Do you really want to plug that in?


Part VII of the Auto Saving Series. If you missed a segment, start at the beginning.

In the wake of record high gasoline prices in 2008, the automakers introduced more hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles in 2009 than any other year. Before jumping on the bandwagon, know the pros and cons.

Gas/Electric Hybrids

2011 Chevrolet Volt exhibited at the 2010 Wash...

Image via Wikipedia

Hybrids have gasoline engines with electric motors. The electric motors take over during city driving, allowing the gasoline engine to run less. Select hybrids also turn off cylinders not in use to reduce fuel consumption. Less gasoline is a definite pro.

Another pro is the limited carbon emissions. By burning less gasoline, the vehicles produce far less carbon monoxide than gasoline-only vehicles.

Cons include failure to meet mileage expectations and a very large price tag at the dealer. This is a double whammy: You will pay more for the car thinking it will save more money on gas, only to find out you are spending more on gasoline than originally promised.


In some countries, filling stations sell bio-d...

Diesels have gotten a “dirty” reputation from their European makers failure to met US emissions standards. As of 2008, diesels only represented 4% of the cars on American roads. “Why?” is a good question. They routinely get 25% to 35% better mileage than gasoline cousins.

European auto manufacturers have successfully met the US emission standards. Research into bio-fuels are now producing diesel from plant and crop based oils. Researchers say they are only a few years from a bio-diesel using chicken fat. Be on the look out for more diesel cars.


Sugar cane residue can be used as a biofuel

Image via Wikipedia

Many models are designed to run on ethanol blended gasoline, since it burns cleaner and increases mileage, definite pro. Con is it takes more energy to produce than ethanol produces when it burns.

Ethanol was originally made of corn. Burning it in cars drove the food-corn price through the roof. Research into substituting switchgrass, sugar cane residue and other cellulosic biomasses are not yet feasible.

Plug-in Electrics

The majority of auto manufacturers have been testing the technology of all electric cars, with Ford and Chevrolet producing concept cars. Saturn’s 2010 model was the first of the production models to be offered for public sale. A complete departure from gasoline means minimal carbon emissions, inarguable pro.

The cons include expensive batteries and long battery charging times. One long term, far-reaching con is the possibility of overloading power grids. Arguers for all-electrics claim computers can modulate charge times for off-peak hours.

They are not concerned with driver need times in this argument. What if you need to charge your car during peak demand because you have an appointment with the heart surgeon at noon?


Honda FCX

Image via Wikipedia

As one of the best alternatives to gasoline engines, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are hitting the road in California. $20 worth of hydrogen can take a driver 270 miles with its 68 mpg estimate. It only emission: Water vapor. Big pros.

Cons: Very few fueling stations, fuel-cell costs, hydrogen handling regulations and safety, and the costs of hydrogen production.


India has been trying an air car. BMW is researching steam power over a century after steam cars went out of production. Hydraulics researchers are making headway in making heavyweight commercial vehicles more fuel efficient in heavy traffic.

And you?

Before you jump in with both feet, find out what the long term costs (in money and environmental impact) really are.


Do you or would you drive an alternative fuel car? Why or why not?


(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2011
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  1. James Parsons

     /  November 28, 2011

    No, I would not drive or own one because they haven’t been tested enough for my liking. Gasoline engines have been around for many years and have proved them self time and time again. Good article Red..

  2. Interesting answer. Is it the reliability of the engine which concerns you, as in length of life vs. performance?

    I will be posting some vehicle safety points next week. One of the things we will debate is the safety of these cars vs. their crashworthiness.

  3. Not ready to comment. Just wanted to know why I can’t take the poll? Is your poll Prejudice to my computer, or do you just know the answer?

  4. I do know the answer, but it bothers me you cannot vote. Let me get some others to try it and see if it is broken. I already have one vote, but I know it is not yours. Hmmm….

    • May be surprised. I DON”T tell all my friends that I love them. Just those that I truly care deeply for. I LOVE YOU!

    • I don’t kiss everyone of my friends either.LOL

    • Guess I should answer the questions. Don’t think I would ever want an electric car. My power bills already to high. However, I have had dreams of designing a 12 volt over hydraulic car. Thought maybe, the car size could be like one of those all electric THINGS. I guess you would call that a super sub-compact. Not good for families.

      • This is always a concern. When Obama first got into office he was faced with the question, what if you cannot drive an electric car? He responded anyone could. He was then introduced to the lady’s eleven children, who would all not fit into the biggest electric. He had to concede, electrics are not for everyone.

  5. James Parsons

     /  November 28, 2011

    No, I just TRUST gasoline engines more than I do electric motors. Then there is the problem of finding a place to PLUG this thing up. I am sure the safety tests on these cars are very high to meet regulations. And longevity of the car has not been proven as of yet. But sometimes the things I TRUST have let me down. Keep them coming Red.

