The cost of being green: Honda Clarity versus Honda Accord

Our 2007 Infiniti M35x is on its last legs with about 85,000 miles on the clock. The latest issue is a disconnection in one of two mufflers that, absent craft welding skills, requires $1,300 in third party parts ($2,500 in official Infiniti parts?) to repair. This follows failures in the radiator, brakes, A/C coolant hoses, etc. Nissan is not up to the challenge of New England winters and roads!

We are considering saving the planet with a Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid.

Let’s assume that lease numbers are the best guide to the actual cost of owning a vehicle since that is the price at which an arm’s length transaction for three years of ownership occurs.

We got a quote from the same dealer at roughly the same time for $0 down 36-month leases.

  • stripped Honda Clarity: $556/month (residual value 46 percent)
  • stripped Honda Accord LX CVT: $376/month (residual value 60 percent)
  • upgraded Honda Accord EX CVT $434/month (residual value 59 percent)

As noted above, the Clarity Hybrid has a much lower predicted resale value than the gas-powered Accords. This, plus the higher list price, leads to $6,480 in extra costs over three years.

What about fuel cost savings that might offset this? Suppose that we drive 25,000 miles at 25 mpg in the Accord. That’s 1,000 gallons of gasoline at $2.75 per gallon = $2,750. The Federales say that the Clarity can go 100 miles on 31kWh of electricity (about $6 at Massachusetts electric rates, delivered, of 20 cents per kWh (nationwide rates)). We assume that we can go 12,000 miles on electric at a cost of $720. The other 13,000 miles in the Clarity will happen at 30 mpg? That’s 433 gallons = $1,192. So the fuel savings are $952.

Readers: Did I make any mistakes above? Or is the cost of lording it over neighbors in the Greener Than Thou department roughly $5,500?

[Note that I updated the electricity-related arithmetic, above, to reflect the real cost of electricity in Massachusetts, including the various delivery charges.]

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28 Comments

  1. Joe Shipman

    December 31, 2017 @ 12:11 pm

    1

    That’s only $150 a month, five dollars a day for the privilege of lording it over them. You can judge the satisfaction better when you look at it on a daily basis.

  2. Dom

    December 31, 2017 @ 12:17 pm

    2

    Is that electric rate correct? It sounds like you are not including delivery and other charges in the rate?

  3. G C

    December 31, 2017 @ 12:21 pm

    3

    Driving a new car is an expensive proposition, any way you slice it. If you want to reduce your gas usage *and* save money, consider a used Prius or Prius V, with low miles.
    My 2005 Prius has 130k, and still running like a champ, but my weather and roads are much easier on the car than MA.

  4. gotbikes

    December 31, 2017 @ 12:48 pm

    4

    Why wouldn’t you buy the Clarity? With a fraction of the cost of maintenance and also it will easily last 10 years. Forget the loss at returning and calculate again over 10 or so years. And, hey, what about the planet and the added JOY!! of driving an electric car?

  5. philg

    December 31, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

    5

    Why not look at the 10-year cost? I don’t want to drive 2017 technology in 2027! Also, we did that with the Infiniti and everything fell apart starting at about 6 years. The U.S. is not a good country in which to get something fixed and buying a replacement car one piece at a time is not a financially rational plan due to the way that parts are priced.

    Our 2018 Honda Odyssey, now that we’ve had it for about a month, seems substantially better than the 2014. It warns us if we’re about to back into traffic, if we’re about to change lanes into someone, etc. We can start it remotely.

  6. philg

    December 31, 2017 @ 2:02 pm

    6

    Dom: Whoa. You’re right about the electricity. The headline rate is 10.5 cents per kwh. But the “delivery” is almost exactly the same price. It is broken up into five separate components, including “Renewable Energy Charge” and “Energy Conservation Charge” (so that middle class people can subsidize the Tesla purchases of the wealthy? Or the insulation? (see http://blogs.harvard.edu/philg/2016/05/31/massachusetts-taxpayers-buy-insulation-for-a-multi-millionaire/ )).

    The real cost of electricity here seems to be roughly 20 cents per kwh. I will correct the original posting.

  7. Colin

    December 31, 2017 @ 2:03 pm

    7

    @Dom, rate does seem low. $7 for 31kWh in my Mass town, not $4. So that would be ~$840 if, and only if, you really can get 12K miles on utility generated power AND if the rates don’t go up.

