Thinking of buying a hybrid or electric vehicle to ease the pain at the pump? You may want to think again: A TrueCar.com study commissioned by the New York Times shows that, except in three cases, fuel-efficient technology is so expensive that these types of cars take years to pay off at today's gas prices—and that remains true even if gas were to hit $5 per gallon. In some cases, the average driver would take more than a decade to see savings over comparable conventional vehicles, which is a problem since the average person owns a car just six years. Most fuel-efficient cars will be more expensive to purchase and to drive for five years, at minimum.
In fact, the study finds, gas would have to be near $8 per gallon in order for most hybrids to pay off within six years. The exceptions? Two hybrids (the Toyota Prius and the Lincoln MKZ, which will likely save you money within two years) and one diesel-powered vehicle (the Volkswagen Jetta TDI). Of course, some people will buy fuel-efficient cars regardless of whether it makes mathematic sense, because "fuel economy has become a social attribute," as one anthropologist says. "People want to have good fuel economy because if they have poor fuel economy they might look stupid." Click for the complete analysis, including specific estimates for certain cars and how higher gas prices affect those estimates. (Read more hybrid car stories.)