Electric Cars vs. Hybrids: What is Right for You?


electric vehicle or hybrid car

In the world of automobiles, electric cars are the future. Everyone wants to save money on fuel prices. The fact that electric and hybrid cars help to limit greenhouse gases and save the environment is a plus. A big plus for me. 

Suppose you are in the market to get a new car because you want these benefits or are curious about the different types. In that case, you may be interested in comparing hybrid and electric cars. 

Electric cars run only on batteries charged by the electrical grid. Hybrid vehicles are a combination of combustion engine-drive and electric motor powered by a battery pack. 

Electric and hybrid vehicles will be the standard that the world transitions to shortly. The vehicle you choose now may have a significant impact on the way that you drive to work, school, or around town. Since each of these fuel and climate saving vehicles has many differences and similarities, this is your place to compare the significant features of each. 

The Main Difference Between Electric and Hybrid Vehicles

Even though there are plenty of similarities when considering buying either a hybrid or electric vehicle, the one main difference is with the engine. Considering buying an alternative fuel energy vehicle brings up two main engine types in either a hybrid or an electric-only engine.

A hybrid has an electric and internal combustion engine, requiring combustible fuel and electricity to run. It still gets great gas mileage compared to internal combustion only engines. 

An electric car uses only a battery to be called a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV). ZEVs are better for the environment because they release virtually no carbon into the atmosphere while running. 

Suppose you are concerned about the environment. In that case, the main difference between an electric and hybrid vehicle may cause you to choose the electric vehicle. The electric vehicles’ design is called Zero-Emission Vehicles (ZEV) because there is no carbon emission coming from the tailpipe, which hybrids cannot claim. However, there are CO2 emissions in the production of batteries for electric vehicles. (Source: Cars Direct)

How does a Hybrid Car Work

Simply put, a hybrid car uses both an internal combustion engine and an electric engine while running. When the Prius hybrid was invented in Japan by Toyota in 1997, it revolutionized the idea of electric cars. The Prius showed the world that hybrids could be functional, effective, and efficient.  (Source: JD Power)

Because hybrids use electric power engines and internal combustion engines for the car’s propulsion, there is no charging required. Instead, the battery pack for the electric engine charges during braking, coasting, and from the internal combustion engine when in use. 

This added benefit of not needing to be charged is a huge win for the hybrid. Hybrids have an ingenious way of capturing the wheels’ momentum from the gasoline engine. The momentum of the car and braking charges the hybrid’s battery pack. This charging solution and hybrid-engine design are among the greatest appeals of the hybrid for consumers who don’t want to fuss about stopping at charging stations. (Source: US Department of Energy)

How Does an Electric Car Work

Electric car engines are run entirely on electrical power from the many batteries located in the vehicle. For the most part, electric vehicles need to be charged with a plug-in located at designated charging stations or your very own home. Plugs and converters to 240 volts are installed in your home, such as in your garage, and charge your vehicle from your home’s electrical power. One can also trickle charge from a standard wall outlet (120 Volts). Consider the cost of your electricity when calculating the costs of owning a plug-in alternative fuel vehicle. 

Related article: How Much Does an Electric Car Charger Cost to Install

Electric engines work alone with electricity and do not need the power from an internal combustion engine to propel the vehicle. Thus, there are many maintenance issues that electric car owners do not have to worry about, such as oil changes, coolant, and engine maintenance. 

At this point, electric vehicles with battery-powered engines are becoming more popular. 

What Saves You More Money: Hybrid vs. Electric 

When you consider an alternative fuel-powered vehicle, one of the first things you will probably consider is the savings. Saving money, fuel emissions, and time are all fundamental considerations when thinking about getting a hybrid or electric vehicle. 

You have probably heard of the many cost-saving benefits of owning a hybrid and an electric car. There are the fuel saving costs from reduced gasoline consumption. There is also the savings from government and state incentives for buying an electric or hybrid car. Electric vehicles get a $7,500 federal tax credit.  Finally, you will be saving time by driving in the carpool lane. 

However, when you put them side by side, which one gives you the most savings. By looking at the chart below, you can compare the different cost and time-saving attributes of both an electric car and a hybrid vehicle. 

2020 Vehicle AverageCost of MaintenanceCost of FuelGovernment IncentivesTime Savings
HybridCosts more at the beginning; even in the long runYou have to fill up the gas tank occasionally; 2020 average 53 MPGCan receive a reduced Federal tax creditTime spent filling up at the gas station is minimal
ElectricCosts less in the beginning; even in the long run$2-$3 for an electric chargeFull $7,500 federal tax creditCharge overnight at home on the go at a charging station
WinnerTieElectricElectric (most of the time)Electric

(Sources: Clean Vehicle Rebate, Motor1, Green Car Reports)

Hybrids and electric cars both have some savings attached to each one. As you can see in the chart above, hybrids take less time to refuel at the gas station because their batteries do not have to be charged with a plug-in when on the go. However, electric cars cost hardly anything to refuel and earn more in federal tax credit dollars. Both electric and hybrid vehicles cost about the same in maintenance over the life of the car. 

