Study: Some green cars save more than others

Study: Some green cars save more than others »Play Video
The Chevrolet Volt, shown here, saves enough money over the long run to justify its higher price tag, according to Kiplinger's Personal Finance.
Editor's Note: The amount of savings on the Chevy Volt has been changed from the original article after Kiplinger's discovered an error in their math

Green cars are no longer a novelty.

Many of us will seriously think about getting a hybrid or electric model for our next vehicle. High gasoline prices have ensured that.

But do green cars make sense - dollars and cents?

Jessica Anderson is an associate editor for autos at Kiplinger's Personal Finance.

"It's kind of a mixed bag depending on which green car you buy," she says. "You may end up saving more money than the gasoline version of the car or you may not."

For its September issue, Kiplinger ran the numbers - the cost of ownership for the average driver over a five-year period. The question: do the fuel savings make up for the higher sticker price of a green vehicle.

"We figure five years is enough because it's the typical length of ownership for most people, and if you haven't seen your gas savings by five years, you're probably going to be very frustrated," says Anderson.

She says they were surprised at how well the two electric vehicles, the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf did when compared to the closest gas-powered match. They compared the Volt with the Chevy Cruze LTZ and the Nissan Leaf SV with the Nissan Versa S Hatchback.

"And while both of them cost about $18,000 more than the gasoline models, the Volt comes within $1,500 of Cruze's ownership costs over five years, and the Leaf is only $800 more than a Versa over five years because they do save so much," Anderson says.

Hybrids are the most popular green machines. They do cut gas use. They are good for the environment. But what about your pocketbook? Anderson says they're all over the place - depending on the model.

"You can be getting a really great deal like the Mercedes-Benz S400 hybrid. It's actually the cheapest S-class that you can buy. And you save about $7,000 over five years. Conversely, another popular model, the Lexus LS600 hybrid, it costs more than $36,000 more than its gasoline counterpart and you lose all of that. It does not save money over the gasoline engine."

After looking at all the numbers, Anderson tells me the decision whether to buy a green vehicle has a lot to do with what you want.

"If your goal is to be good to the environment, the premium and the savings is not going to be something that is ultimately a make-or-break situation for you. But if your goal is to save money, run the numbers, really do as much as you can to find out about the long-term costs because some of the green cars will save you a lot and some of them really won't."

Kiplinger has a green car calculator on its website to help you find out if going green makes sense for your wallet.