Hybrids and Diesels Face Off for Fuel-Efficient Choices: Page 2 of 3

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Inside this Article

Hybrid Honda Accord
Hybrid Honda Accord
Diesel Volkswagen Jetta
Diesel Volkswagen Jetta
Diesel Volkswagen Beetle
Diesel Volkswagen Beetle
Hybrid Toyota Highlander
Hybrid Toyota Highlander
Diesel Jeep Liberty
Diesel Jeep Liberty
Hybrid Honda Accord
Diesel Volkswagen Jetta
Diesel Volkswagen Beetle
Hybrid Toyota Highlander
Diesel Jeep Liberty

Maintenance & Repair Costs

Hybrids are still rookies in this arena. The Japanese hybrids from Toyota and Honda have maintenance costs similar to the rest of their models. In short, lower than the industry average. Domestic hybrids like the Ford Escape Hybrid are still new to the game, so we’ll have to leave them out of this scoring.

Hybrids are more complex than diesels, which can mean higher repair costs when something breaks. The replacement cost of a hybrid’s battery pack can be a whopper: $3,000 plus some pocket change. To allay consumer fears, most hybrids have longer warranty periods than the industry average. Toyota, for example, warrants their hybrid electrical components for 8 years or 100,000 miles. While warranties are a welcome relief, a long warranty period means that you are at the mercy of your local dealership—most independent shops are not yet equipped or trained to work on these modern marvels.

Consumer Reports says that hybrids seem to be holding up well, with the first-generation Prius among the most reliable in their survey. CR also reported “outstanding reliability” for the 2003 Civic Hybrid. Although they say it’s too early to predict the Ford Escape Hybrid’s reliability, they say the 2005 Lexus RX 400h SUV hybrid “stands a good chance of being reliable, based on Lexus’ track record.”

Diesel technology is relatively proven, says CR. And although diesels, as a class of vehicles, once had higher costs than gasoline models (requiring more frequent oil changes), the advent of synthetic motor oil and technical refinements of the diesel engine has eliminated that disadvantage. Still, VW’s Jetta TDI and new Mercedes diesels like the E-Class can have high maintenance costs because of nondiesel items, like power window regulators. Domestic light-duty diesels like the Ford Powerstroke, Chevy Duramax, and Dodge Cummins are quality products, but still are beat by Toyota and Honda in global marketing information firm J.D. Power and Associates’ surveys.

Depreciation & Insurance

Depreciation is a roller-coaster ride that’s difficult to predict, especially in the case of hybrids, since few have hit the used car market. Diesels tend to hold their value longer, according to the Kelly Blue Book, especially with today’s volatile fuel prices. In a March 2006 CNNMoney.com article, James Bell, publisher of the automotive guide IntelliChoice, says that “hybrid systems will likely remain rare enough to command a premium among used car buyers.”

Insurance premiums are where hybrids’ high tech could become their Achilles’ heel. Imagine what a front-end collision does to all the electronics under a hybrid’s hood. Semiconductor spaghetti. Unfortunately, you won’t find replacements at your local salvage-yard. In an Insurance.com article, John Eager, director with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said that they are “expecting to see a diminished frequency of claims as high technology vehicles including hybrids continue to improve over time.” He also says that he “anticipates an increase in the severity of physical damage claims. When a hybrid car gets into an accident, or any car with high technology for that matter, you’re going to have a greater chance of a total loss. The repair of hybrids is something that our organization and others in the industry are looking at.”

Advantage? Neither. Before you buy, check out online pricing guides like Kelly Blue Book, and get a quote from your insurance agent.

Emissions Reduction

According to the EPA, driving a car is the single most polluting thing that most of us do. Autos emit millions of tons of pollutants into the air each year. Cars emit several pollutants classified as toxics, and contribute to acid rain and global warning. The bottom line? If you really want green wheels, get a bicycle. If you still need motorized transportation, keep reading.

With their greater fuel economy, compared to their stock counterparts, both hybrids and diesels emit less carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution (a major contributor to global warming). CO2 emissions are the same no matter what liquid fuel an engine burns—about 19 pounds of CO2 emitted for every gallon of fuel burned. Using biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel, which are produced renewably from plant crops, has the potential to make some auto emissions “carbon-neutral.”

Overall, hybrids are cleaner than their petrodiesel-powered counterparts, and produce about 80 percent fewer emissions than their gasoline cousins. Even better, for low-speed, low-acceleration driving, full-hybrid models will switch to their all-electric mode, shutting their gas engines down completely and running only on electricity stored in their batteries. The result? No tailpipe emissions for at least part of the vehicle’s driving time, a feat that no diesel or standard gasoline-engine vehicle can pull off.

U.S. standards for diesel engines target nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, the ringleader in smog formation. Diesel manufacturers plan to blow past the NOx issue soon by streamlining engine combustion (using piezo injectors,) and by sopping up extra NOx using exhaust devices like cerium-oxide or urea-SCR catalysts. The recent U.S. switch to ultralow-sulfur petrodiesel production will also help cut diesel engine NOx emissions. Some states, like New York and California, prohibit the sale of new diesel autos because of concerns about diesel tailpipe emissions.

New federal standards introduced this year will require diesel-fueled vehicles to meet the same emissions standards as gasoline models. On average, these new criteria call for a 77 percent reduction of NOx emissions and an 88 percent drop in particulate emissions for diesels to be on par with standard gas-engine cars.

Because of the tightened emission standards, several diesel automakers are opting to bow out of the U.S. market, and will not import their new diesel models for 2007. But DaimlerChrysler is planning to release their Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.0-liter, common-rail-turbodiesel in the first quarter of 2007. Volkwagen (VW) will still offer their V10 TDI Touareg SUV, but will not be sending new diesel Jettas, Golfs, or Beetles to the United States. VW plans to re-engineer engines in 2008 models to meet the stricter U.S. emissions standards. (For a list of new diesel models currently offered or coming soon to the U.S. market, visit the Diesel Technology Forum Web site at www.dieselforum.org/where-is-diesel/cars-trucks-suvs.)

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