Any thoughts on whether it's too early for me to consider buying a hybrid?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

Being the crunchy granola, bicycle-riding, tree-hugging kind of person I am, I'm
considering one of the new gasoline/electric hybrid cars that are coming out. Do
you have an opinion on these hybrids and on the idea of purchasing a vehicle so
new that regular mechanics won't know how to work on it? I think Honda has come
out with one that gets something like 70 miles per gallon. Sounds enticing to me.
What do you think? -- Anne

TOM: We think it's a great idea, Anne. Both Honda and Toyota are coming out with
gasoline/electric hybrids this year, and we absolutely encourage you to buy one.
After all, someone's got to be the guinea pig, right?

RAY: Honda's making one called the Insight, which is a futuristic (read:
suppository-shaped) two-seater. Toyota is getting ready to roll out the Prius,
which is a more traditional-looking, four-passenger compact car. And they'll both
sell for about $20,000.

TOM: The idea behind the technology is brilliant. Both the Honda Insight and
Toyota Prius have both small gasoline-powered engines and batteries. And with the
Prius, in stop-and-go traffic, the car is powered by the battery. Then, at higher
speeds, the gasoline engine kicks in. And when you need extra power for passing
or accelerating, they both join together. The Insight uses a similar system.

RAY: And switching between the gas engine and battery is controlled by computer,
so the driving experience is seamless -- or so they say. Plus, the battery is
charged by the gasoline engine while you're driving and by something called
regenerative braking when you're slowing down. So you never need to plug the
thing in.

TOM: The result is a car that gets 60 to 70 mpg and has an enormous cruising
range. But it has none of the inconvenience of an all-electric vehicle -- like
looking for a 220-volt outlet on Interstate 90 between Cleveland and Buffalo,

RAY: But you're right about regular mechanics not being able to work on these
things for a long time. So you'll be wedded to the dealer when it comes to
maintenance and repairs. But both of these companies have excellent repair
histories, so it's not a bad bet.

TOM: And as we said, somebody's got to be the laboratory mouse. So you're
elected, Anne. Write us again and let us know which one you picked and how it's

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