Hybrid Car Replacement

I finally traded my Honda Insight hybrid. After 6 1/2 years, and 280,000 km, it was time.

The car had developed a problem with the electric propulsion system. While it still ran, my local mechanic told me that the electric motor was also the generator, and that the batteries would eventually run down. And of course without the electric motor assist, the car had less acceleration. So I called Owen Sound Honda for an appointment. The earliest they could see me was in about 10 days. I wasn’t sure my batteries would last that long, so I decided it was time to trade.

I live almost an hour from a car dealership. And there is nothing I like less than driving an hour, and waiting around, to get a repair done. The fact that I drove the Insight while I live in Lion’s Head for 4 years, with only 2 or 3 visits to the dealership, attests to both its reliability, and its repairability at a normal garage.

I owned the Insight for longer than any car I have owned, and drove it much further. All of the hybrid parts of the vehicle worked until the end – it had original batteries, the electric motor and hybrid computer had worked flawlessly until the last week of ownership. I don’t know what finally caused the electric system to fail – it could have been as simple as a corroded wire. Or it could have been the engine itself. I have heard that the average car runs for about 250,000 km, although I expect the average Honda runs much longer. So trading a working car, albeit in need of repair, at 280,000 km, is a testament to the car’s reliability.

Over the course of time, the car had a very low cost to operate, despite very high cost parts. There were only 5000 Insight’s brought into North America, so the parts, while always available, were expensive, and there were no aftermarket parts. Of course, if you don’t need parts, it doesn’t matter how much they cost. I replaced tires, brake pads, had a problem with the latch on the hatch, a corroded coil, and oil changes. I believe hybrid vehicles may well be more reliable than regular ones. Because of regenerative braking, and very light weight, there is less wear on the brakes, as the electric motor acts to break the car. Because of the electric motor, the gas motor doesn’t have to work as hard, and further, it will tend to operate at its optimal speed. The Insight has a plastic cover underneath to help aerodynamics, and this shields things like the muffler from road salt. These things make for greater reliability.
Overall its life, the Insight achieved an average fuel efficiency of 4 litres per hundred km (about 65 miles/imperial gallon). So fuel, even at a dollar per litre, cost only about 4 cents/ km – less than half of most vehicles. The Insight cost me an average of 20 cents/km, including depreciation, insurance, maintenance, and gas. That’s way lower than the CAA estimates for the cost of running a car, but of course, fairly high annual mileage helps to drive down the average cost/km, as the fixed costs are spread over more km.

I looked at new cars. I need reliability. I demand fuel efficiency. I compared the Honda Civic hybrid with the Toyota Prius. The Civic costs about $500 less, but uses considerably more fuel, at least on the EPA ratings. Both cars receive a rebate of $2000 from the Federal government and up the amount of the Provincial Sales Tax up to $2000 from the Province. In my case, because the trade value was low, I will receive both rebates at the full amount. I chose the Prius, because my brother drives one and is very happy with it, and because of its fuel efficiency and track record. Toyota has sold over 1 million Prius’s since 1997 – hardly bleeding edge technology.  While the dealership didn’t have a Prius on the lot, they were able to get one in about 4 days.  The Owen Sound dealership has sold about 5-6 Prius cars this year, and 8-9 Camry hybrids, which are only $1000 more expensive, a bigger car, but use more fuel.
The sticker price on the Prius is $500 less than last year, and comes in at $28,500. After adding the taxes, delivery etc, the total, before the trade, was about $35,000. The rebates act to reduce this figure. Six years ago, the Honda Insight sticker price, before taxes etc., was $26,500.
The Prius drives well – it has anti-skid which will take some getting used to, a good stereo, cruise control, and is quieter than the Insight. It is a four seater compare to 2 for the Insight, so friends are glad that I will now have to drive them around instead of being driven to events. The only downside, and it is noticeable, is that it uses more fuel. The tank is the same size as the Insight (40 l), and it uses about 5.5 l/100 km. But it is definitely more car.

The bottom line is hybrids work, and work well. They are cheap to operate. They have good power. And they last. No wonder they hold their resale values so well. Buy one, get the government rebates, and switch to a plug in hybrid when they are available. It will put more fuel efficient vehicles in play, reduce your own emissions, and my guess is that it will save you money too.

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