Home » Why I Don’t Recommend Buying A New Commuter Car That Isn’t A Regular Hybrid

Why I Don’t Recommend Buying A New Commuter Car That Isn’t A Regular Hybrid

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It’s 2024 and the automotive industry is in a weird place. The car-buying public finds itself at a moment of uncertainty, wondering if it should buy electric cars or gas cars or plug-in hybrids or regular hybrids or…hydrogen? When people ask me what they should buy, here’s what I tell them: If you plug in at home, consider a PHEV. If you can’t, buy a regular hybrid. Here, allow me to explain.

As a car journalist, I get asked the “What Car Should I Buy?” question all the time, and what I’ve come to learn is that oftentimes someone has a car in mind already, and they should probably just buy that. My brother, for example, kept asking me for car advice, and I gave him lots of options better than a white, rental-spec 2017 Hyundai Elantra, but he chose that anyway. He liked it. He thought it looked “sporty.” I respect that; if you have a car you like, you should probably buy that.

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But some people don’t have a car in mind; they think with their brains, not their hearts. And many of those people are wondering: Should I buy an EV or a gas car? The answer that I’ve been giving lately? Neither.

Why I Wouldn’t Buy A Gas Car Today

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My parents just bought a BMW X3 after their 2011 Equinox lost its timing chain and burned an entire tanker full of oil. The X3 is a great car by almost all measures, and yet, I did wince a little when they told me they bought it. It wasn’t a bad call, but I’d have gone with something electrified; I’d have hedged my bets.

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My parents live in Germany, where fuel prices are absurdly high and volatile. Right now, the average gasoline price in Germany is $7.22 a gallon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that figure climbs as the government pushes EVs into the market. Europe has been especially aggressive in pushing its transition towards electrification, and it makes sense. It’s a densely-populated continent that could see major health benefits for its citizens by moving pollution away from cities and towards rural powerplants. (Europe has been pushing solar and wind energy, too, which is great). A number of European cities have banned diesel cars and many have put tariffs on gas cars or outright banned them.

To drive a 24 MPG car like the BMW X3 for the next 13 years in Europe seems…difficult.

My parents are paying U.S. gas prices since my dad is a government employee (Uncle Sam subsidizes his gas while he lives abroad), and they will likely be moving back to the U.S. soon. Still, I’m not sure I’d want to buy a brand new 2024 car that only gets 24 MPG; maybe in certain states it’ll work out for 13 years, but fuel in California is already well over $5 a gallon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that figure got jacked up in a push to electrify America’s fleet.

Plus, from an environmental standpoint, driving a 24 MPG car in 2024 all the way out to 2037 seems silly. We have the technology to move you much more efficiently.

Luckily, my parents don’t drive much, so this isn’t as big of a deal, but I’d just never buy a gas guzzler as a daily driver in 2024 when there are so many better options, not just for the environment, but for my pocketbook.

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Why I Wouldn’t Buy An EV Today

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With that said, I often find myself unable to recommend a new EV purchase, either, especially to those who cannot charge at home. My friend Jeb lives in Washington DC. He’s a true environmentalist who thinks gas cars are dumb in 2024. And yet he drives a gas Mini Cooper. Why? Because he can’t charge at home, and plugging in his EV at a charging station when so many of them are broken is just going to be stressful.

I know this because I tried charging my i3 yesterday, and received this fun error:

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If this weren’t the 9 millionth time I’ve had such BS happen at a charging station then this wouldn’t be worth sharing. But EV chargers are notoriously unreliable, and if you rely on public chargers to get to work, since you don’t have a place to charge at home, then this will drive you nuts.

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The bigger reason why I can’t recommend EVs is depreciation. My partner, Elise (not her real name), has been eyeing a Lexus RZ for a while. The thing MSRP’d at $54,000, but the one she likes costs around $60 grand.

You can find these things lightly — and I mean lightly — used for just $39 grand. That’s $21,000 in depreciation over, in the case of the Carmax car below, just 5,000 miles of driving!

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Could you imagine how silly you’d feel if you’d bought this car for $60 grand and paid $21,000 to drive it for only 5,000 miles?

The Lexus RZ is a bit of an extreme case of New EV Depreciation, but it’s happening across brands and models. From Polestars to Hyundai Ioniq 5s to Volkswagen ID.4s — EVs are depreciating at alarming rates. To buy one new seems like a bad move right now.

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You should, however, look into leasing one. I hate the idea of leasing, as you’re just borrowing a car and not building equity in it. But if you value newness, paying a little to borrow a car for two years isn’t bad, as you could just buy a severely-depreciated version of that car after those two years are over; you might end up paying less than if you bought the car outright. A lease should cost enough to cover that crazy depreciation, but there are deals to be had out there.

Why I Wouldn’t Buy A Plug-In Hybrid Today (If You Can’t Charge At Home)

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As many of you likely know, I love plug-in hybrids, but recently I bought a second BMW i3S, booting my daily-driven regular-i3 from the garage (as you can see above, the two don’t fit back-to-back) where I used to charge it. Now I have no at-home charging for my daily-driven PHEV.

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So you know what I do instead? I drive it on gasoline power only unless I can find charging at work. How do I feel when I’m driving this PHEV on gas power? Like a chump. Particularly because I’d be getting better fuel economy if I just bought…

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… A Regular Hybrid

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Seriously, the only smart new car purchase in 2024 if you don’t have at-home charging (if you have at-home charging, a plug-in hybrid is a good option, too) is a regular hybrid. My D.C.-based friend, Jeb, who has no at-home charging should buy a hybrid. If I didn’t plan to use my new BMW i3S as my daily commuter, I myself would be smart to replace my now-gas-propelled i3 with a regular hybrid.

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You don’t have to worry about bullshit infrastructure issues like the bad EVgo charger I showed earlier or the malfunctioning Chargie app that left me in a bind yesterday (see above). You just park wherever you normally park, you get 40-50 MPG, and you don’t have to worry about serious depreciation. Heck, in some cases, your car might actually appreciate over the next year or so, as demand for certain hybrids has been through the roof.

Did I ever think that I’d only be able to recommend hybrids to people asking for car advice? Nope. But again, it’s a weird time in the auto industry.

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MGA
MGA
1 month ago

The site is starting to feel more like an alternative to Edmund’s or Consumer Report with all the attention paid to appliance and commuter cars. Good thing there’s Torch.

Rich Wilcox
Rich Wilcox
1 month ago
Reply to  MGA

You have a problem with them writing articles about the cars most people buy, not just the models that < 1% of people buy?

MGA
MGA
1 month ago
Reply to  Rich Wilcox

Not at all. I also like to go to autocross events to brush up on my parallel parking.

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