Please Explain: Hybrid Cars

Friday, May 16, 2008

As gas prices rise, more consumers are turning to hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius. Find out how hybrid cars work, which ones are the most efficient, the potential risks to the owner and to pedestrians, and the future of hybrid cars -- especially the 100mpg hybrid plug-in vehicles. John Voelcker is an auto journalist, and Brad Berman is the editor of

Weigh in: We’d like to hear from recent converts to hybrids. How has your experience been? Have you noticed significant savings in fuel costs?


Brad Berman and John Voelcker

Comments [46]

Carol from NYC

Brad Berman isn't concerned about EMF. The issue was raised and pushed aside. EMF is a very serious situation. People who use Playstations & computers aren't aware of it. They can end up in the hospital and not understand what caused it. I have been affected by EMF fields. I can't sleep at night & have a nervous condition. I had 2 birds that died. They shouldn't say that it's not important. EMF is dangerous and people should be aware of that danger.

May. 16 2008 02:44 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

Ivy and Lisa,

As to concerns about electro magnetic radiation , very large batteries and electric motors, much larger then in a hybrid, have been used for many decades in heavy equipment (electric fork lift, electric carts, diesel electric locomotives, haul pak trucks, etc, etc) and have been used with absolutely no adverse effects. Ironically, the internal combustion engine part of the hybrid is far more of a health issue (exhaust fumes, fluid leaking fumes, accidental contact with gasoline while fueling up, fire, etc, etc.). your IPOD or cell phone will probably kill you a lot quicker from electro magnetic radiation then an electric car….

May. 16 2008 01:09 PM
peter from bergen county

I rented a Prius to drive from Bergen County to Hartford, CT and back. Thorouhly impressed with the car except the exterior styling needs some work. It was great getting almost 50 MPG compared to my almost 25 MPG with my VW Passat Wagon 6 CYL 185 HP on this 250 mile roundtrip!

Looking forward to ownning a good looking and larger hybrid!

May. 16 2008 12:58 PM
Pam from Qns.

The woman whose Prius loses mileage due to idling at lights in the city has a malfunction: the Prius's engine turns off when the car stands still.

May. 16 2008 12:57 PM
Pam from Qns.

"The Prius's battery is really a large number of smaller cells. No one has had to replace all of them (unless due to an accident). All tests, simulations, and real-world driving has the batteries lasting +200K easily." Furthermore, the battery is recyclable.

May. 16 2008 12:55 PM

BTW, millage is also compromised during city driving because the trips are often times shorter in duration when compared to highway driving. Toyota acknowledges that short trips decreases fuel efficiency.

May. 16 2008 12:53 PM
Lisa from NYC

Will the next generation of hybrids have any type of shielding to protect occupants against the EMF created by the electric engine?

May. 16 2008 12:53 PM
Chuck Genco from Westfield NJ

We have a 10 year old saturn and are looking to get a new car. In 10 years we have only gone 30,000 miles. A hybrid will never pay for itself. We are looking to get a car with good milage but not a hybrid.

May. 16 2008 12:50 PM

can you ask why did honda stop making hybrid accords. our last 3 cars have been accords and we'd like to get a hybrid accord

May. 16 2008 12:50 PM
Neal from NYC

For folks that live in NYC and only drive on the weekends, is there a problem with batteries draining if the car sits for a week (or 2 or 3 at a time)?

May. 16 2008 12:50 PM
Steve from Queens

While we all see the benefits of the hybrid car to the environment, the economics are still not as compelling - given a hybrid costs significantly more than a gas/diesel equiv. As a result, even with today's high gas prices it takes years to make up the difference. When will the equation improve.

May. 16 2008 12:49 PM
Rikki Pashen from Pompton Plains, NJ

Hi. I have a Honda Fit, Manual. The worst MPG I have gotten is 36 - and that's when I was in start-and-stop traffic every day. The best I've gotten is 48 on a road trip up to Massachussetts. At $14,000 it's a good low price alternative to a hybrid.

May. 16 2008 12:49 PM
Jason from NY, NY

We have reached the lithium ion age already. The technology is in use now for automobile production.

