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In California, if you drive a hybrid, you don't just get great gas mileage, you also get to drive in the carpool lane, even if you're alone in your car, but you need to have special decals for your bumpers that show you have a permit.


The California legislature passed a law allowing 85,000 sets of stickers to be issued to hybrid drivers, and in February the DMV sent out the very last set, so now the only legitimate way to get carpool-lane privileges for a Prius is to be a used car that already has the stickers.

Mr. ERIC YBARRA (Kelley Blue Book): We were quite curious to know whether the addition of the sticker added any value to the car's value once it became a used car.

SIEGEL: That's Eric Ybarra of Kelley Blue Book, which collects and publishes information about the price of used cars.

Mr. YBARRA: So we did this analysis, and we determined that there is a $4,000 premium that's being added to Priuses that have a carpool sticker.

NORRIS: Four thousand dollars to drive in the carpool lane. Ybarra can't think of any other add-on that boosts the value of a used car that much.

Mr. YBARRA: When you buy leather as an accessory, it's typically not $4,000, and the same with a premium stereo, navigation or even a rear entertainment system. You know, I really can't think of something that would add $4,000 in value to a used car.

SIEGEL: But let's say you already have a Prius and you really want to drive it solo in a carpool lane in California and you weren't one of those 85,000 people who already got stickers. So you try to borrow one or liberate one from another car and stick it on yours. Well, good luck says Mark Miller(ph) of the California DMV. The decals are tamper-proof.

Mr. MARK MILLER (California Department of Motor Vehicles): Getting one of these stickers off intact is highly unlikely, and being able to actually use one again is even less likely. If you remove it, it flakes off. The actual decal crumbles apart. If someone were to try to scrape it off, the word void appears beneath the part of the sticker that crumbles off. So you're left with a big nothing.

NORRIS: The hybrid sticker not only adds value to a used car, it saves money another way, according to Eric Ybarra of Kelley Blue Book. Since a hybrid is more expensive than a regular car, his colleagues figured that to make up for that higher price with savings on gas, you'd have to drive your Prius 250,000 miles. That's decades of mileage for the average driver.

SIEGEL: But, he says, if you can get your hybrid in the carpool lane, it's a different story.

Mr. YBARRA: If the carpool lane saves you 30 minutes a day, and your time is valued at at least $20 an hour, you could justify the premium on a hybrid within two years.

NORRIS: Eric Ybarra says before they issued all the carpool sticker sets, used hybrids with and without the permits cost the same in California. It's only in recent weeks that they've seen the $4,000 difference in cost.

SIEGEL: In Virginia, there's a program similar to California's, but they haven't run out of decals yet, and true to the law of supply and demand, used hybrids with stickers there don't cost any more than hybrids without.

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