With gas at $3.65 a gallon in Lansing, could it actually pay to buy a more expensive, hybrid car?
That's what we wanted to find out. So we're comparing two vehicles that come in both regular and hybrid models: the Honda Civic and the Ford Escape.
The regular Civic gets an EPA estimated combined 33 miles per gallon. With gas prices where they are now, it costs $0.11 per mile to drive one. The hybrid Civic gets 50 miles to the gallon. That puts it at $0.07 per mile to drive.
After the $2,100 federal tax credit, a comparably-equipped hybrid still costs $1,500 more. It would take 37,500 miles of driving with gas at current levels -- about 3 years for the average driver -- to make up that higher cost of the Civic hybrid.
Sport utility drivers have some hybrid offerings of their own, including the Escape, a small SUV from Ford.
The regular Escape gets an EPA estimated combined 22 miles to the gallon, translating to about $0.17 per mile to drive. The hybrid gets 31 miles to the gallon or $0.12 per mile.
Escape hybird owners can take a $2,200 credit on their taxes, leaving the hybrid with an extra $1,045 price tag. It would take 30,000 miles with gas prices where they are now -- about two and a half years for the average driver -- to get back the money spent to get the hybrid.
After those tipping points, owners of both hybrids would start saving on gas. But even if you're willing to spend more now to save later, there is a problem.
"The one thing I do wish is that I could get more of them," said Jim David, new car sales manager at Courtesy Ford in Okemos.
The dealership is sold out of Ford Escape hybrids. If one can't be found at another area dealer, it can take 6 to 12 weeks to order one.
And the Civic?
"We generally have 1 or 2 at a time but they go just as fast as they get in," said Dustin Rocha, Capital Honda's new car sales manager.
If they're gone, be prepared to wait up to three months.