• EPA website features free online calculators that return the annual energy costs of regular and plug-in hybrid cars
  • Each one lets you specify your driving habits for customized results
  • Calculators take the guesswork out of determining a hybrid's long-term value

Wondering whether the hybrid of your dreams will reduce your energy costs? Wonder no more, because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now offers two different online calculators to help you figure out whether a hybrid makes financial sense.

The first calculator, Can a Hybrid Save Me Money?, covers only conventional hybrids, leaving out plug-ins such as the Chevrolet Volt. The calculator starts by asking you to select a specific hybrid vehicle. We chose the Ford Fusion Hybrid SE as our test case. When you pick a car, the calculator automatically adds a similar non-hybrid model alongside it, so we ended up with a regular Fusion SE for comparison. From there, you get all the data you need on each car to make an informed decision: retail price, combined miles per gallon, estimated fuel savings (by week, month and year) and the all-important Years to Payback metric, which tells you how many years you'll have to drive that hybrid to recover your upfront costs. You also can adjust the calculator's assumptions, including mileage per year and the per gallon cost of gas, to get a customized assessment.

Under our driving conditions -- 15,000 miles per year, 60 percent city driving, gas at $4.00 per gallon -- we'd make back the Hybrid SE's $3,370 price premium in 3.2 years. Who says hybrids aren't a good deal?

The second EPA calculator, My Plug-In Hybrid Calculator, is solely for plug-ins, as the title suggests. Since plug-ins tend not to have non-hybrid siblings, this calculator doesn't take a comparative approach. Instead, it simply asks you a series of questions and returns an estimate of annual gasoline and electricity costs. You start by selecting a particular plug-in car -- there were just five available models as of this writing -- and then define variables such as your average miles per day, average miles per year, charging currents at work and home and the market prices of gasoline and electricity. The calculator bounces this data off the official EPA range and efficiency ratings, and you get a rough idea of how much it will cost to run that plug-in car every year.

If you want to compare your plug-in to a conventional hybrid or just a regular car, here's an alternative to the plug-in calculator. Go to EPA's main page for fuel economy ratings and pick your comparison car using the Browse by Model option. On the next screen, click the Add a Vehicle button and select the plug-in you're interested in. When that's done loading, scroll to the bottom and look for Fuel Economics. You'll find good comparative data under that heading, and there's even a Personalize link that lets you tailor the assumptions to your lifestyle, just like the calculators.

What it means to you: If you're on the fence about buying a hybrid, EPA can help. Check out these calculators to ensure that your decision will be a data-driven one.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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