Can a hybrid vehicle save you cash? New calculator tells

Toy car on top of a calculator

A new tool from Fueleconomy.gov, the official government source for fuel economy information, helps you decide if paying the extra cost of a hybrid is right for you.

If you're thinking about purchasing a hybrid, you should definitely check this out.

The "Can a Hybrid Save Me Money?" tool pairs a hybrid vehicle with its nonhybrid equal for a side-by-side, total-cost showdown — each vehicle's MSRP and combined mpg is listed along with its specifications.

In order to adjust the tool to your situation, you can customize factors like the fuel price in your area, the number of miles you drive annually and the percentage of city miles you drive.

Once you have all of your stats dialed in, the calculator automatically adjusts and provides a break-even estimate on the hybrid of your choosing.

For example, the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid will cost you $2,095 more than the comparable 2012 Honda Civic EX-L.

If you drive 20,000 miles a year, with 60% of those miles being city miles, you'll pay off the extra cost of the hybrid (through savings at the gas pump) in 3.4 years. That's assuming the average price of a gallon of gas is $3.43.

Another nice aspect of this tool is that it shows how financing affects how long it will take for you to realize savings with a hybrid.

Average new-car loan rates

Term Interest rate
36 months 4.10%
48 months 4.15%
60 months 4.24%

Currently, auto loan rates are really low, which means that your monthly fuel savings may outweigh the increase in your monthly loan payment.

Let's say you buy that same Honda Hybrid and grab a 60-month auto loan at 4.24% — the record-low average rate, according to our survey of lenders nationwide.

While your monthly payment will be $38.82 higher with the hybrid, you'll save $51.75 a month in gas, according to the calculator. That's a net monthly savings of $12.93 over the standard Civic.

The tool allows you to customize the interest rate, loan period and length of time you expect to own the vehicle.

You can check it out the calculator at http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/hybridCompare.jsp

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