  8. Tom

    December 31, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

    8

    Did you consider the $7,500 federal tax credit and the $2,500 MA rebate in your Clarity calculations? On the other hand, you have add in the cost of installing a 240v 32a level 2 charging station if you want a 2.5 hour total recharge.

    I have been looking into one myself to replace my 2003 Civic Hybrid. It is still going strong after 15 years and a 155,000 miles. No major mechanical issues but replaced the battery two years ago for $1,000. The battery technology in it is 120 1.5v NiCd D cells in series. I just want the new fancy stuff to work with my iPhone and safety stuff. There is a bit of rust too.

  9. philg

    December 31, 2017 @ 3:14 pm

    9

    Tom: The leasing company gets all of the tax credits, I think. So the lease price is the real price, I’m pretty sure (see https://www.autotrader.com/car-news/plug-in-hybrid-buyers-should-consider-leasing-193327 ).

  10. Tom

    December 31, 2017 @ 3:40 pm

    10

    Partially correct.
    It seems that the MA one is for the lessee. https://mor-ev.org/requirements/75
    The federal one goes to the leasing company. https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/taxfaqs.shtml

  11. jay c

    December 31, 2017 @ 5:38 pm

    11

    Do you get an HOV lane sticker in MA? I would drive a vehicle that employed a seal press for energy if I could use the HOV lane single occupant. Think of your time. If you save 30 minutes per work day commuting using HOV lanes, that’s 125 hours per year you can spend at home changing diapers, watching Gruzovichok Leva build trucks, Masha and Bear do what ever they are doing, as well as listening to neighbors complain about Trump and deadbeat millionaire child support woes, etc.

    If you want to buy a honda sedan and save money, why not price an Accord hybrid non-plug-in? It doesn’t have a transmission, but uses the electric motor for low speeds and clutched direct drive for higher speeds so theoretically it should be more reliable than a car with a transmission. C&D review. I think it would be hard for the plug-in hybrid version to save money over this if this is giving ~45 MPG for $28K.

    If you simply want to make a statement in your community, a rusty full-size Ford Bronco with a lift kit, aftermarket headers, naked lady mudflaps and a JPFO bumper sticker would make far more of a statement than a Clarity.

  12. GermanL

    December 31, 2017 @ 7:56 pm

    12

    @jay c

    don’t forget the truck nuts… a real rebel in Happy Valley would drive with truck nuts. And maybe wear one of the variations of Squidbillie hats.

  13. G C

    December 31, 2017 @ 8:31 pm

    13

    Check for a special “EV” charging rate from your local utility. Usually available for night charging (off peak).

  14. philg

    January 1, 2018 @ 10:37 am

    14

    G C: I don’t think Massachusetts has a special rate. Not every state can have a centrally planned economy like California’s with different prices for people with different levels of virtue!

  15. Anonymous

    January 1, 2018 @ 11:19 am

    15

    It is appalling to see a virtuous person living in one of the most virtuous places in the country facing such dilemma. A more planned economy can help here: state income tax rate in Mass can be increased from current deplorably low levels to at least 20% and then clean cars can be given to residents by the government (first to those qualifying for free housing, then undocumented, and so on, and finally to all residents).

  16. the other Donald

    January 1, 2018 @ 12:37 pm

    16

    Accord EX, and I bet it will drive right past all the woes of the Infiniti. Do your virtue signalling with an electric airplane, or just take up rowing on the Charles.

  17. No Where Man

    January 1, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

    17

    Wow! You only got 85K miles out of the ’07 Infinity. This car cost over $40K when new. I’m still driving mt ’01 Ford Taurus w/ 124K miles, purchased in ’02 w/ 20K miles for $11K. Seventeen years old and it’s been a cream puff.

  18. Mememe

    January 1, 2018 @ 11:16 pm

    18

    Let’s face it, your new luxury Infiniti is a lemon. Older cars, if properly maintained, have already been “shaken down” for defects.

    Cut out enviromental capital costs entirely and buy a used car. Recycling already depreciated capital is the best thing for the environment. It is in mining the resources and manufacturing a car where the most “damage” is done to the environment; whether you look at energy consumed, landscape stripped, or carbon emitted. Older cars can be much easier to maintain, mostly because they lack complicated electronic systems. I have two left thumbs and managed to overhaul faulty wiring myself in one afternoon on a VW bug.

