Why we bought a Plug-in Hybrid

photo of Prius

If you remember one of our early solar posts when building the house, we initially assumed that solar was going to be too expensive for us. Then we ran the numbers and found that the rate of return was actually quite attractive over the log run.

Same goes for our new plug-in hybrid. We had been a one car family since Jill and I met. Our four-wheel drive Ford Escape was both our commuter car and utility vehicle. We made multiple moves in that car. We carted goats and chickens and guineas in that car. We transported a year’s worth of hay. We hoped the Escape would carry us a few more years, but at over 200,000 miles our trusty steed was starting to cost us more in gas and repairs than buying a new car.

We now have a truck to haul goats and other farm trappings when needed, so Jill started researching commute-friendly cars. She drove three hybrids, Honda Insight, Toyota Prius and Ford C-Max. The C-Max had the nicest interior and was more similar feeling to the Escape, but was the most expensive and the mpg reviews were mixed. The Insight had a great price point, but had the worst mpg estimate and interior feel. So we focused on the middle-priced Prius which had the best mpg estimates and a good track record.

With our current net metering plan, it’s better for us to use the excess than sell it back to the utility which pays us very little. It initially looked like a plug-in hybrid was out of our price range (even with federal credits) but when I added up the miles: 19,500, the gas: 970 gallons, and gas dollars: about $3,600 a year, I realized the extra savings in gas might justify the higher cost.

Here’s the breakdown…

The Escape was averaging about 20 mpg. The regular Hybrid Prius averages 50 mpg and would save us 580 gallons of gas and $2,150 per year. Toyota says the Prius plug-in gets roughly 95 mpge (that’s miles per gallon plus electric). We test drove the plug-in for a few days on back country roads and found it was closer to 85 mpge. The plug-in component gives you an extra 13-14 miles before the hybrid engine kicks in.

We estimated conservatively that 70 mpge would save us 690 gallons and $2,560 per year, but use approximately 1,400 kWh per year. That would cost us about $210 in electricity charges if we were paying for electricity, which means we would only be saving $2,350 per year in gas.

The regular Prius is $24,995. Toyota had a special offering interest free loans up to 60 months. So $25k/5 = $5,000/year plus $1,450 in gas equals $6,450/year. Now remember, we were paying about $3,600/year for gas, and $2,000 or more per year in maintenance. So we’d be paying an extra $830/year for a new car.

The plug-in version is $8k more. $33k/5 = $6,600/year. But in addition to 0% interest for 60 months, they were also throwing in a $4,000 rebate for plug-ins. There’s also a $2,500 federal tax credit. That brings the price down to $26,500, only $1,500 more than the regular Prius. That works out to $5,300/year plus $1,030 in gas, plus $210 in electricity equals $6,540. That’s about $90 extra per year for the plug-in, assuming we paid for electricity. Take out the electricity (because we produce excess electricity per year) and the plug-in is cheaper than the regular Prius.

Of course we didn’t start at the $33k price, Jill bargained them down. After rebates and tax credits we’re paying about $100 less a year for the plug-in over the regular Prius. So we are basically paying about $520 more per year (not counting electricity, and assuming gas prices stay the same) for a new car that is easier on the environment. If we get closer to 85 mpge then we will only be paying $330 extra per year. If/when the price of gas goes up, we save more.

The only down side. The Prius is definitely not going to make it up our driveway some days in the winter.

5 Responses to “Why we bought a Plug-in Hybrid”

  1. 1 Chris 11-July-2013 at 7:09 pm

    Im jealous – would love to get a Volt or other plug-in hybrid. We’re about a handful of years behind you; will good to read more about your experiences with the solar and plug in car. Congrats. Always fun to get a shiny new car.

  2. 2 Arthur Perry 22-July-2013 at 9:49 pm

    Larry, thanks for the detailed cost analysis. Very informative. As you can imagine, Northern California is electric car crazy out here. I am just waiting for the self-charging electric to come out.

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