Want Savings?

August 15, 2013
BY Linda L. Esterson
Get a Hybrid
Jane Sacks Rice takes a ride in her Toyota Prius, a hybrid vehicle. ( David Stuck)

Jane Sacks Rice takes a ride in her Toyota Prius, a hybrid vehicle. ( David Stuck)

Six months ago, Laura Fugate, 28, bought a Toyota Prius.

She was looking for ways to cut expenses and save money, and the Prius has paid off.

“The savings in gas is ridiculous,” said Fugate, an office manager for a public research company who commutes to downtown Baltimore from Perry Hall each weekday.

The Prius is classified as a Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV), one that combines a combustion engine with an electric propulsion system. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the electric powertrain is intended to achieve better fuel economy. Modern HEVs make use of efficiency-improving technologies, such as regenerative braking, which converts the vehicle’s kinetic energy into electric energy to charge the battery rather than wasting it as heat energy as do conventional brakes, according to the USDOE.

Fugate gets about 450 miles per 11.9-gallon tank, and the fill-up costs about $32. She is saving about $100 per month off of the car payment she had with her prior car, a Toyota Corolla, and she saves about $86 per month on gas. One weekend in June, she traveled to Atlantic City, N.J., Frederick, Md., and Annapolis on one tank of gas.

“I found out how much this would save on gas, and I couldn’t say no,” she said.

The car also suits her for other reasons. Her petite 5-foot-3 frame prevented her from seeing well in her Toyota Camry, and she often dealt with blind spots. The Prius is comfortable, and she can see well.

Most often, she keeps the car in economy mode, to generate the most savings. She also uses only the battery when she drives through her work parking lot at less than 10 mph.

“It’s a very smooth drive,” she said. “Going 65 feels like 25.”

Fugate considers herself a “trend-setter” among her friends, as none of them drive hybrid cars … yet.

More often, older generations are buying hybrids, namely people with larger expenses such as mortgages, property taxes and their children’s college tuitions.

Laurie Duhan, of Owings Mills, spent about a year researching hybrid vehicles, as she was “ready to stop being a minivan mom.”

“I was looking for decent gas mileage,” said Duhan, who bought a Prius in February 2009. The Prius, which starts at $24,200, is not an expensive car, so it does not negate the gas savings, Duhan explained.

Duhan’s research consisted of visiting dealerships, combing through Consumer Reports and talking to people. She and husband Danny needed to be sure there was enough rear head and leg room. At 5-feet-7, she’s the shortest member of her family. The car, she said, is comfortable, drives smoothly and provides “awesome gas mileage,” with a manufacturer’s estimate of 51 mpg on the highway and 48 mpg in the city.

“What’s not to love?” Duhan asked. “The car cost about the same as the non-hybrids; for me, it was all a win.”

According to USDOE statistics from September 2012, nearly 2.2 million hybrid vehicles have been sold in the United States. In Japan, about 1.5 million hybrid vehicles are on the road. The hybrid with the highest mileage is the Prius, with an estimated 53 miles per gallon. Just behind are the Honda Civic Hybrid at 44 mpg and the Lexus CT 200 at 43 mpg. Honda also makes a hybrid called the Insight, and Toyota produces a Camry Hybrid. There are also hybrid models made by Ford, Chevy, Nissan and Hyundai on the market.

The USDOE also verifies the Prius is the top-selling hybrid-electric vehicle in the U.S.

In addition, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that in 2011 there were nearly 11 million alternative-fuel vehicles in use in the United States, including 2.1 million hybrid-gas-electric and diesel-electric vehicles.

Jane Sacks Rice and Marty Rice both bought hybrid vehicles in the last few years. Three years ago, Sacks Rice purchased a Prius due to her concerns for the environment and a desire to save money as the cost of gas continued to rise. Sacks Rice estimates her Prius achieves 50 miles to the gallon, and she fills up just once every 10 days. She’s spending half as much money as she did for gas for her Honda Accord.

Rice chose a Toyota Camry hybrid in January 2012, and he saves a few hundred dollars each month on his commute to Rockville with a Volkswagen Jetta. Rice estimates he gets about 38 mpg and 500 miles per tank, a generous improvement over the 23 mpg with the Jetta, a car with a similar-sized engine.

Sandy Newman also bought a Prius, replacing her Mercury Villager minivan.

“I figured I might as well get a hybrid to save money on gas,” she said.
Newman goes about two weeks before she needs to fill up, and she racks up about 400 miles.

“That’s pretty good mileage,” she said.

Newman especially likes the perks, like the premium parking she gets at Olive Garden, which has front-row parking for energy-conscious drivers.

Linda L. Esterson is a local freelance writer.

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