What to buy? Hybrid?

I have a 1999 Saturn SL1, that I bought new in Fall of 1998. It has 200,000 miles and still runs great. It has a 5 speed with the SOHC engine and I get 40 MPG.

I know it won’t last forever so I am starting to look around. I can’t approach this mileage without getting a hybrid, but the cost of replacing the batteries several time over the life of the car is concerning. I plan to have my next car for 12 years too. I’m much more interested in the lowest total cost of ownership than the best gas mileage. What is the expected life and replacement cost of a hybrid’s batteries?

By the way, the Saturn was a step down in mileage from my previous car. That was a Subaru Justy with a 3 cylinder 1.2 liter engine that got 50 MPG.

Hold onto your Saturn for a few months at least. There are a number of new small cars coming to America. The race to sell the “highest mpg” car in the American market is on, and there is no winner yet.

For the lowest total cost of ownership I believe the Honda Civic is the top model, but it is not the best mpg car out there. The Smart car is very small, but for it size gets bad mileage, even worse mpg than a much more comfortable and practical Civic. The Toyota Yaris maybe the best mpg car at the moment, but better cars are sold abroad and are coming to the US in the next couple of years.

For me, I bought an '03 Civic EX with 5 spd manual trans new with the idea of holding onto it for a long, long time. It gets just over 40mpg on interstate hwy trips, and 36 overall. That is fine with me, but you want more mpg and low maintenance. Hybrids might be a good option for you, but a plug in version like the Chevy Volt might be better if your driving is mostly near your home. The Chevy Volt will be sold at a premium price initally, but 5 years after its release a bunch of copycats will hit the market and prices will come down.

For the most bang for your buck I’d bet a small high mpg conventional gas car will be best for you. In the next 1 to 3 years there will be at least 5 new models of small efficient cars that will compete for the best mpg leader, one of them will meet your needs.

I have been hearing that battery life in a Prius has been a non-issue. Some have as much as 200,000 miles on them still on the original battery.

My 5-speed non hybrid Yaris routinely gets between 40 and 45 mpg, 43 on the last tank. The EPA only claims 29/36 for this car. But then, I don’t find it necessary to go 75-80 mph in the left lane and I have the rare gift of being able to see red lights a nearly a half mile ahead of me.

Great advise. I’m not making a decision until next Fall. I will spend a lot of time thinking, asking questions, and researching. It’s good to hear better cars are coming it has been depressing to take a step back with each purchase.

I do a lot of highway driving today, but that may change if I move closer to where I work. Today I have a 1 hour all-highway (no stop n go) commute.

I can’t get anything smaller than the SL1 because I take it on a few trips a year where I actually have to take out the back seat to get the extra cargo room. So the ultra small cars won’t for me.

While some of the cars maybe very small, some will be practical like the Honda Fit. For the last decade America car markets were focusing on bigger, more luxury, heavier, faster, and more acceleration as marketing points. MPG was far down on the list of priorities because the average American customer wasn’t that concerned with mpg. They are now and the car companies are scrambling to catch the wave of this new market.

A current Honda Civic turned for max mpg with less hp, somewhat taller gearing, and slower acceleration could easily top 50 mpg. These adjustments will be made to current models and with new models also focused more on mpg you’ll have a much better choice of high mpg cars in the next few years.

Battery life isn’t too bad in our Prius. We bought ours hoping to keep it for a long time.

The cars with the lowest cost of ownership are the Hyundi Accent and Nissan Versa. However, if you are looking for more options in your car (those two have nothing in them), you may want to consider a slightly used car. The total cost of ownership is nearly identical.

I know it won’t last forever so I am starting to look around. I can’t approach this mileage without getting a hybrid, but the cost of replacing the batteries several time over the life of the car is concerning.

I drive a 2002 VW diesel Beetle and have averaged about 45 mpg (mostly city). I drive conservatively so others may not do a well, but it and a few other diesel cars should do as well.

Don’t worry about those batteries. They are lasting far longer than I every expected. Some of the NYC cabs have over 300,000 miles on the original batteries. While I don’t believe the hybrid is the solution for the world, they do have their place and I have been amazed at their reliability for a new technology.

Sounds like you’re doing it right, only other thing I might add is to be ready (cash in bank) to buy just in case a major repair is needed on your Saturn, at 200k something big could go at any time. There are a number of interesting new cars coming, I’m looking forward to the Ford Fiesta, for one. My brothers are each happy with their Prius and Insight, both getting around 50 mpg.

I’d also look at a diesel VW Passat – 40 - 50 MPG with 100-year-old technology and low engine maintenance.


I would agree to wait and buy one of the new economy cars coming out soon. There will be a Ford Fiesta, Chevy ???, Toyota iQ?, Fiat 500, Mazda 2, etc. These will all be econoboxes, like your Subaru Justy, only more refined.

Overall cost of ownership of a Prius wil be high since it is not an economy car in the strictest sense of the word. It’s a mid-size car that gets exceptional gas mileage, and comes with mid-size ownership costs.

Hybrids really excel in stop and go travel, so an all highway commute isn’t very practical for it.
I’ll also chime in for the VW diesel cars. More expensive to buy, but they should pay for themselves over time


Click on the link below. It shows you all the cars available in the US for 2010, as well as previous years. If you click on 2010 then the brand of car, you can find out what the EPA estimates are. These estimates are fairly accurate now and are best used for comparisons. The column on the left also lets you search based on class, make, and MPG. This should help you narrow your list. If a car isn’t listed, it’s not for sale yet.


I would be wary of buying a hybrid. They really don’t make economic sense unless gas prices go back up. Also, there seem to be issues with AC either switching on and off or consuming too much gas depending on which hybrid you buy.

Lets not forget the HID problems Prius owners have been having lately