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Bankrate's 2007 New Car Guide
The auto world's in a period of great change. How will it affect you?
High hopes remain for hybrids

Makers of hybrid cars are working hard to prove the vehicles are worth their cost, especially when many gas-powered cars have gone down in price and up in fuel economy.

Can hybrids live up to their reputations? The touted perks are better gas mileage, significant tax benefits, use of HOV lanes by solo drivers, higher resale value and preservation of the environment by reducing pollutants.

Pros and cons of hybrids
Reasons to go hybrid Reasons to avoid hybrids
Improved fuel efficiency
Tax breaks
Legal use of HOV lanes
Higher resale value
Saving the planet
The right thing to do
Gas savings offset by higher initial cost
Fuel efficiency overrated
Tax breaks phasing out
Little savings for highway drivers
Battery-pack replacement costs unknown

But even a hybrid, with its sophisticated gas engine and battery-powered electric motor combo, can't perform magic. Some experts believe we expected too much from this new breed of "cult car." Others say they're still a good value.

"Buying a hybrid may be the right thing to do, but it probably won't save you money in the long run," says Joe Wiesenfelder, senior editor and car reviewer at Cars.com.

With gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon, even hybrid owners feel the strain at the gas pump.

"When it comes to affordability, it's arguable whether hybrids can make up the premium you pay for them within a number of years," Wiesenfelder says. That premium can be up to $3,000 more than comparably equipped gasoline-powered vehicles. Even with the federal tax credit for purchasing a hybrid as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (which can offer savings from $250 to $3,150 depending on the fuel economy and weight of the vehicle), experts estimate that it could take up to eight years to break even on your hybrid.

Toyota Prius
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Economy in question
Still, hybrid sales are on the rise, though at a slower rate. Sales were up 28 percent in 2006, dominated by the Toyota Prius. But even Prius sales have begun to slow. And there's a growing disappointment among many hybrid owners who say their vehicles are getting lower than expected gas mileage. These owners feel they were misled and betrayed by the manufacturers' and Environmental Protection Agency's, or EPA, mileage claims.

-- Posted: Aug. 2, 2007
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