If you are in the market for a new car, it is important to know what type of vehicle is best for you. With gas prices continuously rising, it may have crossed your mind to invest in an electrically-powered vehicle.
There are two main types of electrically-powered cars to choose between — fully electric cars or hybrid vehicles that can be powered by both electricity and traditional fuel. Which one you select ultimately comes down to your personal preferences and which type better fits your lifestyle.
In this article, we will discuss the key differences between hybrid and electric cars, as well as compare the pros and cons of both. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about electric and hybrid vehicles.
What is a Hybrid Car?
A hybrid car is a combination-type vehicle that has both a traditional internal combustion engine and at least one electric motor.
According to Car and Driver, there are a few different types of hybrid cars, including:
- Series Hybrids: A series hybrid has no physical mechanical component connecting the engine of the vehicle to the wheels. Instead, the internal combustion engine is primarily present to recharge the electric battery. This is a less common hybrid to see out on the road, with a good example being the BMW i3.
- Parallel Hybrids: Parallel hybrids are generally considered to be the most common type of hybrid vehicle seen on the road. With this hybrid, the electric and gas-powered components connect to a transmission, powering the car powered with both electricity and gas. Many car brands make this style of hybrid including Toyota, Honda, and Ford.
- Plug-In Hybrids: Plug-in hybrid vehicles place greater emphasis on the electric components and include a larger electric battery that can be recharged with an external plug-in. These models of hybrids can typically travel much further on electricity, allowing drivers to more drastically reduce their gas usage. A good example of a plug-in hybrid is the Chevy Volt.
How Does a Hybrid Car Work?
The mechanics of a hybrid vehicle will work slightly differently depending on which type of hybrid you own. However, in general, a hybrid car works by combining both electric batteries and gas fuel.
Unlike a traditional electric car that has to be plugged in to charge, the hybrid car’s internal combustion engine helps to recharge the battery through a process known as regenerative braking. When you hit the brakes in your car, this kinetic energy is captured and converted into electrical power.
As such, a hybrid car can switch between using electricity or gas for power, depending on the situation.
What is an Electric Car?
An electric car is a type of vehicle powered solely by an electric battery used to operate an electric motor, with a design that incorporates fewer mechanical parts than a traditional or hybrid vehicle.
With an electric car, you cannot rely on gas stations to refuel your vehicle. Instead, you need access to a charging station or at-home charging equipment. There are 3 levels of electric vehicle charging to be aware of:
- Level 1: Level 1 is a type of charging that can be completed at home using a portable charger. These types of chargers offer great convenience but a less efficient charge, taking between 12 to 24 hours total to complete a full charge. Level 1 chargers also require a 120V outlet to use.
- Level 2: Level 2 chargers are the most common type of chargers seen in public charging stations. These chargers require a 240V outlet and can provide an electric vehicle with a complete charge in roughly 3 to 8 hours total. While often available for free at public stations, these chargers can also be purchased for home installation.
- Level 3: The highest level of charging is Level 3, also known as Direct Current Fast Chargers (DCFC). This type of charger is only available via public charging stations and offers the most efficient charges, completing a full charge in roughly 60 to 90 minutes.
How do Electric Cars Work?
Electric vehicles (EVs) work by using an electric battery that stores energy to use while driving. These batteries are rechargeable, as discussed above, and power the electric motor of the vehicle.
Similar to a gas vehicle, an electric car can only be driven when it has sufficient “fuel” — in this case, electricity — to continue powering the motor. Every model or brand of EV can vary in its charging capacity and driving range.
The process of charging an EV depends on the level of charger you are using. For level 3 charging, there are also different types of connector plugs, including CHAdeMO, Combined Charging Systems (CCS), and Tesla connectors.
Hybrid vs. Electric Car Cost Comparisons
Now that we have covered the core differences between hybrid and electric vehicles, let’s look at some of the cost differences.
Here are 4 key cost comparisons for hybrid vs. electric vehicles:
For an electric vehicle, the charging cost depends on which level of charger you are using. Level 1 home chargers will impact your utility bills, while level 2 chargers are often available either for free or for very low costs — typically around $1.00 (USD) per hour.
As for level 3 charging, these stations generally charge between $10 to $15 per hour. However, this is also a relatively low cost, as level 3 charges can finish in roughly an hour to an hour and a half.
With a hybrid vehicle, there is an added cost of fuel to help recharge the electric battery. Despite this, the use of the electric battery helps to cut down on overall fuel costs. Most hybrid vehicles can get around 40 to 60 miles per gallon (mpg), which is roughly double to triple that of a conventional vehicle.
In general, an electric vehicle is considered to have fewer overall maintenance costs compared to a hybrid vehicle. This is largely due to the lack of traditional mechanical components that need more consistent maintenance to continue working properly over time.
However, both electric and hybrid vehicles can present lofty maintenance costs in the event that the electric battery needs replacing. For battery replacements, electric vehicles use a larger and more complex battery, making these replacements more costly compared to hybrids.
