In a rare moment I turned on the TV the other day as I was cleaning the house and heard quite a few commercials from car companies regarding the “Cash for Clunkers” program I reported a few weeks ago. Now it’s in action, and the car companies are trying to cash in on the sales.

Even my daughter, who has been saving her money for almost a year to buy a new car, called the other day, saying she thinks she’s finally decided on a car, and found out her car meets the criteria. I wondered if people really would begin exchanging their gas hogs for hybrids.

I started looking into hybrids and discovered that they could be pretty complicated. It turns out there are a couple of different hybrid systems and that engineers don’t always agree on which cars have what kind of system. I guess if we’re going to go Green we need to understand these types of things ... maybe a little bit (especially if you’re thinking of buying a hybrid!).

According to, the two systems of hybrids are known as a full hybrid and a mild hybrid. A full hybrid is the term used when a vehicle can propel itself forward without using any gasoline. Hybrids in this category are Ford, Lexus and Toyota. Some General Motor vehicles are full hybrids, others are not. Typically, Honda hybrids are not considered full hybrids.

A mild hybrid can move from a standstill only if the gasoline engine is used; the electric motor is used when the gas engine needs extra power.

There are three subcategories of mild hybrids:

• The stop/start hybrid system: The engine turns off instead of idling and restarts instantly upon demand. This system is used on GM trucks.

• The integrated starter alternator with damping hybrid system. The electric motor assists in moving the vehicle in addition to providing stop/start capability (much like described above for mild hybrid).

• The integrated motor assist hybrid system. Similar to the ISAD, but with a larger electric motor giving it more electricity to help move the vehicle.

Regardless of whether a car is full or mild hybrid, they both would use the gas engine when reaching higher speeds (typically over 20 to 25 mph). This is why a hybrid is especially cost saving to someone who drives in a lot of city traffic (although highway mileage for hybrids is still quite a bit better than that of a conventional vehicle).

A technical consultant for, Dave Reuter, includes Honda on the list for full hybrids, based on its voltage level and other criteria he feels merit the full hybrid status. According to Reuter, the Chevy truck is the only real mild hybrid system on the market. Again, according to, “The Union of Concerned Scientists uses the term ‘hollow hybrid,’ to refer to GM’s stop/start hybrids, including the Saturn Vue and Aura Green Line.”

I know at one point when I was discussing hybrids with a group of friends they threw out the idea of a personal purchase due to the high cost of the batteries and the unknown mileage you would get out of them. While replacement batteries may cost around $3,000 (about the same for a new transmission) most hybrid car companies warranty their batteries between 80,000 and 100,000 miles with the expectation they will last 150,000. Car enthusiasts also report that just about the time you might be needing a new hybrid battery they are more likely to be available at discounted rates through salvage yards as more and more hybrids hit the highways.

As car companies (and, I guess the government) come up with more incentives to sell cars, the hybrids are looking better and better. Hybrid price tags have come way down, too. If you drive a lot of miles, at some point you have to look at the amount of money you’d save in gas compared to a new car payment. Being Green isn’t always easy!