Is it Really Expensive to Buy a Fuel Efficient Vehicle?

After running this site for over a year now, I’ve heard nearly every excuse as to why people don’t want to buy a more fuel efficient vehicle. By far, the most frequently used reason is, “it’s too expensive to buy a car that gets better gas mileage.”

I think the reason people use this excuse so frequently is because they feel that in order to have a fuel efficient vehicle, you need to buy a hybrid car.

So, let’s take a look at two different fuel efficient vehicles – the Toyota Prius (a hybrid) and the Toyota Yaris (a regular compact car) – and hopefully we’ll see that you don’t need a hybrid or a lot of money to get great gas mileage.

According to, a 2007 Toyota Prius averages about 46 miles per gallon. If you drove 15,000 miles and paid an average of $3 per gallon over the course of a year you would spend about $975 on gas. Unfortunately, if you ended up buying this Prius, you’d spend about $22,500.

According to, a 2007 Toyota Yaris averages about 32 miles per gallon. If you drove 15,000 miles and paid an average of $3 per gallon over the course of a year you would spend about $1,400 on gas. However, instead of paying $22,500, you’d only pay about $12,250.

In essence, you’re paying an 85% premium to get 50% better gas mileage. Something about that doesn’t seem equitable.

Assuming that gas prices were to stay at $3 per gallon, it would take about 24 years to recoup the premium you’re paying for the hybrid car. Obviously, it’s pretty unrealistic to assume that gas prices will remain at $3, so it would probably take less than 24 years to recoup the cost, but you get the point.

I guess there are two points that I’m trying to make:

  1. You don’t need to buy a hybrid in order to own a car that gets good gas mileage
  2. You don’t have to pay a lot of money for a fuel efficient vehicle

Hopefully it’s apparent that you don’t need to buy a hybrid or spend a ton of money. Now you have one less excuse!


  1. This is a very good point. Hybrid cars really should be seen as status symbols, something bought by people who can afford them. I also hear the argument that hybrids don’t really help the environment because of factors that go into manufacturing them. Regardless of how much truth there is in that, there’s no getting around the lower environmental impact of a conventional fuel-efficient vehicle such as a Toyota Yaris (or Corolla or Honda Civic or Fit) versus a larger conventional vehicle.

    And if you can’t afford $12,500 for a new Yaris, you can always buy a used Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. They may not get quite the gas mileage that a new one gets, but they get better gas mileage than most other vehicles.

    Excuses are just that–excuses. If you really want to get better gas mileage, you can do it.

  2. Dave – I thought about including used cars in this discussion, but I figured it was better to compare apples to apples (new cars to new cars). That being said, buying a newer used car that’s gas friendly is a great way to save both money and fuel.

  3. Anonymous says

    It seems that the comparisons are usually based on buying a hybrid ONLY for better gas mileage. I think a better view is when buying a new car for the usual reasons. Think of how many people trade in a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord every few years anyway, because they feel more comfort driving a newer car, or the lease runs out etc. If they were getting a new car anyway, why not compare the cost effectiveness of buying a hybrid instead of another car of the same model? Then, you’d be offsetting the cost to someone who was buying a new car no matter what. The difference in price would be recouped much sooner if they spent 28,000 on a Prius, instead of 21,000 for an Accord, or Sonata.

  4. I drive a diesel VW jetta wagon. I bought it nearly new for $18,000. It gets between 40 and 45 mpg running on 100% biodiesel. Smaller tdi models get closer to 50 mpg. IF the biodiesel is being made from waste vege oil, I think this is close to as good as you can do right now.
    But we need electric cars back, and plug in diesel hybrids. We also need to change the way we live and not drive so much.

  5. Hybrids are currently quite expensive, and the long term cost benefit for regular drivers isn’t there. However, like rob mentioned, diesels are great alternative because a) they get better fuel efficiency, b) they can be converted to run on straight veg oil easily and cheaply (under $200), and c) apparently every car manufacturer will offer diesel cars by 2010. There are, of course, increased NOx emissions even while running with bioD, but new catalysts will take care of this.
    I guess this means that everyone in North America will have access to a diesel car at about the time everyone should have access to affordable HEV.

  6. Hello…2010? in Europe anyone who wants fuel efficiency buys a diesel. Diesels are everywhere there. Clean and fuel efficient.

  7. The reason 2010 is cited for the USA snake, is because new regs were put in place that don’t allow cars here to produce certain emissions. It will take a year or two for diesel models to be revamped to accommodate those changes.

  8. Your preaching to the quire in my case. I’ve been driving fuel efficient Toyotas for many years now. However, I feel that your article would pack a greater punch if you also gave the numbers for buying, and then driving for a year, a random popular vehicle that happens to guzzle gas. Most of my friends don’t drive fuel efficient cars, and to be honest with you I have no clue why. We’ve talked about it but they seem hell bent on there terrible terrible cars. Anything you can do to argue for cars like the Corrola the better. 🙂

    Here’s hoping in the next few years Toyota manages to knock several thousand dollars off the cost of a hybrid.

  9. Your point is quite a valid one, but it missed something.

    I’m currently driving a car that gets 25 MPG (1997 Subaru Legacy) that is fully paid off. I got this car a couple of years ago. If I sold it, I could probably get $2500 out of it (it’s in good condition, but has 180K+ miles). If I spent that $2500 on a Yaris it would still be cheaper to keep my current, lower rated MPG car.

