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RE: [RC] Commute - Hybrid Vehicles - Karen E. Franklin

I currently live in Stillwater, OK and commute daily to downtown Tulsa, a 75 mile trip, one way.  I bought a Honda Civic Hybrid at the beginning of 2005 and have driven it since then.


First of all I have to caution you – DO NOT believe the mileage you see on the sticker is what you’ll actually get!  There are so many variables out there to affect your mileage – weather, driving habits, engine, tire condition, speed, etc.  The sticker on my car stated that it would get 47mpg in town and 48mpg highway.  I am now consistently getting 39mpg.  I like to say that they got the mileage rating on my car by testing it downhill with a tailwind!  Also, (and I don’t know if this applies to regular gasoline cars) there was a “break-in” period before I was getting this kind of mileage.  When I first got the car I was getting between 30 and 35 mpg (needless to say I was highly disappointed – I could have gotten that from just a regular and cheaper Civic).  I measure my mileage by calculation everytime I get gas, not by what the dashboard reading says.


Another thing that is going to affect the mileage rating on a car is its size – sedans will be rated at a lower mpg than two-door models.  The Honda Insight, I believe, is rated around 60mpg.  I have two kids so I needed the sedan style.


There is no industry standard on what is actually a Hybrid vehicle.  The Hondas are different from the Toyotas, though I don’t know in what way, and the Ford Escape is different as well.  The Ford Escape (at least two years ago) was built specifically as an “in town” vehicle.  The mileage was great if you were keeping your speed under 40 to 50 mph.  Anything faster than that and the gasoline engine kicked in for power and you were getting regular small SUV mileage.  This may not be the case now though – I was considering an Escape at the same time I was looking at the Honda.


Yet another point to consider.  I drive my vehicle to Tulsa and back everyday.  This is a 75 mile trip with an average speed of 70 to 75mph, on an east/west turnpike with very little traffic/in city driving.  In Oklahoma, if you’re driving east or west, you’re dealing with cross winds, whether from the north or south.  These crosswinds cause lateral movement of the vehicle – almost as if my tires were out of alignment (which they aren’t).  With 55,000 miles on my car, I’m getting 39 to 40 mpg.  My friend, who also lives in Stillwater and drives a Honda Civic Hybrid, commutes to Oklahoma City.  Her trip is also about 75 miles one way, but she’s on a state highway (lower speed limit), she encounters more traffic/in city driving, her average speed is about 60-65 mph and her trip is on a north/south route (very good tailwinds one way, headwinds the other).  She’s had her car has about 18 months longer than I’ve had mine and she’s put a bit over 100,000 miles on it.  She is currently getting 43 to 45 mpg.


One thing I’ve noticed with my car that is definitely different from a gasoline car is this – my car hesitates or surges sometimes when I’m accelerating.  Normally, this would be a bad thing, but in the Civic Hybrid at least, its not.  The most accurate description of what is happening when my car “hesitates” or surges is that the communication between the gasoline engine and the electric motor is not fast enough to keep up with what’s going on.  Essentially:


Gasoline engine:  “Speed up now!”

Electric motor:  “…Did you say speed up?”

G engine:  “Yes! Speed up!”

E motor:  “Okay!  Speeding up!”


I’ve talked to several owners of this make of car and all have experienced the same thing.  I love my car, but it has taken some getting used to.  Maintenance costs are going to go up for you as well, though I haven’t had any trouble keeping up with it.


In the end, my advice to you is to do your research (if you haven’t already).  Go out and test drive as many different hybrid vehicles as you can, talk to other owners, etc.  At this point in time, every car company out there making hybrid vehicles has a different engine set up.  You’re just going to have to find what works for you.


Then again, did you know that the diesel Volkswagon New Beetle gets 45 to 50 mpg?  J


Karen E. Franklin

Project Geologist

Tulsa, OK