oil, natural gas, wood and peat that we use for fuel. When we burn these substances to provide energy - either directly in our homes as heat, or in power stations to produce electricity - the combustion process produces 'oxides' of carbon, including the gas CO2.
Ordinary diesel, like regular petrol, is refined from oil but it is a thicker, heavier liquid with a higher 'energy density' - meaning it offers better fuel economy. On the down side, unless you buy an air filter, diesel exhaust is a significant source of particulates and other sources of air pollution. A type of diesel not derived from petroleum is increasingly widely available, commonly referred to as biodiesel.
Emissions are the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) produced by energy use, usually calculated and stated as an annual tally: also referred to as your carbon footprint. Your personal emissions can be direct - such as the gas you personally use to heat your home or the petrol you burn to power your car - or indirect - meaning the energy use that has gone into the products or services you buy. The latter, such as the emissions caused by the manufacture of your new TV, or the packaging your food comes in, are also referred to as embodied emissions.
Greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases raise the earth's temperature through the greenhouse effect. There are six main examples. As well as carbon dioxide, they include: water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs (which include sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs). Of these, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs are controlled under the Kyoto Protocol to limit their concentration in the atmosphere. The heat warming capacity of each gas is measured by its 'global warming potential': how much heat it traps depends on its chemical make-up and how long it stays in the atmosphere.
Hummer is the brand name of a 4x4/off-road vehicle manufactured by General Motors and styled after the US military's high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV, or Humvee). The Hummer is widely criticised for its very poor fuel economy.
A hybrid car is one that has both a petrol engine and an electric motor and switches between them according to the driving conditions. It is different from a dual-fuel vehicle, which uses two types of liquid fuel. navigation


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