Hybrids are considered a slightly more ecological springboard towards fully electric vehicles, with the internal combustion engine in hybrids seen more as a fallback to reassuring drivers suffering from dreaded range anxiety… Although hybrids are growing in popularity, there are some drawbacks which you should be aware of before buying one.
The three biggest problems with hybrid cars
The internal combustion engine
The internal combustion engine of a hybrid car can be an advantage or a disadvantage. On the one hand, the internal combustion engine is the ideal element to reassure you if you suffer from range anxiety, offering a practical emergency solution if the battery runs out of charge. On the other hand, it still emits CO2 emissions harmful in the atmosphere, which is usually the main thing people want to avoid when buying an electric vehicle…
Having both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine means you have two drivelines with their own maintenance requirements, which can complicate things in the event of a repair. In addition, they are generally less powerful. The problem occurs in particular when the batteries no longer hold a charge.
You’ll need to buy a new battery from a dealer or refurbish yours from a mechanic or the car won’t run, since batteries are part of the powertrain. A new battery can cost over €2,370. And while a refurbished unit may be cheaper, it may not last as long.
Worse still, there’s no way to tell when the battery might be dead. Many hybrid vehicles can travel up to 250,000 miles on their original battery, but some batteries fail as early as 150,000 miles. At this level, the purchase of a used hybrid vehicle can represent a big risk.
High cost for less maneuverability
Although the price difference between internal combustion engine vehicles and hybrids is not as large as that between internal combustion engine vehicles and EVs, they remain more expensive, which makes cost one of the main drawbacks of hybrid cars.
Hybrid vehicles incorporate two powertrains into one car, which means more weight, which can negatively impact fuel efficiency and handling.
Note: Fuel economy is the strong point of the hybrid!
Some insurance companies believe that drivers of hybrid vehicles have less likely to be involved in an accident than drivers of non-hybrid vehicles. Others don’t give hybrids any special credit for changing driver behavior. Thus, some insurers offer reduced premiums for hybrid models, while others do not.
Some insurers may even charge more if their claims history shows that hybrid components cost more to repair if damaged. It is therefore important to ask your agent what to expect. If your insurer does not offer hybrid vehicle rebates, or charges higher fees, you may need to look for a new blanket.
Temperature sensitive batteries
Batteries used in electrified vehicles cannot withstand extreme temperatures : Excessive heat accelerates battery degradation, and extreme cold negatively impacts battery life. In cold weather, hybrid batteries take longer to reach their operating temperature, which forces the internal combustion engine to expend more energy.
Furthermore, as we know, the production of lithium-ion batteries uses rare earth metals, and the equipment used to extract them – especially bulldozers and other mining machinery – runs on diesel, which defeats the idea of buying a hybrid to have a positive impact on the environment.
The good news: EV batteries can be recycled when they reach the end of their life cycle. The bad news: Extracting reusable cells from batteries is a difficult and expensive process, which means there’s a long way to go before it can be done at scale in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.
Do the math
We understand that there are many reasons to buy a hybrid car. For some drivers, it’s about making an environmental statement. But for buyers who just want to save money, a hybrid car may not be the best solution.
A Toyota Prius, for example, is several thousand dollars more expensive than a similarly sized Toyota Corolla. And even if it consumes less gas than the Corolla, it would take years to make up the price difference. In fact, depending on your driving style, it could take up to a decade – and that can make a hybrid a lot less appealing than a petrol car.
In many cases, choosing a hybrid car is a good choice. But it’s important for buyers to know that modern hybrid cars still have some drawbacks.
What does this mean for the future?
Ultimately, the hybrid or electric car you buy today should be better for the environment than the one you might have bought years ago, and the one you buy in a few years should be better than anything you can buy today.
Technology keeps improving, whether it’s more efficient manufacturing processes, less extractive mining techniques, or changes in battery composition. In addition, industry and government regulations continue to force battery manufacturers to work harder.