May. 16 2008 12:49 PM
eric brown from jersey city, nj

In the early 90s there were two cars friends of mine that got 50 MPG. Geo Metro and Suzuki Samurai. (They were both 3 cylinder engines as i recall...)
Why haven't we beat this MPG for internal combustion engines since then?

May. 16 2008 12:48 PM

Can your guests please comment on the possible danger of the high and fluctuating EMF readings in a Prius?

May. 16 2008 12:48 PM
Chet from Minneapolis,MN

i would love to get a hybrid, but i drive a manual and i really, really dislike automatics. i actually think we would have more attentive drivers, if they had to use both hands to operate the auto.

May. 16 2008 12:48 PM
Harry from NYC

Diesels with variable displacement is truly the way to go. Unless a standard engine is being used at full power, the additional displacement of the unused capacity of the engine is just wasting fuel.

May. 16 2008 12:45 PM
herbert banner from yonkers

5 years ago Ford lease an electric truck. when the lease ran out they refused to sell the truck giving various excuses. while he had the vehicle he recharged the battery using solar panels. never bought gas the whole five years.

May. 16 2008 12:44 PM
Marisa from Monterey CA

Boo Hybrids! Watch doc "The Charcoal People," new cars take up precious resources, tearing up rainforests and traditional village life in South America to create pig iron.

Love my used eighties mercedes-- runs biodiesel (no conversion), don't care if I'm getting screwed on the prices right now. No blood for oil.

Creating a brand new car negates all the green savings of hybrid.

May. 16 2008 12:44 PM
Jason from NY, NY

Speaking of electric cars; what about a company like Tesla Motors? They are fully electric and run on Lith-Ion Batteries. They just went into full time production, and will have a full size sedan in production by 2010. Right now their car is a two seater electric roadster. The "MPG" equivalent is 135 MPG! What are the major disadvantages to a lith-ion battery?

Also, there is a huge problem with the use of bio-diesel using oils produced from food product staples like corn. This is one of the problems with rising food costs. We are burning up our food in our cars now!

May. 16 2008 12:43 PM
Francesca from canada

Can you please ask your guests about the TESLA?? It's an electric car that has solved the range problem and is an amazing vehicle - unfortunately out of most people's price range, but very promising!

ALSO Honda has a very good hydrogen fuel cell car but it is taking its sweet time bringing it to the market - it is only available in parts of California.

May. 16 2008 12:43 PM
Mike from Philadelphia

Have gasoline savings from Hybrids been countered by sales growth of super inefficient vehicles (like Hummers)?

May. 16 2008 12:41 PM
Harry from NYC

How about the energy inputs and carbon footprint for manufacturing a new hybrid or f/fuel car as compared to keeping your older slightly less efficient gas/diesel car?

May. 16 2008 12:40 PM
marc from Brooklyn

Yes, please ask about the Jaw of Life issue. Will EMT workers be apprehensive from cutting you out of a car because of the high-voltage risk?

May. 16 2008 12:40 PM
Neal from NYC

Are they mostly using lithium ion batteries? How much lithium does this require and what are the sources?

May. 16 2008 12:40 PM
S Williams from NYC

What about diesel conversions to corn oil? Not only do these save large amounts of gas, but the re-use corn oil from restaurants, which would normally have to be thrown away.

May. 16 2008 12:39 PM
Lonnie from Brooklyn

Does a Hybrid car need to be recharged at night?
And what's the added energy (electric Bill cost) of charging such a car to a normal electric bill?

May. 16 2008 12:37 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

Diesel, diesel, diesel…. You don’t need to join it to an electric motor and a big battery to get 60 mpg…. It’s not the same noisy and black soot polluting diesel that your dad had…..

May. 16 2008 12:34 PM
Albert from Greenwich, CT

I recently rented a 2008 Escape hybrid on a single day trip that had a distnce of around 200 miles round trip. Most of it was highway. I needed to refill the tank on the return trip as opposed to when I have taken the same trip in my Toyota Rav 4 which leaves me with nearly a quarter tank from just one fill up. Is this because 90% of the time I was averaging 60mph on the highway.

May. 16 2008 12:32 PM
Pam from Qns.

Re.- the following Prius canards:


2. "The faster you accelerate, the worse performance you get with regards to MPG fuel economy..." THE WAY TO GET BEST MILEAGE IN A PRIUS IS TO ACCELERATE VERY RAPIDLY; THEN, TO EASE-OFF THE PEDAL.