    This is true for quite a while down the graph. You’d have to be getting horrible mileage (like 7 MPG) to be better off trading a fully paid-for car for *any* new car.

    Of course, the concept of used cars and the like throws other factors into this equation.

    Personally, it will take a major change away from Gasoline (or even Diesel) to make this option a viable one. Because of this, I’m very interested in the Volt and other similar solutions.

  10. Bill Logan says

    I need some claification here. Are we ultimately worried about better fuel milage, or are we more inclined to reduce carbon emmisions in the long haul. Help me here to understand something. The prius after running 15,000 miles put approximately 13 thousand or less polutants into the atmosphere because some of the time the vehicle was run on the battiery and not producing carbon emmisions at all. You take a vehicel that cost less. say 5 thousand dollars, but is not a hybred puts carbon emmisions all the time for the 15 thousand miles. No fee clean air from running on a back up battiery. So tell me out of the both you migh have paid less for the one that is not a hybred but you have not helped the invirnment at all. Tell me i go this wrong, and i’ll buy the cheaper modle.

  11. If you really want to compare apples, how can you compare Prius to Yaris?

  12. I think you’re missing the point, I’m not trying to compare hybrid models, rather, I’m comparing two different fuel efficient vehicles. I’m trying to show that you don’t have to 1) buy a hybrid in order to own a car that gets good gas mileage and 2) you don’t have to spend a lot to get a own a car that gets good gas mileage.

  13. William Wilgus says

    Two years ago I bought a new Ford Focus and sold my ’87 Dodge Dakota V-6 auto pick-up truck. I did so because the truck had 138,000 miles on it—no doubt getting ready to cost me a lot in repairs—and getting a whole 16 mpg highway!. I didn’t buy a hybrid for two reasons: 1) they were above my budget, and even if they hadn’t been; 2) I don’t believe they’re very environmentally friendly. Of course, I only drive about 1,000 `must drive’ miles a year, and if it weren’t for the fact that I wanted to do some traveling without the fear of breaking down and being at the mercy of an unscrupulous repair shop, I might have kept the truck. I guess my point is that we do what we can reasonably do and keep a clear conscience.

  14. The flaw in your comparison is comparing a subcompact car, one light on safety features, to a compact hybrid with all the safety features and mid-size interior room. The Prius is well ahead of the Yaris in terms of technology and safety features. Not just technology under the hood and in the trunk, but right there in front of you on the dashboard. True, that technology comes at a premium. But then again, every Prius comes with traction control and all but the completely stripped down Prius standard model (I have never seen one for sale) comes with stability control. The Yaris has neither, not even as options. That alone is a deal breaker for a large percentage of people. Your life is worth more than being a cheap skate. A much better comparison is a loaded Corolla LE and the Prius base model with package #2. Price difference there is about $7,500 or so. Still a big difference, no doubt. Plus the upcoming 2009 Corolla will have traction control and stability stability, at least as options. And the 2009 Corolla will be a bigger car and more comparable in interior room to the Prius. But from what I hear on pricing, a 2009 Corolla LE with all the safety goodies and other options will sticker slightly above $20K, with XLE models hitting up to $22K. That makes the Prius look all that more attractive. Plus another big bonus with the Prius for many people, me included, is the hatchback and fold-flat rear seats that yield SUV-like carrying capability. That feature alone is worth a few grand to me and puts the Prius in a different vehicle class than the Corolla or Yaris. A fairer comparison would be the Prius and a compact wagon, perhaps something like the now defunct Mazda 6 wagon or even the Subaru Forester or Outback wagon (AWD argument aside).

  15. Try fitting a couple of car seats in the back of one of those tiny cars. Now, imagine your kid wants to bring a friend along too. Good luck. These tiny cars are great for people with no kids or maybe just one, but families of two or more kids and these cars are worthless. Want to go somewhere with your kids and a couple of their friends? Need to add another car to the mix if you are just using compact cars. Then of course there’s the safety issue, small cars are just more dangerous. The most common accident is a single car accident, I’d much rather be in a larger vehicle should my tire blow out and I end up slamming into a tree or concrete barrier. Small cars have much higher fatality rates in single car accidents.

    What we need is cheaper fuel. And CO2 emissions? Make up for your carbon footprint and go kill an Elk. They put out more greenhouse gases in a year from…well their gas…than then a car does if it’s driven 10,000 miles a year. Put meat in your freezer to feed your family AND get a nice carbon offset! HA! How’s that for a green approach? You also make your family one less family contributing to the need for meat to be trucked in from thousands of miles away.

    Of course this whole “man made” global warming hype will be proved the biggest fraudulent attempt to seperate people from their freedom and walets in the history of mankind in about 10 years when the change in the natural solar cycle kicks in and things cool off again LIKE THEY DO EVERY 20 or 30 years! Global warming happens, so does global cooling. It’s the sun stupid, you can’t stop it. OH, and we are still emerging from the last ice age. There used to be lush vegetation up north where now there is just tundra. Our current climate, and sea levels, aren’t the most ideal they’ve ever been…far from it actually. Life abounded far more greatly when the whole earth was warmer and lusher. Since that time more species are believed to have gone extinct than there are current species living….and not a car was around and still millions of species died, things cooled, things warmed, wow what a big and powerful world we live in, and how small we truly are.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Does it Really Cost a lot to Buy a Gas Friendly Car?


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