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100 miles to the gallon? Plug in and see

Think your car can get 100 miles to the gallon? It might if it’s a plug-in hybrid.

Current gas-electric hybrid vehicles top out at about 50 miles to the gallon, unless you upgrade to the plug-in rechargeable option. Toyota has done that to a limited extent with the hybrid Prius, with one user boasting of 99 miles to the gallon.

How does it work? Well, you roll your vehicle into the garage or wherever you store it, provided that you have handy access to a wall socket. Then, you plug in and count your savings.

Plug-in hybrids are more expensive for two reasons: The battery packs are larger to begin with (taking the place of the spare tire in some models), and the technology costs more to install. But enthusiasts say it’s worth it in the long run because the savings are much more.

It might be a really long run, requiring a patient driver and a solid vehicle. One estimate has the price of converting a regular hybrid into a plug-in will cost up to US$12,000. That’s all well and good if you’re making a commitment to saving the environment, preferring that green to the kind you take out of your wallet to buy gasoline every week. But if you’re waiting to see your savings equal that 12 grand, you’ll be waiting awhile—about 160,000 miles, according to some estimates.

Still, many experts think it’s worth it, not only as a conservation statement but also as a vanguard of technology that will be commonplace within a generation. And if you have a bit of know-how and the time, energy, and patience to do it yourself, you can cut your installation costs considerably.

Logistically, your hybrid plug-in vehicle will use no gasoline as long as you’re going 34 mph or slower. For many folks who drive to the grocery store and back or have a short commute, that’s an opportunity to consciously use no gasoline at all. And with gas prices charging hard past the US$3-a-gallon mark, those savings might very well be too good to pass up.

About Dave White

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