    • There is a ton of research about the electric motor, which has been around for more than 100 years. Many chemical plants and refineries use the same type of motors in their machines. The technology has been around for decades, so the trust issue is one of personal preference.

      As to finding a plug where you can charge, I see that as a big problem for people who are on the go long term…vacations, business trips, deliveries, etc. I also see it as an issue for those who routinely drive more than 50K miles a year.

      You will have to wait for my opinion on the safety issue until I post it 😛

  6. I drive a hybrid and I really love it. We got it used, and yes, it was quite a bit more than one would normally pay for a used car. However, since we drive it as it’s intended to be driven (my husband has a 45-minute highway commute each way to work), we get extremely good mileage and are definitely getting our money’s worth.

    The gas savings are great, but I also like knowing that since we do have to drive, we’re driving a vehicle that’s making less of an environmental impact. While it’s true that replacing gasoline consumption with electricity consumption won’t make the world’s environmental woes go away completely, driving a hybrid really seems more balanced. If we lived in a more urban area, I probably wouldn’t want to own a car at all.

    • I am glad it is working for you. Success stories are good. And the smaller carbon footprint is good.

      And no, replacing gasoline with electricity is not the answer, since the production of electricity necessarily requires gasoline. We would be switching from consumer usage to corporate usage without a significant change in total volume of consumption.

      Thanks for your insight!

  7. Electric/hybrid cars may be dirtier if you consider how the electricity to power these cars is produced. Coal represents 46% of the country’s electricity production. That’s a lot of dirty energy. Until the country manages to raise the proportion of sustainable energy, electricity is a dirty energy source for cars.

  8. Bear

     /  November 28, 2011

    Red as always good article, I would like to say that you hear about flex fuel cars electric cars hydrogen ect…. the truth is all of them are great ideas. Our government, oil companies need to decide which one is best for us, or translation how much can they make off the public. Brazil, in there infinite wisdom make cars modified to run on fuel made from cane sugar byproducts at half the cost per gallon of fuel.And the remainder of the cane is burned as a source of energy to produce power also. The big companies need to make a car that runs on something that can be harvested not pulled from the ground and we have the resouces to do so.As far as reliabilty goes everyone of the cars will have draw backs failures if you will. As a lifelong gearhead I have seen the worst in the combustion engine it is far from the most reliable there are exceptions but as in your previous articles it comes down to car care.By the way Brazil has been producing there fuel for more than with a massive reduction on the dependence of crude.

    • That is why the pic of sugar cane went in the post. Switchgrass is another choice, but by far the most feasible is the sugar cane residue, as it is a food stuff as well.

      The main problem with vegetable bio-fuel is the massive amount of land it would take to harvest to meet demand. If we choose ethanol, all available worldwide farm land would be required for corn strictly to service the US and Canada, not the rest of the world. And not a single kernel could be used for food.

      My issue is with electrics. They do not reduce crude or coal consumption, and the switch to them as a motor fuel source will only increase the pollutants from energy plants without more concentration on nuclear power sources.

      Ironic we are reverting back to steam again as well. I see long term implications beyond Americans bottled water waste in steam engines though. The pollution of the water tables and spring sources is so prevalent many places do not have potable water now.

      Thank you for your input, as it is enlightening, Bear. Red.

  9. I’ve been a big fan of hydrogen fuel cells for a long time. It’s definitely worth the investment, in my humble, moderately researched opinion. Reliance on our own country for energy is so important, regardless of what type of alternative energy you’re for!

    • I agree with the self-sufficiency of energy, regardless of type. Hydrogen may well be the next step toward cleaner air. At this stage it is a matter of monetizing the source and making it widespread enough to be practical. Thank you! Red.

      • It’s always about the money… :/

        • In this case, it is as much about how to fund the venture as it is about the profit. After 100 years of bloat and bend-over-at-the-pump profit, the energy market is not looking for any more investment beyond the pittance they have thrown at research in the last three decades (which was all lip service which oops’ed into discovery).

  10. I never have a new car, so it will be a while for me, but if they got the price right and the kinks worked out…. I also have to have room for 4 grandkids. I think a smart car would be ideal for my single daughter if the price is ever where I can afford it!

    • You know, in the push for smarter cars, the problem has always been the need for power and space. I know many families who are particularly conscious of their carbon footprint, especially because they have (what Americans call) many children (4+). The frames necessary to carry the weight make the choice a non-starter with many of the engines available today.

      Ironically enough, the water/steam driven engines from 1890-1910 all have the power to run that size vehicle. What is that saying for American ingenuity and the cliquishness of business?
      *Mutters something eco-political*


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