Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Price of Saving Fuel

We may soon see more “green” vehicles on the road. According to Kiplinger.com, a survey by Capital One Auto Finance found that a third of their participants would likely purchase a green vehicle as their next auto purchase. People are considering one of the alternative-energy vehicles for a number of reasons, including the high price of gas. Some also want to do their part to help the environment, such as our air quality. But no matter the reason, most green vehicles qualify for tax deductions—and this alone is a great reason to buy one. However, you should know you'll pay an average of $5,500 more for a 2010 hybrid than for its gasoline-engine counterpart.

One way to see whether it pays to buy a green vehicle is to calculate the five-year ownership costs. What are your long-term savings at the pump as well as tax credits for the many green vehicles? When we compared the ownership costs of hybrids versus conventional vehicles in early 2009, gas prices we’re hovering just above $2 a gallon, and few hybrids earned back their extra cost with savings at the pump. But with gas now closer to $3 and with more eco-friendly vehicles on the market, you can more often save green by buying green.

The Kiplinger.com article updated calculations, pitting 19 hybrids and 11 diesels against comparable gas-engine vehicles. The numbers assume that you drive 15,000 miles a year and that regular gasoline is $2.85, premium is $3.15 and diesel is $3.08, with a 3.5% annual increase for each fuel. The math also includes depreciation, maintenance and repairs, and it assumes you finance the vehicle with a five-year loan after a 15% down payment. Don’t forget to account for federal tax credits for vehicles that still qualify for them; they've expired for Ford, Honda, Lexus and Toyota hybrids. (If you're hit by the alternative minimum tax, the credit won't help you, so your payback time will be a bit longer.)

Winners and losers according to Kiplinger.com: Diesels pay back their premium more often than hybrids do. Over five years, every diesel except one -- Volkswagen's Golf TDI -- costs less to own than the comparable gas-engine model. The savings range from $307 on the BMW X5 35d to $6,082 on the Mercedes-Benz GL350 Blue-Tec (the $60,825 diesel GL is priced $1,000 below the gas-engine GL450 and has a tax credit of $1,800). Among hybrids, you're more likely to be on the losing end of the deal as long as a gallon of gas still costs about $3. You'll save the most buying the super luxury Mercedes-Benz S400 hybrid ($92,475). It beats the S550 by $6,764 over five years -- mainly because it costs $3,650 less than the S550 and carries a tax credit of $1,150. But in general, the more expensive a hybrid, the less likely it will save money over its gas-engine sibling. For example, the biggest losers are the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon hybrids (both about $52,000) -- which would cost you $10,000 more than their gas-engine comparables over five years -- and the Lexus LS 600h L ($109,675), which would cost a whopping $41,428 more to own.

I recently wrote a blog on the topic, 10 Vehicles that Still Qualify for a Federal Tax Credit. Check it at http://ronideutch.blogspot.com/.

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