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My Hybrid Experience

Over the weekend, I drove a 2009 Toyota Camry hybrid approximately 570 miles. Driving a hybrid, I found, is a unique experience. The dashboard display, which can be quite distracting, allows you to see which motor(s) are driving the car, your average fuel economy with the current tank of gas, your instant fuel economy, and other information.

The first thing you need to get used to is the ?start? button. When you press it, the gas engine doesn?t necessarily start, unless you are running the air conditioning.

The original Honda Insight hybrid came out, the electrical motor was only used to supplement the gasoline engine, which is typically very small, but the engine ran constantly while the car was cruising, regardless of speed. The original Prius, on the other hand, operated in the opposite manner, with the electrical motor doing most of the work, and the gas engine providing supplemental power while it charged the batteries. The Camry hybrid I drove was a mix. Cruising speeds lower then 30-35 MPH, the gas engine shuts off, and all the power comes from the battery, unless you need more power, and the gas engine starts up to provide the extra power. Once you get to speeds higher than 45-50 MPH, it works in the opposite manner. The gas engine takes over for cruising, while the electric motor gives you extra power when you need it to climb a hill or accelerate to pass. This is why highway fuel economy ranged between 36 and 37 MPG, while driving through city streets drove my average fuel economy up above 42 MPG.

The highway fuel economy was only slightly better than what I get with my 1998 Honda Civic, but when I encountered a traffic jam, and the traffic slowed to stop-and-go bumper-to-bumper traffic, the Camry hybrid really shined, running only on the battery without burning any gas. That was the only time during the trip that the battery began to drain, but a few minutes at 70 MPH was enough to recharge the battery.

In my opinion, the only real advantage of a hybrid over a normal internal combustion engine set-up is the regenerative brakes, which recharge the battery. Recapturing the momentum as you slow is where hybrids get their added efficiency. If it weren?t for the braking system, you would get very little added efficiency from the electric motor/ICE hybrid set-up. Still, with the kind of driving I do, I think I will wait for a plug-in version of the Prius to become widely available before I ever consider a hybrid. On the trip up, I averaged 36.5 MPG, but on the trip back down, I averaged 42 MPG, mainly because of the traffic jam. I don?t want to rely on traffic jams for increased fuel efficiency, and my 1998 Civic with 200,000 miles on the odometer can get 36.5 MPG on the highway when I drive it as conservatively as I drove the Camry hybrid.

Good post; your observations bear out the collective experience of many hybrid drivers. If you drive constantly in traffic jams, a hybrid makes sense if you put on enough miles. If you put on a lot of highway miles, such as a sales person, a diesel makes more sense.

The hybrid really makes sense as an urban taxi in a mild climate.

My experience is similar. I get 37-39 mpg, in city or on the highway. One caution about the plug in hybrids - if the true cost of the batteries is included, it might be very hard to make economic sense of the added $$. You can’t pay much for batteries to save gas when you’re starting at 38 mpgs.

And the hybrid action does save additional gas even aside from the regenerative braking, it’s just so integrated into the power system it’s hard to tell exactly when the electric side is providing additional power. The ‘Atkins cycle’ IC engines in these have reduced low-end torque (in order to maximize highway mpgs), which is made up for by the high-torque electric motors. That’s how I get 38 mpg on the highway, where the electrical side makes little contribution.

I thank my decision to buy a hybrid every time I gas up these days!

And the hybrid action does save additional gas even aside from the regenerative braking, it’s just so integrated into the power system it’s hard to tell exactly when the electric side is providing additional power.

That wasn’t the case for me. On the Camry I was driving, I could change the dashboard display to show which way the power was flowing. I was able to tell when the gas engine was providing power, when the battery was providing power, when both were providing power, and when the battery was being charged by the car’s momentum (even when I had my foot off the brakes). I could both feel and see when the gas engine shut down and started up by itself.

I think you would be getting 38 highway MPG even if your hybrid had no electric motor. That small gas engine is the biggest factor when you cruise at highway speeds on flat land.

I thank my decision to buy a motorcycle every time gas goes up, and also when I see how expensive it is to replace hybrid batteries.

I’m not referring to the engine shutting down. And yes, you can see when both are providing power (I do wish my MKZ’s display was as good as the Toyota’s). But the benefit of the electric motors is also significant while both are operating.

