Green Car Myth Busters | Edmunds

Green Car Myth Busters

For Earth Day, We Separate Fact From Fancy


There are lots of myths and misconceptions about green cars and fuel economy. Green-car haters will counter any pro-EV statement with their own sometimes dubious objections, but green-car advocates also have been known to spin the virtues of electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars.

For years, Edmunds has covered the pros and cons of these cars and the larger issue of fuel economy, so we have a lot of experience in separating the hype and the hate from the facts. For Earth Day, we've picked out some of the arguments we've heard about green cars and fuel economy and bring you the real story.

"Hybrid cars save you money."

False. If you're only calculating the money you'll save on gasoline, this is a myth that can cost you. Measured solely in dollars saved at the pump, hybrid cars can take a long time to pay for themselves — sometimes longer than the six years that is the average length of new-vehicle ownership.

Hybrid technology is expensive, but another thing that makes hybrid cars pricey is that they are often positioned as the brand's high-tech models. They are loaded with features that wouldn't normally be found in the gasoline equivalents. You aren't just paying more for the hybrid technology but also for foglights, aerodynamic wheels or a unique paint color. This hybrid price premium can be considerable.

Here are some apples-to-apples comparisons of gasoline-powered 2017 vehicles and their hybrid twins so you can see how long it would take to make up for the price difference in gas savings alone. We're using the manufacturer's suggested retail price for the cars. We're also assuming 15,000 miles of driving per year and an average gasoline cost of $2.50 per gallon. If gas prices were higher or the driver put on more miles per year, the payback times would improve:

2017 Toyota RAV4 Limited versus 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: Hybrid price premium: $800. Combined mpg: 24 for the gasoline version; 32 for the hybrid. Annual hybrid gas savings: $262. Payback time: 2 years.

2017 Chevrolet Malibu LT versus 2017 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid: Hybrid price premium: $2,570. Combined mpg: 30 mpg for the gasoline version; 46 mpg for the hybrid. Annual hybrid gas savings: $435. Payback time: 6.3 years.

2017 Toyota Camry LE versus 2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE: Hybrid price premium: $3,720. Combined mpg: 27 for the gasoline version; 40 for the hybrid. Annual hybrid gas savings: $451. Payback time: 8.2 years.

2017 Kia Optima versus 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid: Hybrid price premium: $5,550. Combined mpg: 28 for the gasoline version; 42 for the hybrid. Annual hybrid gas savings: $446. Payback time: 12.4 years.

2017 Infiniti QX60 versus 2017 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid: Hybrid price premium: $9,000. Combined mpg: 22 for the gasoline version; 26 for the hybrid. Annual hybrid gas savings: $262. Payback time: 34 years.

"If you want to save money on gas, you really need a new hybrid, plug-in hybrid or EV."

False. You have other choices.

Keep your car: In most cases, you'll save money by simply hanging on to your current vehicle. The cost of buying a new car has to be offset before it can start saving you money on gas alone. Use our gas-guzzler calculator to determine whether the jump to a new car would make sense.

Consider a new fuel-efficient conventional car: The 2017 Honda Fit gets 36 mpg combined, as does the 2017 Honda Civic sedan. The 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage gets an EPA estimated 39 mpg combined. (Full disclosure: Apart from its fuel efficiency, our editors don't like it much.) If your definition of "conventional" extends to diesel-powered cars, you can get 37 mpg combined from the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze and 36 mpg combined from the 2017 Jaguar XE and 2017 BMW 328d.

Shop for a used fuel-sipper: If a new fuel-efficient car is beyond your budget, consider buying a used EV, hybrid or fuel-sipping conventional car that gets good mileage. Here are some cars to get you started:

Conventional Engine

Budget Pick
2014 Hyundai Elantra, SE, Limited: This compact sedan gets 31 mpg combined when equipped with a six-speed manual transmission.

AWD Pick
2014 Subaru Impreza: This compact sedan and hatchback has a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and gets 30 mpg combined.

Luxury Pick
2014 BMW 328d: This sedan has a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission and gets 36 mpg.

Used Hybrids

The King of Hybrids
2014 Toyota Prius: This midsize hatchback hybrid has a CVT and gets 50 mpg combined.

Less Expensive Alternative
2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid: This midsize sedan has a CVT and gets 42 mpg combined.

The Commuter's Choice
2014 Honda Accord Hybrid: Another midsize sedan with a CVT. It gets 47 mpg combined.

"Fuel economy is all about the car and its technology."

