How much will hybrid cars save you?

A new Consumer Reports survey finds one out of three buyers is seriously considering a hybrid. While some of them may save you money, others may save you nothing at all.

Toyota dealers say with today's gas prices, they have a tough time keeping the Prius on the lot.

"They go rolling off the showroom floor as fast as they come in," said Neale Kuperman, a Toyota dealer.

A base model Prius that gets 44 miles per gallon goes for around $24,000. That's $5,000 more than a similarly equipped Toyota Corolla XLE, which gets 32 miles per gallon.

To find the better deal, Consumer Reports compared the total cost of ownership if you bought the cars new and traded them in after five years.

"We compared several factors, including depreciation, repairs and maintenance, and fuel costs, based on $4 a gallon and driving 12,000 miles a year," said Rik Paul, Consumer Reports.

Despite the extra $5,000 for the Prius, Consumer Reports figures you'd save about $2,000 over five years.

Consumer Reports then checked which other hybrids save you money.

"It really depends on the hybrid. Some will save you thousands of dollars, some won't save you anything. And others will only save you money if you can get the federal tax credit," said Paul.

The hybrid Nissan Altima will save you about $1,600 after five years with the tax incentive. However, without it, the Altima hybrid won't pay off. On the other hand, with the hybrid Toyota Camry you don't need a tax incentive to see big savings.

"If you buy the Camry hybrid instead of the all-gas version, you can save more than $4,000 over five years," said Paul.

Consumer Reports says the Toyota Camry is the biggest money-saving hybrid out there.

Current federal tax incentives on hybrids range from around $500 for the Honda Civic to more than $2,000 for the Nissan Altima. However, you may not qualify for the incentive if you pay the alternative minimum tax.

Consumer experts also say you should be aware that the federal rebates phase out once an automaker has produced 60,000 hybrids. That is the reason there aren't any rebates for Lexus and Toyota hybrids.


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