    By buying outright instead of leasing or financing, you are not required to buy accident or comprehensive insurance, which can be a big money saver.

    Finally, what will signal virtue better in New England than a vintage Volvo? And that old Volvo was built for the cold, unlike your Infiniti.

  19. philg

    January 1, 2018 @ 11:54 pm

    19

    Mememe: Our Infiniti will soon be 12 years old (2018 minus the 2006 manufacturing year) and has been mostly dealer-maintained. So by your logic it should be awesome going forward because it has been thoroughly “shaken down”!

  20. Jackie

    January 2, 2018 @ 3:07 pm

    20

    I do find that most cars (that are not lemons) have a happy middle age where all of the original factory defects and weak points have been addressed but time has not yet taken its toll on them. But eventually time does catch up with cars. Metal parts rust, especially in the Northeast where they salt the roads like crazy in the winter. Rubber parts dry out, electronics fail, etc. As Phil says, at some point a car fall behind technologically even if it is still functional. The car starts to look shopworn – the springs in the seats sag, the windows rattle. I like to keep a car a long time too but even if it is originally a luxury model, after a dozen years you notice that the only other people driving the same car as you are teenagers and the urban poor. I think it is wasteful to get a new car every 3 years but you really can’t fault anyone who keeps a car for 10 or 12 years.

    That being said, I NEVER take a car to the dealer once the warranty is up, especially not a “luxury” car where you are paying for the fancy showroom that looks like a spaceship. Keep in mind that Infinitis are really Nissans, Audis are VWs, etc. and that many of the parts interchange. Find a good local mechanic – some old guy whose shop is in an ex-gas station in an out of the way part of the next town over which is not as rich as your town. For example, my daughter’s 2003 Subaru recently needed an oxygen sensor (BTW, buy a “code reader” gizmo on ebay that plugs into your car’s OBD port and interfaces with your phone – these sell for next to nothing on ebay. When your car’s CHECK ENGINE light comes on, you will actually know what it means.) Subarus don’t share their parts with anyone, but OTOH, they tend to keep using the same parts for many years so the parts are widely available. Don’t get the part from the dealer but get the OEM part from the original manufacturer instead (e.g. for Japanese cars, Denso, for German cars, Bosch, etc.) Websites say that the cost to replace an O2 sensor at the dealer is around $250 (assuming the dealer doesn’t try to sell you a complete unnecessary exhaust replacement for $2500 instead). My O2 sensor was $50 from Amazon and another $50 cash to my mechanic to install it. So the $250 repair became a $100 repair. Over 10 or 12 years of brake jobs and belt replacements, wheel bearings, etc. this adds up to a big difference in cost. And certain things (e.g. air filter replacement) you can do yourself even if you are a complete klutz.

  21. philg

    January 2, 2018 @ 3:33 pm

    21

    Today I went to https://www.yelp.com/biz/lous-custom-exhaust-waltham and they cut out about 6 inches of pipe on each side of the car and welded in replacements (4 welds total) for $150. The car is a lot quieter and the exhaust comes out at the very back instead of around the rear wheels. So the Infiniti has lived to fight another few weeks anyway.

    [Once up on a lift I could see that there was the same issue, albeit less severe, on the other side of the car as well. Also, why doesn’t anyone say “Thank you for your service” to guys who weld in a partially-heated shop when it is 0 degrees F outside? People who’ve worked for the U.S. military get that all of the time and most of them work in climate-controlled offices.]

  22. No Where Man

    January 2, 2018 @ 6:28 pm

    22

    The ABS module just failed in my my ’08 Honda Ridgeline (at 50K miles, purchased two years ago for $14K after looking for two years). The Honda dealer quoted $1200 for a new one installed. Used ABS modules are offered on ebay for around $100 and the dealer will install it for another $100. In the meantime, I still have power brakes but no ABS and my dash is lit up like a Christmas tree. Other than that (and abysmal MPG) the Ridgeline has been a delight.

    Find a good local mechanic – some old guy whose shop is in an ex-gas station in an out of the way part of the next town over which is not as rich as your town.

    I’ve used such a shop for the past fifteen years, but the 75 y/o owner, in business for nearly 50 years, just told me that he’s signed a contract to sell his corner, high traffic, US 1 lot for $1.5 million.