False. A huge factor in fuel economy is how you drive. Edmunds carried out a comprehensive fuel-saving tips test in 2009, and our drivers found that using a "moderate" driving style could achieve average fuel savings of 31 percent. The advice is simple: Don't mash the gas when you start up. And take the long view of the road, braking easily. If you slow your zero-to-60-mph acceleration time down from 10 seconds to 15 seconds, you'll feel the savings immediately. If you want to save even more fuel, slow down to the speed limit (12 percent average fuel economy savings) and use cruise control when it's appropriate (7 percent average fuel economy savings).

"EVs can work for anyone."

False. It takes some planning to integrate an electric car into your life. For example:

  • Do you have a parking spot where you can install a 110-volt electrical outlet or, better yet, a dedicated 240-volt EV charging station? Most EV owners (and carmakers) think this is a must.
  • Can you only afford one vehicle for the entire household? An EV's charging needs and range limitations might not work for all your needs.
  • Do you live in the mountains, a cold climate or hot desert? Climate and terrain can diminish EV range.
  • Do you want a convertible? There aren't many EV convertibles yet.
  • Do you regularly tow a 20-foot travel trailer? Most EVs are not suited to this task. For example: Edmunds' long-term 2016 Tesla Model X is rated to tow 5,000 pounds, but we found there are challenges to towing with an EV.

"EV range is inadequate for most people."

False. Most people actually overestimate how much they drive each day. Car use studies show that most Americans driveless than 60 miles per day, which is well within the range of most EVs and all plug-in hybrids.

Further, EV range is improving. Most EVs are in the 80- to 110-mile range category, depending on driving conditions. Some newer EV entrants do much better than that, such as the Hyundai Ioniq Electric at 124 miles and the Chevrolet Bolt at around 200 miles. Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles have range of around 300 miles, depending on their trim levels.

Having two cars in a household can make EV use simple. You can use the electric car for daily commuting, saving your gas-hungry SUV or truck for weekends and vacation drives. You also might find that you could rent a pickup or SUV for the few occasions each year when you really need towing capacity or increased cargo and passenger room.

"If you buy an EV, you can get a federal tax credit."

True — for now. But those tax credits may be on their way out. Read about an Edmunds analysis of a looming problem with EV tax credits and how dwindling availability could affect shoppers.

"There's no point in buying a used EV."

False. It's true you won't get tax credits with a used EV or plug-in hybrid, but they can be good cars, provided you have a place to charge and the range works for your needs. Used EVs tend to take a big depreciation hit, which means they can be bargains for a second owner. They might have passed beyond their original limited warranty, but the battery warranty should be good for up to seven years (10 years in certain states). And there are certified pre-owned EVs out there. Here are some used plug-in cars to consider:

2014 Fiat 500e: This subcompact EV hatchback comes with a CVT and gets up to 87 miles per charge and 116 mpg equivalent combined. Not available in all states.

2014 Nissan Leaf: This compact hatchback EV gets up to 84 miles per charge and 114 mpg equivalent combined.

2014 Chevrolet Volt: This midsize plug-in hybrid hatchback is rated at up to 38 miles of all-electric range. It gets 37 mpg combined with its gasoline engine-generator, 382 miles total range and 98 combined mpg equivalent.

"Miles per gallon is a good indicator of fuel economy."

False. What? How can this be? Here's how: Miles per gallon is a handy way to compare cars, but it doesn't give a clear picture of what is really important: how much fuel you may save. It's smart to trade in a gas guzzler that gets just 12.5 mpg for a vehicle that gets 25 mpg. But if you have a car that gets 25 mpg, it's not as smart to trade it in for a hybrid that gets 50 mpg.

The reason is clear when you look at the cars in terms of how many gallons it takes to drive 100 miles:

12.5 mpg = 8 gallons to drive 100 miles

25 mpg = 4 gallons to drive 100 miles

50 mpg = 2 gallons to drive 100 miles

In other words, the savings when going from 12.5 to 25 mpg is 4 gallons. When going from 25 to 50 mpg, you'd only save 2 gallons of gas. Any vehicle that gets an average of 25 mpg is pretty good, and replacing it isn't usually beneficial in terms of fuel saving.

You can read more in our story about the gallons-per-mile method of measuring fuel economy. And when you're car shopping, you can see the gallons-per-mile rating on the EPA's fuel economy label that's on the window of new cars for sale. It's also shown in the car listings at fueleconomy.gov.

"Buying a plug-in car is easy."

True. If you know what to do. Our 9 steps for easier plug-in car shopping make it a snap.

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