Can owning a hybrid or electric car save you money?

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hybridcarHybrid cars can cost an average of over $4,500 more than their conventionally-fueled counterparts. The premium for an electric car is even higher – around $10,000 or more.

Whether you recoup that premium depends on your driving technique, how many miles you drive, and even how long you own your car.

Generally, the longer you own your hybrid or electric vehicle, and the more miles you put on it, the more likely you will end up saving money with a hybrid. In fact, one study concluded that you can more than recoup the extra cost of a hybrid if you drive the car for five years, at an average of 15,000 miles per year. That conclusion was based on fuel costs as well as other factors such as insurance, maintenance, and other costs.

Additionally, there are a few other steps you can take to minimize the cost of owning a hybrid or electric car.

One way is to buy one of the hybrids with the shortest “break-even period,” as determined by Edmunds.com. Alternatively, you could buy one of the cheapest hybrid cars currently available, which would keep your initial out of pocket expenses to a minimum.

Another way is to buy a used vehicle. Prices of used hybrids can be comparable to their gas counterparts of the same year and model.

Electric cars are generally newer than hybrids, so there may not be many used models on the market. If you’re buying a new electric car, be sure to take advantage of any dealer rebates and tax credits that may be available to you.

If you want to buy a new hybrid or electric car and then recoup your costs and maximize savings as quickly as possible, the following steps can help:

Maximize battery life. Hybrid cars have gone hundreds of thousands of miles without needing a battery change, but the battery life of a hybrid or electric car can be unpredictable. Keep the air vent to the battery free of obstructions so the battery can cool down properly.

Take advantage of the “economy mode” setting. Many hybrids and electric vehicles come with an “economy mode” or similar setting. Although the setting may limit other performance aspects, such as acceleration, economy mode is designed to maximize fuel efficiency, which can result in greater savings at the pump.

Brake gently. Braking gently allows your vehicle’s regenerative braking system to recover energy from the vehicle’s forward motion and store it as electricity, which may prolong your driving range without additional fuel or charge. By contrast, braking hard uses your vehicle’s conventional friction brakes, which do not recover energy.

Keep the battery charged. If you have a plug-in hybrid, a fully-charged battery means you will use as much electricity and as little gas as possible while driving, resulting in savings at the pump.

Finally, note that “mild hybrids” (such as the Chevy Malibu Hybrid) have a much smaller premium cost, and accordingly, offer much smaller savings on fuel.