Wishing I had a pair of hybrids

I’m old enough to remember days when a ride in the family car was a big deal. Especially when the old buggy was about to turn a milestone number on the speedometer.

I’m old enough to remember days when a ride in the family car was a big deal. Especially when the old buggy was about to turn a milestone number on the speedometer.

Dad would announce the big moment and the entire family — even neighbor kids, if there were room — would pile into the family car to go for a ride to watch the speedometer record all zeroes again.

Earlier this month, my 10-year-old gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle hit the 100,000 mark. I was alone in the car, however, accompanied only by my 10-year-old grandpuppy, Sam. The big black dog didn’t even lurch when we went around the corner and the speedometer slid to all zeroes.

I should have a bumper sticker on that SUV that says “My Other Car Is A Hybrid,” because that’s the truth. That hybrid came along not a year too soon, either, as gas prices continue to soar out of sight, creating havoc with a tight family budget that isn’t likely to find any relief in the foreseeable future.

The 5-year-old four-door hybrid has nearly 90,000 miles on its speedometer, having operated flawlessly since January of 2003. Throughout 2002, I had faithfully followed the Dave Ross program on KIRO radio to hear Dave rave about his experience with one of the first hybrids introduced in the U.S. Thus, for me to step into the hybrid world was an easy and ultimately wise decision.

I still get looks of envy from across the islands of gas pumps when filling up the hybrid — able to drive away spending about a third as much as if I had pulled in with the SUV. When filling up the SUV, I like to joke with other motorists about having just returned from the bank to secure a loan so I have the cash flow to fill ‘er up and keep driving.

Recently, I attended a meeting where a pair of state department of ecology employees rolled out a PowerPoint presentation on energy conservation, the impact of auto emissions on the environment and what the department is encouraging citizens to do in the way of offsetting the high use and costs of energy.

Sitting next to an executive of a prominent local auto dealership, I couldn’t resist looking over his shoulder as he took some notes. He doesn’t mind my including an excerpt:

The exec noted that the speakers “took turns to talk about emissions, the kind that hurt the environment. Fifty-five percent of the pollution in our state comes from mobile sources. They spoke about miles per dollar, the pros and cons of alternative-powered vehicles, the savings in turning engines off while waiting — idling gets you nowhere — recommended us to take the bus, carpool and drive less and left us with some useful information and informational resources to explore. What we put in the air today, our grandchildren will end up breathing.”

These department spokesmen did little to advance the idea of exploring hybrid autos. It is pretty commonplace to find little reliable information about the hybrid. Misinformation is perhaps more the case.

For example, one speaker stated that the cost of battery replacements in the hybrid could be as much as $8,000 to $10,000. He added that as the batteries wear down, the mileage efficiency tends to be reduced. He also appeared confused between the true hybrid and the electric-powered vehicles in which you charge the battery from the electrical outlet in the garage. Miles per gallon estimates for the hybrid were also a bit fuzzy.

There wasn’t time in the presentation to challenge the statements, but I was nevertheless determined to get some facts to back up my experience with our hybrid. My first call was to the dealership, where we faithfully have service performed. The parts department, in six years, has not had to replace a single battery because of wear and tear. Six years, and this dealer has hundreds of hybrids on the road. Further, the cost is $2,900 to replace the operating battery.

I was assured I had another five years on the original battery, plus the satisfaction of emitting fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

As to mileage efficiency, I took off on a mileage experiment, driving the speed limit at all times, driving from Bothell to Maltby to Lynnwood to Bothell. Did it twice, in reverse order at the same time of a busy commute hour, and found the miles per gallon at 49.3. My experience has been that when driving freeway speeds, the mileage is a bit less. A combination of sitting in rush-hour gridlock and driving conservatively on level terrain can increase the mileage to 51 miles per gallon.

Every time I pull in to fill up the SUV, I sincerely wish both our cars were hybrids. Further, I recommend that the department of ecology will be more effective in its campaign if its speakers take a less casual and lackadaisical approach when presenting facts at future appearances.

John B. Hughes was owner-publisher of the Northshore Citizen from 1961 to 1988 and is active in local nonprofit organizations.