Love-hate relationship with a hybrid |

Love-hate relationship with a hybrid

Alex Miller

Lately, more people are approaching me at the gas station as I’m filling up my car and asking a simple question:

“What’s it get?”

“About 45,” I say.

At that point they might nod approvingly or say “wow,” as they head back over to their SUV and the pump that’s racing toward the $100 mark.

What I don’t tell these folks is that, while 45 mpg is a wonderful thing to have in these $4-a-gallon times, my 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid has all the guts of an asthmatic sparrow. A powerhouse it is not, and there are plenty of times making my way home over Vail Pass that I’m sorely tempted to get out and push. This failing on the car’s part is exacerbated if I do something dumb ” like have another full-grown person in the car, or fill the trunk up with boxes of magazines. The Civic is sensitive as a cat to any additional weight ” so much so that I’ve noticed a marked increase in horsepower when I skip dessert.

Over the past few years, I have made moves to replace my hybrid with something else, but it seems like every time I get close to going through the hassle of buying a new car, gas prices shoot up again and I look in the mirror and say, “Alex, you’d be crazy to get rid of the hybrid now. Look at the price of gas!”

Whipping my car to summit Vail Pass at 50 mph in third gear seems a small price to pay, then, for the savings. If, for example, I drove my wife’s minivan ” which, charitably, gets 20 mph ” I would go from spending about $27 a week for my commute to work and spending instead about $60. I would also be expanding my carbon footprint even more than I am; savings aside, I really do like the fact that the Civic is a “SULEV” ” super ultra-low emission vehicle (and how can one not love the chain of three modifiers the term employs?). Burning stuff we dig out of the ground for heat and energy is a preposterous way to run a planet. But it’s what we’re stuck with for now, so at least we can try to be a little less preposterous than our fellow Americans in Hummers, Suburbans, Armadas and the like.

Sometimes, when I’m filling my tank at the station, I imagine the guy across from me with the dual-wheel Cummins diesel pickup is fostering bad thoughts about me, because he imagines I am sneering at his plight. I’m probably some Boulder liberal who’s never had dirt under his fingernails, he’s thinking, driving his stupid hybrid to his job at the petroleum company. Hyprocrite! Wuss! My truck could flatten your car like a beer can!

As this silent ” and probably nonexistent ” exchange of insults goes on, I nonetheless notice that my pump is whirring past the $30 mark, which I’ve rarely seen before. I may not be using as much fuel as the guy across from me, but I’m paying more, too. It still hurts ” just not as much.

I tell my kids that they will see a big change in how we power our country in our lifetime. I tell them that some day people will look back on the 100 or so years of oil’s dominance in amazement; that cars in the future will be powered by some kind of fuel cells ” who knows, exactly?

For now, though, I’m glad I’ve got the hybrid ” even if it is the slowest thing on Vail Pass.

Alex Miller is responsible for the editorial oversight of the Vail Daily, Eagle Valley Enterprise and Vail Trail. He can be reached at (970) 748-2920, or

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