"Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hybrid & Alternative Fuel Vehicles," Jack R. Nerad

Pros: Incredible wealth of information regarding hybrid & alternative fuel vehicles
Cons: None!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Alpha Books.


When I looked at Jack R. Nerad’s Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hybrid & Alternative Fuel Vehicles: Get the low-down on today’s green machines and saw how compact it was, I had flash-backs to the Pocket Idiot’s Guide to the iPhone—and I worried it would be a similar experience. I was afraid the book would regurgitate simplistic information easily found on the internet and not provide much food for thought. I should have known better; out of the tens of CIGs I’ve read, the iPhone guide was one of only two that didn’t measure up. And in fact, Nerad’s book is now one of my favorites.

I don’t have a hybrid, but I admit to being tempted to get one for our next car. Like most people, however, I have questions that need to be answered. And the problem with the internet is the amount of conflicting information out there. Unfortunately, the issue has become very political in nature, and once something has become politicized it’s incredibly difficult to get information that hasn’t been presented in a manner that’s meant to serve some agenda or another—often making it misleading, if not downright wrong, in the process.

Also, I think, like most people, I’m not much of an extremist in any direction. I believe strongly in keeping the environment safe and clean for future generations, but I’m not going to buy a car I can’t afford, and I don’t want hype to mislead me into thinking that something will do more good than it really will. How many times have we heard of something we can do to help the environment or our health, only to find out later that by doing it we’re contributing to some other bad thing?

This means that I want answers. And Jack Nerad (executive directory of Kelley Blue Book and co-host of “America on the Road”) provides a ton of them.

He won’t tell you “buy this car” or “this is the answer to all your problems.” What he does is far better than that. He provides a wealth of information on the true state of our oil reserves, how car emissions affect the environment, the spectre of global warming, and so on. And he does it by providing, in as unbiased a manner as possible (where unbiased means providing relevant information no matter which “side” it seems to come down on—it doesn’t mean the current trend of trying to pretend that every theory out there is equally valid so as to avoid angering anyone), as much information as possible. There’s so much packed into this little book that I constantly found myself repeating tidbits to my husband; I’m not a car person, but I found this stuff fascinating.

For instance, it’s illuminating to learn a few things about automobile history. I daresay most folks buying cars and arguing over the viability of various types of engines today have no idea that the first cars didn’t have gasoline engines, and that this is hardly the first time in history that automobile manufacturers have worked feverishly on things such as electric or hybrid cars. Or that the Prius was operating on the roads in Japan for several years before it debuted in the US. I was also surprised to learn about “clean diesel” technology in use in other countries, that our regulators are having trouble figuring out what to do with.

Nerad goes into the advantages and disadvantages of hybrids, electrics, clean diesel, biodiesel, flex fuel, hydrogen fuel cell, and other current and proposed technologies—not those advantages and disadvantages that the media likes to tout, but the ones that simply affect your decisions as a buyer, as someone who hopefully cares about the environment, and as someone who has to weigh the benefit to the environment against what you’re willing and able to pay. He delves into safety issues with each type of engine, repair costs, operation costs, maintenance costs, purchase price differences, projected savings (or not) over the life of the car (a general analysis that you can plug your own numbers into based on current fuel and car prices), convenience, and so on. You’ll be able to figure out what type of car might work best if you have a large family to haul around, vs. what will work best if you have a two-hour commute every morning at highway speeds.

All of this information is provided in as simple-yet-complete a manner possible. I truly feel that when we’re ready to buy our next car, this will arm us with what we need to make a choice that will benefit our wallets as well as the environment.

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