May. 16 2008 12:29 PM
Oded from NYC

Cost of replacing battery ? How can you resale car at end of 100,000 miles if battery is depleted.

May. 16 2008 12:27 PM

there is a rumor that EMS professionals will NOT use the jaws of life with an electric car, due to fears of electrocution. is this true?

May. 16 2008 12:22 PM
Steve from Baldwin, Long Island

I often wonder if a hybrid is WORSE for the environment. What about all those chemicals in the batteries and electronics. How much CO2 is produced during the manufacturing process? It seems to me we'd be better off driving smaller, lower-powered cars. My 1988 Chevy Spectrum got about 38 MPG, but it could go higher.

May. 16 2008 12:21 PM
Norton from Lyndhurst, NJ

In response to the comment from Antonio; the American care manufacturers did know this at the same time or before the Japanese manufacturers. The American Tax payers even helped fund about $1 billion in research in this field to the American car manufacturers. It was all laid out in the documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?".....

In response to Gary's question; on my Prius the numbers are fairly accurate... But again it depends on your driving style... The faster you accelerate the worse performance you get with regards to MPG fuel economy...

May. 16 2008 12:20 PM
Janet from Manhattan

Please ask-

If a car weighs the same, how much more efficient is a hybrid compared to a car with manual transmission?

May. 16 2008 12:20 PM
George Kaplan from Spring Valley, NY

Is it true that hi-test gasoline take more petroleum to refine and why do so many non-performance cars require hi-test?

May. 16 2008 12:20 PM
gerardo from nyc

how does the carbon footprint differ in the actual development and construction of hybrid vs usual gasoline vehicles

May. 16 2008 12:19 PM
Robert Burford from east norwich, ny

Totally coincidentally, I had just gotten off the phone with both Honda and Toyota to find out if there was an hybrid mini-van in the pipeline for America (Toyota make the Estima for Japan only)... It seems like a complete no-brainer to me but both said they were aware of no plans to introduce one in the near future.
Why is this.

May. 16 2008 12:19 PM
Tessa Mecham from Brooklyn

Any Idea when car makers will start builing electric vechiles? why are the electric engines in the hybrid so weak?

May. 16 2008 12:18 PM
Geo8rge from Brooklyn NY

What happens when the air conditioning is turned on. I suspect that the engine has to come on to power it.

If you have a car that is too small for your purpose you end up making more trips. Prius' are no good for shopping, or traveling with luggage.

May. 16 2008 12:16 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

Let’s see, you’ve taken the most inefficient engine (the internal combustion engine) and matted it with the most efficient engine (electric motor). Why? So much wasted time and money went into the hybrid car instead of the electric car. Why? Are the auto makers in bed with OPEC ? Diesel is way more efficient then hybrids and contrary to belief, they pollute less then gasoline fueled engines. So why pay $5000 to $10000 more for a car?

May. 16 2008 12:16 PM
Oded from NYC

Issue ; Electro Magnetic Field - health problem to occupants ?

May. 16 2008 12:16 PM
mickey makarski


HE SAID THIS IN 2005 - why isn't there REAL ACTION ?



May. 16 2008 12:16 PM
Norton from Lyndhurst, NJ

I've heard that the mileage is supposed to be better in city driving and have seen this on the Sales sticker... However, with this said; I've noticed the exact opposite with the 2007 Toyota Prius I have owned for about a year and a half. I get much better mileage on my highway drives than I do with in city drives... I drive about 90 miles to/from work each day and average about 55 mpg; when I drive in and around town (stop and go) I average about 45 mpg... I have noticed also that I get better gas mileage at 55 mph rather than higher speeds...

May. 16 2008 12:15 PM
Gary from Manhattan

Leonard, please ask your guests if the "stated" miles per gallon on hybrids' windows in car showrooms truly represents the "real" miles per gallon on the road. My understanding is that the MPG figures--for all cars--is done in a controlled environment that's not representative of the reality on the road.

May. 16 2008 12:13 PM
antonio from park slope

Can you ask what would the rational be for american car makers to have not seen this trend before the foreign makers? (i.e. the electric car fiasco)

May. 16 2008 12:12 PM

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