The Pros and Cons of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

Electric and hybrid vehicles have many of the same benefits and some drawbacks.

Before we can compare them, it is essential to identify three alternative fuel vehicles that we need to compare with the pros and cons. 

First, the plug-in hybrid gets its power from an internal combustion engine, electrical batteries, and charging from a plug. Second, there is the hybrid that charges the batteries from its combustion engine. Finally, there is the one hundred percent electric car that must be plugged in to charge. 

There are so many similarities and differences between hybrids and electric vehicles. To get the full picture and see each of these alternative fuel vehicles for all they are worth, it is essential to compare their pros and cons. 

Hybrids

Unlike electric cars, hybrid vehicles are coupled with a gasoline engine. This engine generally is what helps to recharge the battery cell in the car. You also have the option of running strictly on gasoline in some of the newer models. 

Pros

  • Convenient fill-ups at any gas station
  • Quick refueling like an everyday ICE vehicle
  • Least expensive of another alternative fuel vehicles
  • Do not need to plug in; no hassle of finding charging stations
  • Can be used even if you don’t own your home and can’t charge
  • Is versatile enough to be your only car

Cons

  • Limited electric range; more for emergency 
  • Lack of power from the internal combustion engine
  • You won’t save as much money on fuel economy
  • More maintenance than electric cars; you need to change the oil and take care of the engine
  • Not as silent as dedicated electric vehicles
  • Acceleration tends to be very weak because it is heavier

Plug-In Hybrids

Plug-in hybrids offer many of the same benefits of a conventional hybrid with some significant differences. If you own your home or don’t mind stopping at the charging station occasionally, the plug-in hybrid may be an excellent choice for you. 

Pros

  • Works even on a dead electric battery because of internal combustion engine
  • Works as an electric vehicle for commuting
  • Longer trips are possible because of the additional engine
  • Federal and state tax credits help offset the fact that it is a more expensive car
  • The only car you need for commuting, trips, and in-town

Cons

  • The powertrain is larger and affects the functionality and space in the cab
  • Need to plug it in to use efficiently consistently
  • Limited electric range; you will have to use gasoline constantly
  • Price tag is higher than a hybrid

Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles are zero-emission vehicles, so right off the bat, you are saving on fuel. However, you need to consider other costs of owning an electric vehicle before buying one. Let’s take a look at some of the most important pros and cons of owning an electric vehicle. 

Pros:

  • No gas station stops, ever
  • Great acceleration
  • Smooth and silent ride and acceleration from a stop
  • Limited maintenance needed apart from tires 
  • Electricity costs per mile are less than gasoline
  • Protect the environment with zero emissions coming from your car

Cons:

  • You can only go so far before having to charge
  • You have to plug it in for refueling
  • More expensive to buy new
  • Finding charging stations as you travel can be stressful

(Source: Edmunds)

Common Problems With Alternative Fuel Vehicles

After comparing the pros and cons for each of the available alternative fuel vehicles out there, you are probably ready to learn about the uglier side of these vehicles. 

When they are new, the information about the pros and cons are consistent. However, some problems tend to come up for each of these alternative fuel vehicles that need to be considered before making your final purchase option. 

5 Common Hybrid Problems

Hybrids give you the best of both worlds with longer ranges and good fuel efficiency. Suppose you are thinking about driving away from a car lot in a hybrid. In that case, you may want to consider some of the most common problems this alternative fuel vehicle faces. 

1. Oxygen Sensors are Costly

Hybrid vehicles still need to use the oxygen sensors that classic cars use. The oxygen sensor monitors unburned oxygen coming from the motor through the exhaust. A high level of unburned oxygen exiting your vehicle is a sign of low gas mileage and something wrong in the engine.

Replacing and servicing oxygen sensors is expensive and unneeded in electric cars. Hybrids have many of the downsides of traditional cars, and oxygen sensors are the most costly and common. 

2. Batteries are Weak

Weak batteries in hybrids mean that they are not great on their own for the vehicle’s propulsion. This means that the car cannot go very fast when the internal combustion engine is not running. 

A weak hybrid battery also means that when you run out of gasoline, the battery will not be able to take you very far. Finally, a weak hybrid battery can be replaced. However, to replace a hybrid vehicle battery is generally much more expensive than for a standard vehicle’s battery. 

3. Leaking Evaporative Emissions System

The evaporative emissions system is in charge of controlling the emissions from the car. The valves on a hybrid are known to fail and should be replaced if you start having trouble with your EVAP system. 

Leaks or failures in the hybrid EVAP system mean that the car will not get excellent gas mileage and fail specific emissions standards tests. This repair can be costly and are quite common in hybrid vehicles. 

4. Inefficient Gas Mileage on the Highway

If you are a driver who spends a lot of your drive time on the freeway or highway at high speed, you may encounter inefficient gas mileage. Since hybrids charge the batteries primarily while you brake the vehicle, they will not be fully charged. 

Although this doesn’t harm the fuel economy of the hybrid, it does not help it. Driving for extended periods on freeways without braking is an inefficient use of a hybrid car. 

