“It’s all in the details,” it’s often said, and a relatively small detail found on the side of some used Prius hybrids could boost the asking price by as much as $4,000. In today’s edition, USA Today analyzes recent pricing trends and discovers that California buyers are ready and willing to cough up that extra cash for a “pre-owned” Toyota that comes equipped with a Clean Air Vehicle sticker.
Why? It grants the driver with instant access to the coveted commuter, or High Occupancy Vehicle, lanes where traffic often sweeps by while other drivers sit. The stickers, which read, “Access OK,” were approved by lawmakers in a state increasingly worried about the twin perils of pollution and petroleum imports. The state has capped the number of stickers offered to hybrid owners at 85,000, which means there’s a growing market for used vehicles that already have them. Under the law, it turns out, the sticker stays with the car, even when it changes ownership.
Skeptics look at the emerging trend as a sign that many folks are buying hybrids not to save the Earth, but simply to get a way around California’s endemic traffic jams. Proponents counter that it doesn’t matter because the rules still get more high-mileage hybrids onto the road. Perhaps, but ongoing studies show that hybrids typically don’t get nearly the mileage manufacturers claim, and ironically, they usually get worse mileage when cruising in the HOV lanes than when stuck in stop-and-go traffic.
How much is the sticker actually worth, USA Today estimates that for someone saving 30 minutes a day in traffic, and earning $20 an hour, the $4000 premium would be justified within a couple years. But the paper also quotes experts who lament that what started out as a noble mission may devolve into an easy way to earn some extra cash when it’s time to trade in.