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Chevrolet offers a hybrid version of the 2008 Malibu.

If you're thinking of buying a hybrid and need a bit of a road map, here are some suggestions on how to cruise easily through your search without generating any more stress or, hopefully, carbon emissions than necessary.

No, you don't have to ride your bike to the dealership. But you can do much of the advance work online, without stirring from your home.

"First, consider what you need. What type of vehicle, what fuel economy do you really need? Be sure to research the figures so you know what the vehicle's real-world performance is, not what the manufacturer claims," said Jeff Bartlett, deputy auto editor at ConsumerReports.org.

"Also look at the ownership cost. Does this car tend to have a lot of repair costs? Is it reliable?" Bartlett said.

You can search for vehicles by specific description or attributes such as mileage using the "New Car Selector" tool on the Consumer Reports Web site, said Bartlett. In addition, the organization's April issue has a new set of data and analysis for buyers called Owner Costs.

Also, you can compare hybrid cars' performance side-by-side and learn about tax incentives at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fuel Economy site. Another site with information on tax incentives is the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov.

"Go to online forums and find out where the good dealerships are," said Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor at online automotive site Edmunds.com.

When you get to the dealership, be sure to take a test drive to see if you're comfortable with how the hybrid behaves. For example, when you stop at a stoplight, hybrids get really quiet, something most people aren't used to, Bartlett said.

"Buying a hybrid is like buying any other car. You need to do your research," Reed said.

Reach Janis Mara at 925-952-2671 or jmara@bayareanews group.com. Check out her energy blog at www.iba buzz.com/energy.

Online Resources
  • Consumer Reports Web site, www.consumerreports.com
  • Edmunds.com, www.edmunds.com
  • Hybrid cars Web site, www.hybridcars.com
  • Toyota Web site, www.toyota.com
  • Official Honda Civic Hybrid Web site: http://automobiles.
    honda.com/civic-hybrid
  • Official Toyota Prius Web site: www.toyota.com/prius-hybrid
  • Price comparisons and other hybrid information from the
    government: www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/hybrid_sbs.shtml
  • IRS Web site with information on tax credits: www.irs.gov