Hybrids versus electric cars: Which is the best car for you?

Updated

tesla and honda electric vs hybrid

If you're looking to purchase a new car this year, then consider ditching the typical gas-guzzling vehicle and going electric instead. 

Gasoline-powered cars are expensive to run and damaging to the environment. Their fuel costs currently range between $1,500 and $2,600 a year, while the EPA estimates CO2 emissions of roughly 4.6 metric tons annually for a car that gets 22 miles to the gallon.

Battery-powered electric vehicles fare much better. But there are two types to choose from: an all-out electric car, or a hybrid vehicle. To help you make an informed purchasing decision, this blog takes an in-depth look at the differences between these two types of cars.

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    What is a hybrid vehicle?

    A hybrid vehicle is a cross between a gas-powered and an electric vehicle. A hybrid car contains both an internal combustion engine — the same as those used by gas-powered vehicles — as well as an electric motor, which has an attached rechargeable battery pack.

    If the electric motor runs out of battery, a hybrid vehicle will automatically switch over to its internal combustion engine to power the car. In some situations, the hybrid car may employ both its electric motor and its internal combustion engine at the same time for increased power.

    It's worth noting that hybrid cars are further subdivided into two types. The first is a standard hybrid car, which uses regenerative braking along with its internal combustion engine in order to recharge its battery pack. The other type is the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV for short), which can be plugged into a charging station to replenish its battery pack.

    What is an electric vehicle?

    Electric cars are fully electric, which means that unlike traditional gas-powered vehicles and hybrid cars, electric cars do not contain internal combustion engines. They’re also known as battery electric vehicles, or BEVs, and more commonly as just electric vehicles, or EVs.

    You'll never need to gas up, although you will need to regularly plug it in to recharge its battery. The battery on an electric car, which tends to be very large, has one or more electric drive motors wired to it. . Electric cars also rely on complex software to manage the batteries, so as to optimize charging and discharging and maintain battery health.

    Related: 10 pros and cons of electric cars

    What to consider when choosing between the two

    There are many factors to take into account when choosing between a hybrid car and a fully electric car. These include:

    • The initial cost of the vehicle;
    • Ongoing costs (including fuel and maintenance costs);
    • How far you need to drive on a regular basis;
    • The driving conditions you'll regularly face (such as stop-and-go city driving vs rural driving);
    • Your carbon footprint.

    When to choose a hybrid car

    Hybrid cars are certainly efficient, especially since the internal combustion engine won't kick in until your battery runs out. This means that it can run just like a fully electric car as long as you keep it charged up, which isn't difficult if you have a plug-in hybrid. Because plug-in hybrids can be plugged into normal outlets, you can leave them charging overnight at home. Not only can you benefit from not having to pay to gas up your car, but you won't be leaving a carbon footprint either.

    However, the real advantage of a hybrid car is if you ever take longer trips. Because of the ability to switch to an internal combustion engine, a hybrid car has a great deal of range. If you have a long commute to work or you live in a more rural area, a hybrid is an excellent option since you can still reduce your carbon footprint and limit the costs of gassing up compared to a traditional fuel-powered vehicle.

    When to choose an electric car

    Electric cars are the most energy-efficient option on the market. They offer fantastic performance: near-instant torque means amazing torque, while their lower center of gravity (due to the weight of the battery at the base of chassis), makes handling much better. Some models offer a decent range as well.

    It's worth noting that while their range has improved, it still doesn't compare to the range of hybrid or traditional fuel-powered vehicles. For instance, the 2022 Tesla Model 3 Long Range has a range of 334 miles, well above any other electric car in its segment. By comparison, the 2022 Toyota Prius Prime, a hybrid sedan, has a total range of 640 miles.

    Because of the typically smaller range of electric cars, longer trips can be challenging. Access to charging stations remains relatively limited (although that’s changing as electric and hybrid cars rapidly rise in popularity), and taking out time to recharge mid-journey can be a hassle 

    Essentially, electric cars are not the best option if you live in rural areas or regularly travel long distances. But they are an excellent option if you live in the city, or mainly stick to short trips.

    Upfront cost comparison: Hybrid vs electric vehicle

    Comparing the upfront costs of a hybrid car versus an electric car is difficult because of all the different models that are now available on the market.

    With electric cars, if you want a higher range, you're going to have to pay for it. This is because a higher range requires a bigger, more powerful battery, and battery costs remain high.

    For example, Tesla models with over 300 miles of range all have starting prices over $60,000. The all-electric 2022 Chevy Bolt is a cheaper alternative, with starting costs in the mid $30,000s, but it only offers 259 miles of range.

    Hybrids tend to be a bit more affordable, with many models available in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. For example, the 2022 Toyota Prius Prime is available at a starting price of around $28,000.

    One of the reasons why electric cars are more expensive is not only due to the need for more powerful batteries to increase their range, but also because of the complex software required to operate the car. However, this is only taking into consideration the initial costs. When it comes to ongoing costs, things are a little bit different.

    Cost to maintain and drive a hybrid

    When it comes to maintenance costs, a hybrid car will most likely cost more to own than an electric car.

    The reason is simple: a hybrid car has all the moving parts of a gas-powered car. When you have moving parts inside of anything, they are likely going to experience wear and tear over time, and will eventually require repair or replacement. This definitely applies to an internal combustion engine and its many components.

    You'll also need to pay for basic tune-up costs, such as having your oil changed. How often you need to have your oil changed depends on the model hybrid you drive. For example, a newer Toyota Prius requires an oil change after the first 5,000 miles or the first six months.

    Maintenance aside, you will also need to pay for gas, even if it's not as often as you would for a traditional gas-powered vehicle.

    Cost to maintain and drive an electric vehicle

    Electric cars are a lot more affordable to maintain than any other type of car.

    First of all, you'll never have to spend money on gas—a big plus at a time of high gas prices

    Secondly, you won't have to pay for emissions testing since electric cars do not even have tailpipes. 

    Finally, you won't have to pay for the maintenance costs of taking care of an internal combustion engine, which means that you won't have to worry about replacing gaskets, cylinder heads, spark plugs, and more. Nor will you have to pay for engine oil. The lack of a traditional engine and the moving components that come with it help to significantly reduce maintenance costs.

    The only thing you're really paying for — besides changing out your tires periodically, which is required for every type of vehicle — is electricity. Electricity happens to be much cheaper than gas. You will have to pay to replace your electric battery eventually, but the costs of electric batteries have been declining every year, and it's something you'll have to do with a hybrid car as well.

    It’s also important to note that you can reduce your electricity costs — and thus the cost to charge your electric car — by installing solar panels on your home. We cover this topic in-depth in our blog about how and why to use solar panels to charge an electric car.

    Find out how much a solar system would cost for your specific home

    Rebates and incentives on hybrid and electric vehicles

    One of the advantages of buying a hybrid or electric vehicle instead of a gas-powered vehicle is that there are both state and federal rebates and incentives that can offset the initial costs. 

    The biggest one is the federal tax credit available on both electric cars and hybrid cars bought in or after 2010 for up to $7,500. Just be aware that this credit no longer applies to cars from Tesla or GM.

    State rebates and incentives for purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle are also available, although they vary from state to state. For example, in California, there are rebates of up to $7,000 via the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project.

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     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Zeeshan Hyder

    SolarReviews Blog Author

    Zeeshan is passionate about promoting renewable energy and tackling climate change. He developed these interests while studying at beautiful Middlebury College, Vermont, which has a strong focus on sustainability. He has previously worked in the humanitarian sector — for Doctors Without Borders — and in communications and journalism.

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