In their radio show May 28th, the “Car Talk” hosts let me down. I felt compelled to write them this letter:
Boys (if I may address you formally),
I nearly lost control resulting from my hands being off the steering wheel as I listened to your show last week. You were counseling a woman on buying a car for her husband, and systematically ruled out a hybrid, in particular the Prius because it’s highway mileage was not as good as city. How can you look at yourselves in the mirror?
I trust you’re not getting your facts from those silly EPA estimates. I can tell you the facts since my wife and I have not one, but two Prii. In our city-driving commutes, we get between 40 and 44 miles per gallon (the former if she’s driving, the latter if I am :-). On the highway, we get between 48 and 55 MPG. The one time I got an average of 60 MPG was only because I was drafting 15 feet behind a semi-truck for 100 miles along the Maine Turnpike, which I don’t recommend.
So in fact, the Prius, like other vehicles, gets better highway mileage, in the 50’s. And even in the city, the mileage is in the 40’s. Statisticians will appreciate that I have doubled the sample site of the normal yahoo: this is based on the statistically relevant number of 2, count ’em, cars.
Whether city or highway this is vastly better than most other “efficient” vehicles on the road which the dastardly EPA says get more like 22 MPG City and 30 MPG highway.
So for people driving longer distances like your poor misguided (by you) listener, here’s the math. Assume a highway commute of 25 miles each way, 5x per week, 50x per year at $3.00 per gallon. That’s 12,500 miles per year. At 30MPG that 417 gallons of gas or $1,251/year. At 50MPG that’s 250 gallons = $750/year. The difference is $500/year.
Now to your next point about price difference in vehicles. We paid $23,000 for our second Prius in Jan 2006. It’s hard to compare what kind of car this is like. It’s a little smaller than the Camry I traded in, so I looked at a similarly equipped Corolla. With similar options as my Prius, the price as $19,500. This may not be an accurate comparison, but the difference in price isn’t that big: $3,500 by this measure. It’s probably reasonable to assume the difference is due to the hybrid engine.
So because I bought the car in January, I’ll get the $3,400 federal tax credit. My break-even point then would be about 10 weeks. Some states and companies are offering additional benefits. But assume I miss the credit: my break-even point on gas alone is 7 years.
Now I know the present value of money is not being considered. Maybe there are cars that get 35 or better MPG on the highway (remember, though, my mileage is actual driving, not inaccurate EPA estimates). I also know that in 7 years, $3.00/gallon of gas will seem as quaint as the $1.59/gallon we were paying back in 2003.
So now that you have your facts straight, I expect a full, heartfelt, tree-hugging, east-coast-liberal, public retraction. And don’t think I won’t find you in case you fail: my company is moving to Hahvahd Squayah this summer, just a block away from your building. I will indeed hunt you down and … well, I’ll leave the threats to my good friend Vinny.
You formerly-semi-loyal but not irreconcilably-lost-semi-loyalty-y fan,
Tom Harrison, Newton, MA
There you have it. I have indeed lost my mind.