5. Catalytic Convertors are Very Costly in Hybrids

The catalytic converter in a vehicle is something that has to be replaced occasionally. Anyone who has had this service on their car before knows that this is an expensive service. For a hybrid, replacing a catalytic converter is one of the most expensive parts of the vehicle. 

(Source: Auto Stream Care)

5 Common Electric Vehicle Problems

Electric vehicles with zero emissions still have their problems to deal with, which can be costly and annoying for drivers and owners. Let’s take a look at the top five most common problems with electric vehicles. 

1. Challenging to Find a Good Mechanic

One of the worst problems about owning an electric vehicle is that it is difficult to find a local mechanic to work on your car. Finding a quality mechanic who knows how to work on your electric vehicle is a problem that forces you to get service where you can find it, which tends to be at a dealer. Although dealers are generally reliable, they may be far away from your home or more expensive.

With the increased popularity of electric vehicles, more and more mechanics are trained to fix electric vehicles. However, until electric vehicles become more common, getting quality service on your electric vehicle will be a challenge. 

2. Charging Takes Take a Long Time

There is a growing number of charging stations where you can bring your electric vehicle to charge the batteries. Charging electric vehicle batteries can also take place at home. However, charging your electric car can take 12 to 24-hours on a standard wall plug.

To get to work and back, you should charge your car overnight. Going on trips requires the owner of an electric vehicle to find charging stations along the way. Charging stations may take fifteen to forty-five minutes. If you are considering getting an electric vehicle, charging the batteries becomes a way of life. 

3. Battery Range Anxiety

Electric vehicle ranges are increasing but they are still below a hybrid.

The 2020 Nissan Leaf electric vehicle has a range of one hundred and fifty miles, while the Tesla Model 3 has a range of up to three hundred and seventy miles. 

The only other alternative to staying a short distance away from your home base charger cable is to find charging stations along the way while you are traveling. This can be inconvenient but with apps like PlugShare or the Tesla Supercharging network, it becomes a part of life.

Finding and using charging stations may be inconvenient and time-consuming. Still, they can extend the range that you drive your electric vehicle. 

4. The Hunt for Charging Stations

Although electric vehicles’ popularity is exploding worldwide, there is still a lack of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Since there is a lack of charging stations, traveling with an electric vehicle, or even owning an electric vehicle in rural areas may not be feasible. 

This lack of charging stations makes it even more difficult to own an electric vehicle if you don’t own your home or are renting an apartment. Most apartment buildings don’t offer electric charging stations, so you are left with finding your charging stations on your way to and from work or even during a lunch break. 

Related article: 7 Ways to Own an Electric Vehicle if You Live in an Apartment

5. Upfront Costs are Higher

Currently, electric vehicles have a higher purchase price compared to hybrids or conventional internal combustion engine vehicles. Although electric vehicles are coming down in cost with the popularity of saving money and emissions on the fuel economy, there is still a long way to go to make electric vehicles cheaper than standard internal combustion engine vehicles. 

Some government state and federal tax credits can offset the high cost of buying an expensive electric vehicle. However, some of these credits are being rolled back in some states. 

(Source: Earth 911)

Current Alternative Fuel Vehicles

In 2020, which model is right for you will depend on what you need out of your vehicle. This table has some of the most popular electric and hybrid vehicles on the market so that you can do a side by side comparison. 

Vehicle ModelCost RangeBest FeaturesWorst FeaturesOverall
2021 Hyundai Kona Electric$35,000-$40,000Sporty with great accelerationLong drive rangesCold weather depletes the battery Very small backseat4.5/5A fun car to drive with great handling and battery power when not being drive in cold weather climates
2020 Chevy Bolt Electric$35,000-$40,000Great accelerationLots of room in the cabLong driving rangeStrange design aestheticInterior is cheaply made4.5/5This car is better for those with children or who need to transport items in their electric vehicle. 
2021 Honda Insight Hybrid$20,000-$28,000More zippy acceleration than most hybridsExcellent fuel economyComfortable interiorLoud engine noises when acceleratingConfusing entertainment and information console design4.0/5This hybrid doesn’t feel like a hybrid and has all the creature comforts that you would expect with a honda interior design
Honda Accord Hybrid$20,000-$28,000Great responsive handlingFun to driveEasy to use infotainment Rear blind spotsNoisy rideLimited interior storage4.8/5The Honda Accord is the best family-sized sedan out there, and this hybrid offers excellent fuel economy with all of its legendary perks
(Source: Car and Driver)

In Conclusion

With so many options for a hybrid or electric vehicle on the market today, it may seem dizzying trying to choose your next car. Hopefully, you can use this comparison guide to weigh the pros and cons of each and find the perfect alternative fuel vehicle for your life. 

Hybrids’ maintenance and operating costs may be more, but they are a bit more versatile than their electric engine only counterparts. However, if saving money and having zero emissions is your primary concern, electric vehicles are the way to go. 

Jordan Fromholz

I'm an electric car owner, enthusiast, and founder of the Plugin Report. As a Chemical Engineer with over 14-years in the energy industry, I've made my passions be renewable energy, batteries, and electric cars. My family lives on Maui where we drive our 2017 Nissan Leaf and share everything there is to know about electric cars.

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