PENDLETON - Gas stations are one thing Jean Guidry passes more frequently than do other drivers. Her 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid gets more than 40 miles per gallon.

Guidry drives a lot on the job as a school psychologist for the Umatilla-Morrow Education Service District, so she appreciates a vehicle that gets excellent gas mileage.

"I put a lot of miles on my car," Guidry said. "I go as far as Ukiah and Stanfield - sometimes as far as Hermiston. Actually, once every couple of months I have to go to The Dalles."

Guidry doesn't have to fiddle with calculating her miles per gallon every time she fuels the Hybrid.

"It's got a little gauge that tells me," Guidry said, noting that the vehicle recalculates its mileage every few minutes while she drives.

"Not only does it get good mileage, but it shows you how you're driving so you can learn how to drive so you get better mileage," she added.

Some of the "learning," is just common sense, Guidry admits, such as, "You don't stomp on the gas, you don't go 80 on the freeway - because in any car you can mess up your mileage."

The Honda Hybrid is not just any car, however. It's powered by an 85-horsepower, four-cylinder, 1,339 cubic-inch gasoline engine and a 13.4-horsepower electric motor.

"It's a really small engine, so it doesn't have a lot of power," Guidry said. "The electric motor kicks in to give extra power when needed."

She loves the way it operates in the city.

"When you're driving in town and you step on the brake, your gasoline engine just sort of dies," Guidry said. "And as soon as you let off the brake and step on the gas, the gas engine kicks in. There's no idling - no exhaust."

The electric motor also serves as a generator that charges the vehicle's batteries as it travels along.

"You never have to plug it in. Every time you step on the brake, every time you decelerate, you're charging those batteries," Guidry said. "It's a totally self-contained system."

Although she drives it alone most of the time, the Hybrid will seat up to five.

"It's the same size as a regular Civic. You lose a little bit of trunk space because the batteries are back there," she said, opening the trunk and pointing toward the back seat.

Before Guidry bought the Hybrid last summer, she owned a Honda Accord, which she said got 30 to 32 miles per gallon. Her Hybrid routinely gets 43 mpg, but she has noticed the gauge registering 120 mpg when she's coasting down a hill.

Doug Scott, the salesman at Comrie Honda who sold Guidry the vehicle, said the Hybrids with automatic transmissions get better mileage in town than on the freeway. They are rated at 48 mpg in town and 47 mpg on freeway. Hybrids with a manual transmission are rated 46 mpg in town and 51 mpg on the freeway.

Scott said the dealership has sold about 10 Hybrids in the past two years. While hybrid vehicles cost more than ordinary cars, the Internal Revenue Service offers a tax deduction for the original owners of a qualifying hybrid:

•Honda Civic Hybrid - 2003-2004

•Toyota Prius - 2001-2004

•Honda Insight - 2000-2004

The deduction is $2,000 for cars first put into use before 2004. Under current law, the clean-burning fuel deduction will be reduced $500 each year, starting in 2004, until it expires. No deduction will be allowed for vehicles placed in service after Dec. 31, 2006, according to the IRS.

Susan Plass, director of grants at Blue Mountain Community College, drives a Toyota Prius, which also is a hybrid.

"My husband and I think our Prius is wonderful," Plass said. "It's roomy - roomier than you'd think by just looking at it - comfortable and very reliable."

Plass said the Prius, like other hybrids, is best-suited for driving on level ground at speeds of 35 to 55 miles per hour.

"We usually get 75 miles per gallon or better on the drive between Stanfield and Umatilla," she said. "Most of our driving is in Pendleton, or out on the freeway, though, so we average about 40 miles per gallon."

Plass said she and her husband fill their Prius with gas "about every three or four weeks."

Guidry, too, notices the difference in time between fill-ups.

"I used to have to fill up twice on a trip to Portland and back," she said. "Now I can go to Portland and halfway back before I have to fill up.

"I've sure noticed the difference since the price of gas has gone up," she added. "I used to be able to fill up with a $10 bill. Now it takes a $20 bill."

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