Image by frankh (source: Flickr)

A green car is any of a number of vehicles available on the market that offer high mileage through either hybrid or electric technology – or a combination of both. If you’re considering buying a new vehicle, there are many different reasons to put a green vehicle at the top of your wish list.

• Fuel economy. With a green car, you’ll get better fuel economy. Of course, that means the cost of driving your vehicle is lower than with a regular vehicle, particularly with the cost of gasoline topping $4 a gallon in parts of the country. Better fuel economy can also lower the price of gasoline. One of the variables that go into gasoline price is demand. In part, demand is determined by the amount of gasoline reserves available in the U.S. More drivers using less gasoline means more reserves, which actually lower prices.

• Slow global warming. Scientists around the world have determined that carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other toxic emissions have eaten through enough of the protective ozone layer that the planet is getting hotter. This global warming is related to a number of dangerous side-effects, from the melting of the polar ice caps to stronger and more frequent hurricanes. The next best thing to reducing the number of vehicles on the road is making sure as many vehicles as possible get the best possible fuel economy. Here’s why: Each gallon of gas spews about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. But a vehicle with better gas mileage doesn’t put nearly as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Experts say the improvement from 20 to 25 mpg, for instance, is huge, saving about 10 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the air during the life of the car.

• Cost benefit. There’s no doubt that the original cost to purchase a green car – whether it’s hybrid, electric or both – is higher than a traditional vehicle. But the lifetime costs to own a green car, such as gasoline, maintenance and insurance, are significantly lower than a regular car. While you still must take care of a green car, the technology behind hybrid and electric vehicles creates much less strain on the engine. That means maintenance costs are lower. Green car owners also can also get a cheap insurance quote on their vehicles because statistics show green car owners are less likely to be involved in accidents, and many auto insurance companies are also trying to encourage people to switch to green cars by offering discounts on coverage.

• Plenty of choices. There was a time when the only option on the market if you wanted a green vehicle was a Honda or a Toyota Prius. Those days are long gone. Check out our list of some of the top green cars for 2011. If you are hypnotically attracted to 50 mpg, go for the latest version of the Toyota Prius. If a stylish, electric vehicle suits your fancy, go for the Chevy Volt. More and more green cars are now engineered to battle toe-to-toe with the roomiest and most attractive regular vehicles. That includes models like the Lexus CT 200h and the Volkswagen Golf TDI.

Choosing a new vehicle is a big decision. If you’re a homeowner, it likely is the second-most expensive purchase you’ll make during your lifetime, considering the cost of the vehicle and insurance. Thanks to hybrid and electric technology, you have the opportunity to choose a vehicle that gets great fuel efficiency, reduces the amount of toxic emissions into the atmosphere and can produce a cheap insurance quote. Check out the many different green vehicles available and help to save the planet – and your own financial bottom line.