A hybrid battery replacement can range from $2,000 to $8,000, while an EV battery replacement can cost upwards of $10,000 to $20,000 depending on complexity.
Keep in mind that most electric and hybrid vehicles come with some form of battery warranty that can help to protect you against these costs.
In the U.S., the IRS offers a special tax credit for EV owners whose cars meet specific criteria. According to U.S. News & World Report, these criteria state the car must:
- Have 4 wheels
- Weigh less than 14,000 lbs.
- Has a battery that provides 4 kilowatt-hours (kWh) or more of power
- Must be able to be charged via plug-in
With these criteria, only plug-in hybrids qualify for the rebate, while almost all of the electric vehicles available in today’s markets can qualify. The value of this tax credit can vary, with the full credit valued at $7,500.
Typically, a full EV can qualify for the whole tax credit, while a plug-in hybrid will receive a partial credit.
The driving range of a hybrid or electric car is incredibly dependent on the make and model of the car.
For instance, a standard hybrid vehicle can generally travel further than a fully electric car, as it receives both electric and gas power. In standard hybrids, this can translate to around 40 to 50 miles of all-electric range and 250 to 350 miles of gas-powered range.
However, as EVs have become more advanced, so have their driving ranges. Today, the fanciest of EVs — such as the 2021 Tesla Model S Long Range — can travel more than 400 miles on a single charge.
In general, however, a standard hybrid can offer a better range than an EV of equivalent market value.
Are Hybrid or Electric Cars Better For The Environment?
Generally speaking, a car that is fully powered by electricity is considered safer for the environment than one that uses conventional fuel.
However, there are other environmental impacts to consider when it comes to EVs.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy:
“All-electric vehicles and PHEVs running only on electricity have zero tailpipe emissions, but emissions may be produced by the source of electrical power, such as a power plant. In geographic areas that use relatively low-polluting energy sources for electricity generation, all-electric vehicles and PHEVs typically have lower emissions well-to-wheel than similar conventional vehicles running on gasoline or diesel.”
Hybrid vs Electric Cars: Pros and Cons
With our cost and environmental impact comparisons out of the way, let’s now break down the basic pros and cons of both hybrid and electric vehicles:
Hybrid Vehicles: Pros
The pros of hybrid vehicles include:
- Lower off-the-lot, upfront purchasing costs
- More environmentally friendly than conventional vehicles
- Greater overall driving range compared to standard EVs
- Less expensive electric battery replacements
Hybrid Vehicle: Cons
The cons of hybrid vehicles include:
- Dependence on traditional gas, which can produce fossil fuel emissions
- Lower potential tax credits (no tax credits available for non-plug-ins)
- Slower acceleration compared to EVs
Electric Vehicles: Pros
The pros of electric vehicles include:
- Best for environmental friendliness compared to hybrids and conventional cars
- Highest possible tax credits
- Fast acceleration
- Quiet driving
Electric Vehicle: Cons
The cons of electric vehicles include:
- High upfront purchasing costs
- Expensive electric battery replacements
- Difficulty finding a mechanic that is knowledgeable on EVs
- Long charge times (when using Level 1 or Level 2 chargers)
Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Electric or Hybrid
If you still need some more help deciding between an electric or hybrid vehicle, here are four additional factors to consider when searching for your next car:
- Driving Environment: Where you live and where you will be driving can affect the efficiency of your vehicle. In general, hybrid vehicles are more capable of going anywhere, while EVs can be more negatively affected by factors such as cold weather conditions or steep roadway inclines.
- Vehicle Age: The biggest consideration when buying a used hybrid or electric car is what condition the battery is in. If the battery is likely to need replacement in the next few years, a hybrid will offer you a much cheaper replacement compared to an EV.
- Accessibility: One major factor that must be considered is the accessibility of charging stations in your residential area. If you have to travel far just to reach a charging station, you may be better off opting for a hybrid that used gas to recharge its battery.
- The Car Market: The car market is constantly fluctuating, with different brands, models, and styles, causing different cars to vary in pricing. Moreover, used cars will always be more affordable than brand new ones, though brand new hybrids or electric vehicles will present fewer maintenance needs and costs generally.
Final Thoughts: Should You Buy a Hybrid or an Electric Car?
So, you’re ready to make the choice between an electric vehicle and a hybrid car — but which one is right for you?
If you live in a medium to large-size city, you will likely have excellent access to many different public charging stations, making it easier to keep an EV charged. However, EVs can be more expensive to purchase and can have overall higher maintenance costs.
Comparatively, hybrids tend to be more affordable and accessible in more regions, given that they can run on both electricity and traditional fuel. If your goal is to cut back on fuel emissions, however, this might not be the right choice for you.
Purchasing a car is a big decision and it is important to take your time and weigh your options, shopping for the best vehicle for your lifestyle. Ask yourself what you value most when it comes to affordability, accessibility, and sustainability — and you will likely arrive at the answer to the question of whether you should buy a hybrid or an electric car.