The 100-MPG Car is Here, But not Really HERE

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Ever wonder why the price of a new car has gone up several thousand since the invention of the internal combustion engine, but gasoline mileage has remained essentially static even in the face of technological advancements never dreamed possible just a few decades ago? The promise of high mileage vehicles has long been one of the drawing cards for the next generation of vehicles, but a quick trip to any car lot reveals that the estimated gas mileage of the overwhelming majority of cars remains at roughly the same level they were fifty years ago. The promise of a car that can get 100 mpg has been a carrot dangling in front of consumers for many years now. But how close is the 100 miles per gallon vehicle to reality? You might be surprised.

Vehicles capable of reaching 100 miles on a single gallon of gasoline do exist today. There is one catch however; you can’t buy them. Well, technically speaking, you most certainly can buy them in the form of, for instance, the Toyota Prius. Actually, pretty much any gas hybrid car currently on the market is capable of granting you your average travel around the city for a few days for less than the cost of a dinner for four at a fast food restaurant. Essentially, then, if you already own a gas hybrid vehicle you already own a car that get 100 miles to the gallon. If you don’t things get more complicated because it still remains difficult to get your hands on a hybrid, but don’t go jumping for joy just yet if you are one of the lucky ones. Transforming that gas hybrid engine your car came with into one that net you those spectacular mileage figures isn’t easy and doesn’t come cheap.

Hybrid vehicles that have been customized to get that amazing gas mileage are known as plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles or PHEVs. What happens is that the hybrid engines are re-equipped with more muscular battery power with the result being that the gasoline part of the hybrid engine is used more sparingly. In fact, when you go to bed at night, you plug a PHEV into an electrical socket. A gas hybrid car without the additional battery power is pretty much just a standard gasoline engine with a battery. When you drive a hybrid, however, you are using battery power fed by the internal combustion. When the extra battery power from the PHEV is added, that means the hybrid becomes capable of actually driving solely on battery power at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. That may sound less than enthralling if you were planning on that 100 miles per gallon whizzing by at 75 mph on the interstate, but studies have shown that most city driving is actually conducted between 25 and 30 miles per hour. When you combine the fact that most driving is done at that low rate of speed with the fact that fuel mileage is at its lowest during the stop-and-start driving style of inner city transport, the benefit of using a PHEV in this way is undeniable.

Now for the bad news. While getting those 100 mpg numbers is probably enough to outweigh any downside, it may still remain a case of better the devil you know. After all, transforming a hybrid into a PHEV means an immediate invalidation of your vehicle’s warranty, specifically the elements related to the powertrain. Perhaps even more distressing than the loss of warranty is that a conversion industry just isn’t profitable at the moment, meaning the procedure is basically up to you, or someone you trust to do a better of job. The point being that you can’t just flip open the Yellow Pages and find a PHEV conversion expert. Perhaps the biggest downside of doing what it takes to be among the first to leap into the 100 miles per gallon club is cost. In addition to the expense of purchasing a gas hybrid vehicle in the first place, converting it to a PHEV vehicle capable of getting those spectacular mileage figures currently will add anywhere from another $3,000 to $12,000.

Still, with gasoline prices heading toward $4 a gallon this year and likely to hit $5 or $6 within the next two years, getting 100 miles on that outlay really won’t be too difficult to make if you plan on keeping that car until it finally, if ever, becomes possible to simply walk onto a car lot and buy a 100 mpg car.