The advantages of a hybrid car

Posted Aug. 22, 2008, at 11:38 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:47 p.m.

I love cars. They are fun to drive and play with and I have had a lot of them. I suppose it is some sort of middle-aged adolescent thing, but there are so many different ones to try. I also am cheap. I usually buy salvage vehicles and cars that need some help.

So I do a lot of car work myself, and knowing my great limitations when it comes to things mechanical, I subrogate to my mechanic friend Bob Sanders of Etcetera Auto whenever I am in over my head.

He is patient with me and likes the crazy projects I get into, although he has been known to refer to me as “hammerhead.”

It is hard to believe, but I have had a lot of electric cars over the past 10 years. I started out with a 1976 CommutaCar, then a 1975 Elcar (actually six of them), then two Gizmos and then an electric Chevy S-10 and a Kewet. I now am driving a 2004 Prius. Yes, a Prius has a gas engine, but it is an electric car at heart. And although I am not a great mechanic, I have delved into electric vehicles enough to appreciate good electric car engineering when I see it. The hybrids that are currently being offered give us that.

And the Japanese manufacturers do give us excellent electronics and engineering.

I have great hope that U.S. manufacturers will stand on their shoulders and once again lead in the auto industry.

I thought it might be fun to foist upon you some of my musings about cars.

Cars are more efficient if they are light in weight. It doesn’t matter if the car is gas, electric or hybrid. Light weight gives us better mileage. That doesn’t necessarily afford us great safety, but I suspect good design can overcome some of that. Being on the receiving end of a high-speed impact from a full-size SUV might not be a fun time, though.

The other big car secret is that any driving faster than 35 mph eats up a lot of energy.

Aerodynamics rule the day when driving fast. Most cars have plain crummy aerodynamics, regardless of how sleek they appear.

The thing I like about the Prius is something rather arcane: the mpg gauge.

Many cars have a device that shows you the instantaneous miles per gallon. What sets apart Prius driving is that when you lighten up on the gas pedal a little bit, you are rewarded with big (20-plus mpg) increases in mileage. I have had other vehicles with mileage gauges, but working the gas pedal only yielded minimal savings.

Yes, the Prius seems gimmicky to some folks. It does not give some drivers the kind of savings they expect, and it is currently selling at a premium price. But forgetting about the cost effectiveness for a moment, it has made me behave better when I am driving. (And it has saved me from speeding tickets more than a few times.)

There have been many arguments about the cost effectiveness of a hybrid vehicle. Comedians and “South Park” have had a field day making fun of rabid environmentalist hybrid drivers. But when you consider all the silly things we spend money on, this one, at least, has some basis in common sense and safe driving.

Questions for Tom Gocze should bemailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.

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