The MKZ would get not 38 mpg on the highway with the regular 4 cylinder. EPA for the Fusion 4 is 33 highway. If I were using it just for highway I wouldn’t have got a hybrid, that’s true.

I can’t justify buying a hybrid for my own situation right now. However, your comparison isn’t quite equal. The Toyota has higher HP and weight compared to your Civic and a ride that easily surpasses it as well (that’s right, I put it right out there;). That may not matter to you but to those it does, they usually pick the Honda equivalent- Accord.

Perhaps if you had driven something more equivalent to your existing ride, the Civic Hybrid, you may have found it more appealing. With an anemic engine, it gets something more like 40/43 mpg, something you could improve on as you’ve shown you’re able to beat the EPA specs on both vehicles you cited.

I still can’t get past the extra initial costs (even with credits/incentives) and the prospect of a big bill down the road to switch to a hybrid. And my bike only gets about 30 mpg so it’s not much better than driving my car (if you’re foolish enough to only consider fuel efficiency)…

Good info Whitey. Even though a Civic compares favorably to it, I doubt that Toyota meant the hybrid Camry as a response to a Civic. Otherwise, I/we could say a scooter would give you better mileage still.

If you don’t need the size, than the Prius is the better comparison. From what I’ve been told by people in Toyota management, a plug in Prius has been ready for a while and will roll out only as the competition demands it in ranges dictated by other cars. Higher capacity up to 80 to 100 miles in EV mode seems to be well withing their technology now at the same price, but again, you’ll see them only as a response, not as a front runner. Competition with their own models (including Scion) is as much a concern.

Toyota has taken this response to the competition strategy for many years in most of their models instead of going out on a limb with exceptional cars. They seem to be successful and I wouldn’t doubt you’ll gradually see plug in Camrys with much greater range, but only as a response. They may not have cornered the market on the best cars in each class performance wise, but they sure have the a lead in merchandising there products over time for profitability. They supply a plethora of small diesel cars over seas as do others that would put mileage figures of gas hybrids in the target and still give better performance. Why invest the money in making them environmentally ready, which they could do, with out a competitive market ? The response isn’t needed as yet.

My bike gets about 50/45 MPG (city/highway), and yes, I know a motorcycle typically has higher per mile costs than a car, simply because of tires and other maintenance. However, I am hoping to bring those costs down by learning how to do the last two things I don’t yet know how to do; adjusting the valves and balancing/mounting tires. I can buy the tires I use for $126/pair online, so if I can get the tools and know-how to install them myself, I might be able to get my per-mile motorcycle costs as low as those of my car.

My 2005 Camry gets 36 MPG on HWY if there is no traffic. Stop and go fwy traffic mixed with no traffic could bring it down to 30-31. I drive VERY conservatively, but I still think beats the extra investment for a hybrid (in my situation).

With that kind of driving you’d probably get 50+ mpgs with a Prius.

So 100,000 miles at 50 mpg = 2000 gallons
At 36 mpg = about 778 gallons more
X $3.50/gallon = $2722.
So it pays, but you’re not making money on it.

I look at it as an option, nobody questions a GPS, fancy wheels, etc. The satisfaction I get with cutting my previous fuel use in half is significant.

I agree. The satisfaction I get from reducing my demand for oil by riding a motorcycle is significant as well. There’s nothing like filling up the tank, and saying to the guy who is filling up his Suburban, “What’s this world coming to when you can’t fill your tank for $9!”

I’ve done both of those to my bikes since the 1980s. I bought a new 1980 Yamaha XS850G and took it in for all service…in the beginning. Prior to that bike all mine had been smaller displacement bikes and did all my own work including rebuilding motors and so on. New bike, spring for professional maintenance. What a mistake. Those bufoons didn’t even adjust the idle after the valve adjustment. It was racing like a maniac. Then I noticed gear oil all over the shaft and rear gear box. WTF? The guy tells me they do that so I know they changed the oil…gimme a break! Then he says they must have missed adjusting the idle. Anyway, that was the first and last time anyone else has ever touched my bikes.

The last bike has hydraulic valves and you can guess why…those periodic valve adjustments are a pain. Not hard, just a pain.

Tires- I’ve changed quite a few over the years. A simple set of spoons is all I have (and a variety of prybars, screwdrivers etc :wink: Anyway, you’ll soon find out why a tire would never depart the rim on a bike no matter what. Those beads are tough! The difficulty is wrestling them off by yourself. A helper is much easier to hold the part over the rim while you pry the rest. If you have a tube, it’s important to be careful where you place the spoons or whatever you’re using and not disturb the protective rubber band (on re-installation) over the spokes if you have them. Tubeless tires are easier IMHO. Also, the front tire is the toughest which might seem counter-intuitive.

