Do you really save owning a hybrid?

LOS ANGELES Hybrid vehicles seem to get more buzz whenever the price of gas starts climbing. They can be a lot more fuel efficient especially if a driver spends lots of time on city streets or in heavy freeway traffic.

One of the new hybrids that came on the market this year is the Ford Fusion hybrid. It's received raves from the automotive press and got a very good MPG rating from the EPA, 41 mpg on the city cycle and 39 overall.

It also has some neat tricks up its sleeve. The hybrid system lets you go up to 47 miles per hour on battery power only. And you can track your efficiency with the small leaves that appear on the instrument panel as you drive.

But you'll have to spend money to save gas. The sticker price for the Fusion hybrid is about $3,300 more than a comparable non-hybrid model.

A lot of people buy hybrids for environmental reasons, but there are others who consider hybrids as a way to save money. But there are a lot of variables that come into play, so you really do need to get out the calculator and do the math.

If you take the hybrid's price premium and figure you'll drive about 15,000 miles a year, the higher the price of gas, the sooner you'll get your money back.

At $3.00 a gallon, you'd save about $640 a year. At $3.50 it's over $750 annually. At $4.00 a gallon, you save about $860 and if we get back to gasoline at $4.50, you'd save almost $970 a year.

So in a wide swing of gas prices, it could take anywhere from 3.5 to 5 years to make the hybrid pay off.

Skewing the figures are tax incentives offered by the government when you purchase a hybrid, from several hundred to over a thousand dollars. The amounts change frequently, so it's best to check with the dealer or your accountant.

Its harder to calculate the savings for a hybrid that has no non-hybrid equivalent, like the Toyota Prius or new Lexus HS model. But makers of hybrids know that it isn't always about the money.

"Last year when gas prices went through the roof, certainly there became a financial advantage. But we also know there are many people who want hybrids to make the socially responsible statement," said David Nordstrom, Toyota spokesman.

So while some drivers feel good about driving a hybrid in general, those who do it to save money can feel a little better every time pump prices rise.

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