Driving and maintaining a hybrid to achieve maximum fuel efficiency takes some doing as many hybrid owners have learned the hard way. ConsumerAffairs.com reader Chris, of East Kingston, New Hampshire, has gained over 85,000 miles of experience driving his Honda Insight through New England and offers some ideas and advice for hybrid owners vexed by mileage claims yet to materialize.
I purchased the Honda Insight to replace a sports car that was getting 25 miles per gallon. The Insight EPA rating was 59 mpg in the city and 56 mpg on the highway. After 85,000 miles my average with the Insight, according to the odometer, is 60 mpg which is slightly better than EPA estimates.
By switching vehicles I have saved $4,000 at $2 per gallon but it is also important to note that I drive 70 miles a day and don't do anything out of the ordinary to get good mileage other than a few pointers I will mention below.
People not getting the mileage they expect may find it worthwhile to seek out someone with a similar hybrid who is able to achieve high mileage for pointers or perhaps give their vehicle a test drive to verify whether the low mileage really is a vehicle problem or a driver problem.
Here are a few suggestions that are obvious.
Tires and Speed
The two biggest factors hurting mileage are tire pressure and speed. Check your tires and inflate them to the maximum recommended pressure. A single low tire will adversely affect your mileage significantly.
This is valid for any vehicle, hybrid or not.
Aftermarket tires can alter vehicle mileage. Snow tires will cost around 15 percent or more from my experience although I still switch to snow tires for the winter months.
As for vehicle speed, the most efficient speed for a passenger car is around 45 miles per hour, slower for a pick-up or SUV. If you drive 80 miles per hour on the highway don't expect to get good mileage. It is not going to happen no matter what vehicle you are driving.
Cold Weather Hurts
Less obvious factors include trip length and weather. All vehicles get poor mileage when it is cold. Cold weather can cause a 10 percent or more drop in fuel efficiency.
If you drive a short distance to work, you probably will not achieve the 50 miles to a gallon you expect you are spending less on fuel anyway.
Longer trips are where hybrids make the most sense. It seems the Honda engine runs a rich fuel mixture for the first several miles as well as when the temperatures are below 40 degrees.
Part of the problem is that hybrids need to keep the gas engine running to maintain cabin temperature and catalytic converter temperature even when the car is sitting still.
Hopefully, future models can switch from hot-water heat to electric to heat the cabin and perhaps include a heating element for the catalytic converter.
Defrosting Runs the Air Conditioner
Another problem with cold weather is that if you have an air conditioner, in many never cars the A/C is turned on anytime you use the front defroster. A mechanic once told me this is to help maintain the compressor so it does not seize up from non-use in cold climates.
So if you don't need the defroster, don't use it.
Be prepared for dismal mileage in deep snow if you drive in cold weather climates. Driving through snow is energy-intensive, and it will show up on your mileage computer. I typically get mid-40s during bad snow storms, especially on unplowed roads.
Finally, if you turn on the vehicle to warm it up before driving off, expect mileage in the low 30 or worse. You are getting 0 mpg while the vehicle is sitting there warming up.
I typically achieve around 65 mpg during the warmer months and around 55 mpg during the winter months.
With four and a half years of hybrid ownership experience, I'm a big fan of the technology.
There are bound to be many more improvements over the next decade to improve the mileage and reduce the cost. Keeping in touch with other hybrid drivers through user groups online, I've found that most owners have had the positive experiences.
Many owners have gone on to purchase second and third hybrids. My next vehicle will most definitely be another hybrid.