  23. Mememe

    January 2, 2018 @ 8:25 pm

    23

    Philg:
    If the infiniti has served you well except for the current problem, maybe it is worth keeping. I should have taken into account the car’s age before branding her a lemon. As Jackie pointed out, time can degrade just as surely as mileage, and even the best car benefits from a good mechanic. Financially speaking, as long as your repair costs are less than $4000 annually, keeping the infiniti makes the most sense. But all that uncertainty and upkeep is a hassle that you, quite readinably, want to reserve for your airplanes.

    I stand by the analysis that a used car is the best choice “environmentally”. If you must drive around a ’67 Barracuda in order to save the planet, is it such a terrible sacrifice? A good mechanic can get any fundamentally sound car running as good as new. Upholstery and trim can be replaced and refurbished.

    A car is more to you than just a convenient and reliable conveyance, or else you would have already bought a new gasoline-powered Camry.

    We all wait with bated breath as to your next move. Some people follow hockey or football for entertainment — on this obscure corner of the Internet, the car you drive next will help define our new year. None of your posts generate greater interest. Americans love cars. We love talking about them even more than we love driving them.

  24. Jackie

    January 2, 2018 @ 8:48 pm

    24

    If you must drive around a ’67 Barracuda in order to save the planet, is it such a terrible sacrifice?

    I would say yes. A ’67 Barracuda might be a fun car to drive once in a while but it lacks important life saving technologies such as airbags, ABS, traction control, etc. Its crash safety is significantly worse than a modern car. Mechanically it lacks electronic ignition and fuel injection, which means that the chances that it will start on a cold, damp winter morning are considerably less than 100%. In terms of saving the planet, a ’67 has no pollution controls and the gas mileage is in the teens, so you really aren’t helping to save the planet.

    An ’07 Infiniti is missing some next generation stuff such as automatic braking and cross traffic alert but it’s still more or less in the modern ballpark whereas a Barracuda is not even close.

  25. CHenry

    January 2, 2018 @ 9:28 pm

    25

    You averaged 8500 miles a year on the Infiniti. Are you planning to increase the amount you drive or reduce your fleet size and drive the remaining car(s) more?
    (I had a 2004 Infiniti FX35 I drove 165,000 miles with the only non-routine repairs being a rear and middle exhaust replacement and a repair of the door locks for the hatch and front passenger door; it was a pretty reliable car that was never garaged.)

    I would go with the Accord EX. It is a new design, but well done, spacious, safe and comfortable. It is certainly the better family car. The Clarity looks about the size of the Civic, smaller than the Accord, but it weighs over 4000 pounds and apparently handles noticably less well than does the Accord. Costs wise, it looks as if you don’t come out all that much ahead with the electric (from what I am reading, the Clarity plug-in combines 110MPGe on electric cycle with 42MPG with the gas engine, which is better than the Accord. The electric-only range is supposed to be 48 miles, which might be fine for the commuter with a charger at home and work (charges take 2h at 240V but 12 at 120V.) The greenness comparison also needs to consider the carbon footprint of the car and the electricity generation the charging requires. Most of that is natural gas but maybe some cross-border purchase of hydro in your part of the country.

    If you need a car to move your family, go with the Accord.

  26. CHenry

    January 2, 2018 @ 10:09 pm

    26

    Looking at the gas consuption in your model for the Accord, it seems that you might be consuming 500 gallons over the Clarity during the lease term. Using the web figures for carbon didoxide production for this amount of fuel, the figure I found was 4400 kg or just shy of 10,000 pounds. You can purchase carbon offsets at a rate of $5 per 1000 pounds, so greening up your purchase would cost $50, assuming the seller of credits is being honest.

  27. philg

    January 3, 2018 @ 8:48 am

    27

    CHenry: Brilliant idea on the carbon offsets! Thanks.

    In the original posting I used 25,000 miles over 36 months, 8,333 miles per year. Our “fleet” is two cars and will remain the same size.

  28. ClarityOwnerTex

    January 8, 2018 @ 8:05 pm

    28

    A few thoughts about your cost comparison. First, the gas engine on the Clarity is EPA rated at 42 mpg (44 city). Second, your assumption of 12,000 miles electric and 13,000 miles gas is a profile for a rural driver, not for Cambridge/Boston or most urbanized areas. I live in suburban Austin, TX and my experience thus far is 90% electric. My friend has driven his Chevy Volt PHEV and has consumed 25 gallons of gas in one year of driving!

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