Analysis: Three Years With a Civic Hybrid

Eager to embrace new technology and the shift towards alternative fuels and high-efficiency vehicles, Kristin and I bought her a Civic Hybrid three years ago. At the time, everyone we knew saw fit to let us know that it would take years for the savings at the pump to offset the increased cost of the car over the standard internal-combustion model. Unable to think beyond their wallet -- or ours, -- many of these same people, not to mention columnists and television reporters, even said buying a hybrid was an un-economical choice for most people.

Now, if we were buying a hybrid purely as a means to hedge against rising gasoline costs, then yes I might have been apt to agree with the naysayers. But that wasn't the only reason we bought the car, nor was it the primary one. We bought the Civic Hybrid because first and foremost, Kristin liked the standard 4-door Civic and we all know Honda makes a damn fine car. Secondly, we wanted to encourage conservation efforts and reduce the amount of gasoline we were consuming; in other words, we wanted to simply support the technology even if it meant more out-of-pocket costs up front. So we did want to get a hybrid, but neither of us liked the look-at-me aspect of the Prius. We don't care if the neighbors know we're driving a hybrid; the Civic Hybrid looks like a normal Civic and that was important to us. And, yes, it does get much better mileage than the standard sedan.

Kristin has been driving her 2005 Civic Hybrid for three years now, to and from Seattle five days a week. During that time she's kept a detailed diary of the car's fuel consumption, mileage, and the price of gas. Tonight I took that data and entered it into Excel and ran some calculations to see exactly what the savings have been thus far.

First, let me say that the point of this is not necessarily to try and prove anyone wrong, but to answer my own questions. I paid $3.92 a gallon the other day and, well, when you start doing that, you start asking yourself a lot of questions.

Particularly, "Have we saved money by buying the hybrid version?"

So, an apples-to-apples comparison (prices from

2005 Honda Civic 4dr Sedan EX: $17,510 MSRP
2005 Honda Civic 4dr Sedan Hybrid: $19,900 MSRP

Kristin goes to school with a guy who has the non-hybrid version of the 2005 Civic 4dr Sedan and says he has averaged 30.5 miles per gallon with it. We see no reason to doubt his claim, so this is the number I used in my calculations.

Civic Hybrid data collected from 123 fill-ups between 3/26/05 and 3/04/08

Total Miles: 53,089
Total Gallons of Gasoline: 1,284
Average Price: $2.75 per gallon
Total Fuel Cost: $3,552

Three-Year Real-World Average: 41.3 MPG

The real-time mileage display in the Civic Hybrid really makes the driver aware of how increased passenger/cargo load and bad weather impacts the mileage of the vehicle, not to mention seasonal changes in gasoline formulas. Kristin has averaged as high as 45.7 MPG on several tanks of gas over the years, particularly in the dry summer months, and her lowest was 36.7 MPG on the very first tank of gas when the engine was still breaking in (car was purchased new).

If we take the data she collected with her Civic Hybrid and compare it to the 30.5 MPG average we know the non-hybrid version of the same car gets, then we can extrapolate the following information:

By buying the hybrid version, Kristin consumed 337 fewer gallons of gasoline in three years and saved $928 in gasoline costs. That's a savings equal to roughly nine months worth of gasoline. Also, it's worth noting that the average gas price she paid was only $2.61 for the first two years of this data period. She paid an average of $3.10 per gallon in the third year. Therefore, with oil prices over $100 a barrel and the dollar continuing to plummet in value, I think it's very safe to say that her fuel savings will only increase in the months and years to come.

But what about that initial $2400 outlay? Many experts back in 2005 predicted that an average consumer would reach the break-even point in roughly 5 to 6 years. We're already close to surpassing it when you factor in the $928 savings shown above, the $2,000 tax credit that was available, and the increased sales-tax credit we got to claim.

But lets focus on the $928. It's true that for most people it will likely take at least 5 to 6 years to reach a point where their savings at the pump will offset the increased price of the car, but not everyone. Kristin averages nearly 18,000 miles a year in her car and that makes a huge difference in how fast one can notice the savings. Another factor that makes a huge impact is the price of gas. Washington state is typically second only to California in gasoline prices in the continental US. For those who combine higher gas prices with longer commutes, the hybrid is an attractive choice. Especially if you still want a relatively nice, comfortable 4-door sedan and not a no-frills economy compact.

Now, I know that some of you are thinking that this is all fine and good but the real issue is the 18,000 miles she's driving. And you're right. Kristin spent two years riding the bus to work when we lived in Bellevue and has contacted King County Metro on several occasions to lobby for an express-route from our neighborhood to Seattle. They've recently made changes to their routing and schedules and are slowly inching in that direction, but not with an ideal route. So, ideally, she would like to once again take the bus and minimize her commute, but that's not an attractive option right now. Another concern is that while hybrids do consume less fossil fuels, their batteries pose another environmental concern. We know this is true, but we have faith that technology will evolve over the coming years to make battery creation/disposal/recycling far friendlier to the environment than it currently is. Some would make this out to be a huge crisis, but compared to the millions of years it takes to make oil, the few years it takes to develop safer battery disposal techniques are inconsequential.

So what I'm saying is that buying the Civic Hybrid has made sense for us both from a philosophical standpoint as well as from a monetary one. Or at least it will have by the time we're ready to sell the car when we embark on our trip in a few years. As the Starbucks cups like to say, the way I see it there are a lot of companies out there willing to buck trends and make a product in a way that is simply a bit nicer for the planet. And doing things these ways usually costs more money. Whether it means buying free-range beef, eating organic produce, using recycled printer paper, or driving a hybrid car, sometimes we just got to support their efforts. Even if it means a bit more money up front. Because ultimately the only way these things -- and their benefits -- can become commonplace and affordable is if enough people step up and provide the demand.

And if we just happen to get a little healthier and save a little money over the long-term, then that's cool too.

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