Op-ed: Hybrid Withdrawal

Monday, December 6, 2010
by Ken Fuirst

Many people have experienced the enjoyment of purchasing a hybrid car.  But I think I am one of the few who have left the eco-friendly life style of driving a hybrid and returned to the standard gas-guzzling car.  And let me warn you, the adjustment is a lot harder leaving the hybrid world than it was joining it!

There were multiple factors that motivated me to purchase my Toyota Camry hybrid in 2007.  First I had my environmentally brainwashed children insisting that I only consider a hybrid.  Then there was the underlying feeling that increasing foreign oil consumption only “fuels” the Mid-East problems.  And lastly, although I did not do a present value analysis to determine how many miles I would have to drive to justify the premium I was paying for a hybrid car, I did believe that the more hybrids sold, the quicker the pricing would drop and the more people would be enticed into choosing a hybrid.  So I went for it.

Life with a hybrid

For those of you that do not own a hybrid, let me share with you what I experienced three years ago.  The first thing I noticed was that with a full tank of gas, the fuel diagnostic reads “450 miles” until empty.  450 miles!  That could mean weeks before I needed to visit Owen at the Mobil station.  I wondered if I would still recognize him.  Then there were the dashboard graphs showing my average fuel consumption of 32 mpg.  Very impressive!  And of course there were times when I was getting 40 mpg.  But averaging 32 is still not too bad.

But now let’s fast forward to three years later when it is time to get a new car. I shop around for a luxury hybrid sedan.  However, there are no good options.  Sure you can pay a significant amount of money and get a high end Lexus or a SUV hybrid.  But in both cases, the mileage is not impressive.

Life without a hybrid

Finally, after weighing the various cars in the marketplace, I sell my soul and rationalize that there is not much difference between a 32-mpg hybrid and a standard car whose sticker shows 23 mpg.  Can 9 mpg be that significant a difference?

Guess what.  It’s a huge difference.  First off, I forgot that I was comparing my actual real-life 32 mpg to a sticker/ideal projection/track conditioned/wind at your back 23 mpg.  The actual average fuel consumption according to my new car’s computer turns out to be 18 mpg.  Ok, so that is still only 14-mpg difference.  How big of an impact could that be?  Well, it is tremendous.  That means I am filling my tank up almost twice as many times as before.  Now I feel like I should move in with Owen!

But the worst part of all of this is the fuel gauge.  With my hybrid, the gauge didn’t really seem to move until my tank was half empty.  My new car’s gauge is more “accurate” and the gauge immediately starts going down as I leave the gas station.  It is as though it is mocking me.  And now that it is in my head, I can’t take my eyes off the plummeting fuel gauge. 
So now, when you see me filling up at the Mobil station every morning, and you see me glaring at the gas pump, you should understand that I am not counting how much gas I have consumed.  I am counting down the remaining months of my lease, so I can return to the hybrid world.

Ken Fuirst, president of the local insurance agency, Levitt-Fuirst, has lived in New Castle for 17 years with his wife Sue.  They have three children: Matt, Ethan and Abby.

We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

Ken, your mistake was passing over the Prius in the first place. Once you’re getting 45 mpg, retreat is not an option!

By Sara Kaplan on 12/06/2010 at 7:17 am

Cute story! We rode our 2001 Prius for well over 200,000 miles before trading it in. As it aged, the gas mileage dropped—from an actual 50 mpg down to 45—with real-world driving (above the most efficient speed <g>). We traded in for a 2010 Prius and are delighted with the tech advances that have happened in 9 years.
Say hi to Owen for us!

By Jack Lohr on 12/06/2010 at 7:26 am

It’s an embarrassment to see how many SUVs are around town. While a very, very few families actually need one for sports, large families (virtually nonexistent in this town!) or because of family members with special needs, 95% of SUV owners don’t need them, and NO, you’re not one of those families. Those that need them know who they are, and no need to comment.

Safety you say ? There’s a reason the insurance on your SUV is so expensive-it’s because they are involved in a high frequently of accidents due to their high center of gravity, inexperienced drivers, high mass and poor close proximity visibility. If you believe you’re protecting your wife/child by putting them in ‘a tank,’ then you just made a very bad decision.

Get rid of your SUV. You don’t need to buy a mini-car, just one that makes sense.

By SUV on 12/06/2010 at 8:02 am

Nice piece, Ken. I’ve been driving a Honda Insight for about a year and agree wholeheartedly that there is tremendous satisfaction in getting 400 miles out of a tank of gas along with 40mpg. I, too, am flabbergasted by the number of SUVs in town. Now that the Chevy Volt has been named automobile of the year by numerous publications, let’s hope that some trend setters in town step up to the plate and go electric!

By Will Goodman on 12/06/2010 at 11:27 am

Would you agree that there is an environmental benefit to carpooling?  One car making a trip with four kids instead of four separate cars each bringing one kid to the same activity?  Can’t carry carpool and your own kids in a Prius.

And SUV, do we live in the same town?  In my Chappaqua, four (kids) is the new three.  Many families need that third row (and that’s before adding in the carpool).

By not about luxury on 12/06/2010 at 8:55 pm

Thank you for doing your part to help our planet.  Baby steps eventually lead to giant leaps and bounds and help move us forward to becoming more environmentally conscious in all aspects of our lives.  Affluent communities, like Chappaqua, must be the trail blazers in being as “green” as possible.  Change will soon follow—all that’s required is persistence and patience.

By Mother Nature on 12/10/2010 at 9:27 am

Have had a Prius since 2004.  It’s the best car I ever purchased or have had the pleasure to drive.  The car comfortably holds 5 passengers as well as luggage in the hatchback.  Carpools have been no trouble for me as I can get 4 kids in my Prius. (They love watching the energy monitor!) Mileage is consistently between 43-47 miles per gallon on average.  The car is comfortable and roomy.  And there have been no major repairs needed. (No I do not own a Toyota dealership).

SUV’s are environmentally unfriendly, unsafe and unnecessary for 99% of the population.  Bigger is not always better and Prius envy is a common phenomenon I encounter.  Can’t tell you how many people stop me to chat about the Prius and tell me they can’t wait to buy one.

By Prius Envy on 12/10/2010 at 3:38 pm

I got my first Prius two weeks before Hurricaine Katrina hit. That was when fuel prices started to climb. Instead of filling up twice a week with my Honda Pilot, I only needed to fill up every two weeks.  I saved money and time.

While some folks in Chappaqua are concerned about the environment, the real kicker is Peak Oil. We’re not running out of fossil fuels, we’re just running out of the ones we can afford to burn. Why do you think BP had to drill down 2 miles beneath the ocean?

Oil prices impact the economy too. In 2008, when our economy went into a free fall, oil as at $140 a barrel. Right now it’s creeping back up above $90 a barrel and is well above $3 a gallon everywhere in Westchester.

You know what they say: A fool and his money are soon parted. I see many fools every day with their SUVs at the gas station.

By Happy Hyrid Owner on 12/11/2010 at 11:35 am

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