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Study: Hybrids Mean More Driving, Repair Bills, Tickets

Posted: Jul 17, 2009 11:24 a.m.

Hybrid cars cost more than conventional cars in almost every way - that's the conclusion reached by a new study.  Quality Planning, a company that evaluates risk for insurance companies, looked at insurance data for 359,309 vehicles over a two year period.  Comparing hybrid vehicles to their non-hybrid counterparts (the Toyota Camry, for instance, to the Toyota Camry Hybrid), they found that hybrid drivers drive more miles than non-hybrid drivers, get more tickets, have more accidents, and face costlier repair bills after those accidents.

 Researchers, according to USA Today, "Found that even though hybrid owners may be able to save gas, they eat up the savings by driving more on pleasure trips. Their commute habits are about the same as non-hybrid drivers, but they logged up to 25 percent more on trips not related to their jobs."  That may hint at the very reason many choose to own a hybrid.  Quality Planning president Raj Bhat told USA Today "The additional miles driven by hybrid vehicle owners would seem to offset the net ecological benefit of owning a fuel-efficient vehicle."

Autoblog adds, "The study also shows that hybrid owners are significantly more likely to receive traffic tickets. According to the survey, Toyota Prius owners received .38 tickets per 100,000 miles driven, versus a non-hybrid average of .23 tickets per 100,000 miles. That's a 65 percent differential."  Autoblog cautions, however, that "One possible explanation for the ticket disparity has to do with where hybrid owners live. Quality Planning found that hybrid owners are more likely to live in an urban setting, where tickets are more frequently issued."

City residents also face more frequent accidents.  That could be bad news for hybrid owners as well -- because gas-electric cars cost insurance companies more to repair than their conventional cousins. In a press release announcing the study's results, Quality Planning reports, "For all 2008 model-year hybrids, collision coverage loss dollars were 13 percent higher" than those for non-hybrid cars, "and comprehensive coverage loss dollars were almost 17 percent higher."  The worst offenders were the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which cost an average of 45 percent more to repair than the standard Toyota Highlander, and the Ford Escape Hybrid, with a 31 percent higher average repair bill.

Not only did hybrids cost more to repair, they were involved in more accidents of greater severity.  Quality Planning notes, "In general, there were increases in both frequency of claims and severity of claims for hybrid vehicles."

The point isn't just academic.  It could affect insurance premiums.  The Wall Street Journal explains, "Insurance companies often give discounts to drivers of hybrids, perhaps because the image of a tree-hugging environmentalist suggests a cautious type who is a good risk to insure."  But if the data don't back up that assumption, "The disconnect between perception and reality could leave insurers with unprofitable hybrid policies unless they adjust pricing to reflect the unexpectedly high costs."

If you're in the market for a new car, check out the U.S. News rankings of this year's best cars as well as this month's best car deals.