Some owners of new hybrid cars can’t figure out why they don’t get the 55 or higher miles per gallon they’ve been promised. It turns out you won’t save much on gas unless you drive the right way. Honda spokesman Chris Naughton tells Civic Hybrid owners not to drive too fast or brake too hard, and says, “Be mindful that (fuel-efficiency) can vary.”

John Gartner writes in that Toyota Prius drivers have reported lifetime fuel-efficiency from 36 to 58 mpg, while Honda Civic Hybrid owners claim to get between 32 and 56 mpg. But some drivers report getting 40 miles per gallon or less.

Toyota engineer Dave Hermance says weather, driving conditions and driver habits can cut fuel-efficiency by up to 30%. How you stop is important: Drivers who roll through intersections using “California stops,” instead of actually stopping, are decreasing their mileage. He says, “If you don’t stop, you don’t get the free energy of regenerative braking.” But braking too hard can also cause you to lose some of the benefits of regenerative braking, which captures energy from slowing the car to charge the battery. If the battery’s charge falls below a certain level, then the car will rely more heavily on the gas engine than the electric motor.

The weather plays a part as well. According to Toyota, cold weather can reduce fuel-efficiency by up to 35%, especially if you don?t allow the car to warm up before driving it.

How you accelerate also counts. Prius owner Bill Gausman says, “If you use long, slow acceleration, your mileage sucks.” But the easiest way to reduce fuel-efficiency is to speed. He says, “If I’m doing more than 70, then I’ll definitely get less than 50 mpg.”

Hybrid diseases?not hybrid cars?were dreamed up in Lab 257?and maybe they were released into suburban Long Island and the rest of the U.S. as well.

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