This will get some people up in arms but I’ve never balanced a bike tire. Never found a need and neither has anyone else I know that changes their own. I do take care to carefully position the new tire on the rim. Most tires will have a mark indicating the heavy spot. If not, look inside and find the place the “belts” overlap. Line this up with the valve stem hole. I have never felt any vibration or adverse handling/wear from not balancing.

The only other issue is disposal of the old tire. I cut mine up. Again, you discover how tough the bead wires are. If you must, someone will accept them for a modest fee.

Good luck!

I think most people fear the expense of a new battery pack (1 mile beyond the warranty period) that would blow away any gas savings in a heart beat.

I also enjoy roaring up to the pump next to a land yacht and 5 minutes/$9 later, roaring back out. It wasn’t long ago it only took $5 to fill it up and I was shaking my head when it surpassed $7…

That fear of batteries is why I use 100,000 miles-that the usual warranty period for them. For me, I went from about 20 mpg to about 40 mpg, saving 2500 gallons, more than $8000 over 100k miles. Batteries might be $4000, probably less, so I’m money ahead.

I, like most of the rest am still not totally sold on the hybrid concept because of the added expense and the use of an ICE and regular transmission. Now, if it were a series hybrid like a Volt, but with no pretense for superior economy but with the advantages of a high torque electric traction motor w/o a transmission and a steady state ICE as a generator; I could be had if the price were right. A sedan/wagon/suv with a steady 30 mpg highway for $25K with two electric motors, one an on demand for rear drive at speeds less than 45 mph and traction control, I feel is doable. 0 to 60 times in the 5.5 second range with small battery and no pretense of shutting off the ICE which could be a Briggs and Stratton type push rod (cheap) or diesel. The thing could tow 5K with ease given the right frame structure. A mini locomotive if you will.

Otherwise, an all EV with a tiny trailer/generator you could tow for extended trips…both cheap, functional and reliable. Oh. let me add that models need skid plates and ground clearance greater than 7 inches.

Otherwise, new model gas/diesel engines in cheap compacts and some intermediates make hybrids an exercise and not a solution.

Thanks for the advice. I’ve changed tires and tubes on a bicycle, so I know how to be careful not to pierce the tube, which has to be replaced each time.

I have had a hard time trying to find someone I trust to work on my bike. When in was living in Jacksonville, FL, I gave up on the local Honda motorcycle dealerships and would take it to Kings Bay, GA to have these things done. Kings Bay Honda really knows what they are doing, and their labor rates are pretty reasonable. Now that I am living further south, I tried one local Honda dealership, and I won’t be going back to them. There is another local shop I haven’t tried, but I am really trying to stretch my money.

I recently discovered, when buying new tires for my trailer, they don’t balance trailer tires, but I can see wheel weights on the spokes on my motorcycle, so even though it isn’t a high speed balance, they do balance them to some degree. A kit to do the basic low speed wheel balance is what I have been looking for.

Last year, I removed the fuel tank for the first time when I was doing a flush-and-fill of the radiator, so learning how to adjust the valves is the next logical step. Do you use any special tools to adjust the valves, like spacers or shims of some kind?

Today’s Hybrid cars are more demanded. Because hybrid cars have great fuel economy, which can save money & pollution also.

I have a 2000 Honda Insight which I bought used a few years ago. My commute is 70 miles a day (round trip), I’ve put about 30,000 miles on the car since I’ve bought it and my average mileage is 66mpg. My battery went bad recently, $4,000 at the Honda dealer but I found a local place who rebuilds them for $800. Contrary to what people may think Honda no longer sells a “new” battery for the Insight but is rebuilding them from warranty packs.

Of the 20 battery “sticks” in my pack 9 needed replacement, the rebuilder said that this is common for an AZ car as the heat tends to cook them. I expect to see my mileage improve when I pick up my battery next week as there was a lot of background charging going on previously which puts quite a load on the engine.

Warranty is good for a year but from what I’ve read I should be able to expect about 5 years with no trouble.

The batteries are not that difficult to remove, while heavy, and I’m still very happy with this car. For my commute I can normally get a trip mileage in the 70’s.

My hybrid experience has been grand.