Hybrids vs. Electric Cars: Which one is best for you?

an electric car charging

If you read or watch the news, engage with social media, or just consider yourself at all plugged in to current events, thoughts of climate change or environmental concerns have no doubt crossed your mind at some point or another. You’ve likely read dire think pieces on the future of our planet, or come across lists of the top ten lifestyle changes you, as an individual, should make to stop climate change. It may seem that every aspect of your life, from how you eat to what you wear, has at some point come under scrutiny for its impact on the environment.

If all of this information tends to leave you feeling a bit worried and overwhelmed, you’re far from alone: you’re likely experiencing what experts call “climate anxiety”. This feeling is defined as an ongoing fear or dread of looming environmental doom. Sounds grim, huh? The good news is you can fight your climate anxiety and make sustainable choices at the same time.

Those lists you may have read urging you to overhaul your entire lifestyle for the sake of the environment are more than a little unrealistic. The massive undertaking of “saving the environment” is not the responsibility of any one individual. Instead, psychologists recommend aligning your actions to your values to help ease your eco-anxiety. This can mean taking simple, free actions like recycling your empty cans or planting flowers for pollinators; it can also mean doing your research and making a bigger choice, like purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle.

For those considering the latter, we’ve put together this article defining the differences between hybrid and electric vehicles and the pros and cons of each.

What is a hybrid car?

First of all, what even is a hybrid car, exactly? A hybrid vehicle is one that is powered by both an internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric motor. The engine uses typical gasoline, while the electric motor uses energy stored in the vehicle’s batteries. A few examples of hybrid vehicles are the 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid, 2022 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and the 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

What is a plug-in hybrid car?

A plug-in hybrid vehicle, as implied by the name, is one that can be plugged into a wall outlet or other charging station to recharge its electric motor. Like hybrids without a plug-in option, plug-in hybrids have both a traditional internal combustion engine and an electric motor. These vehicles will typically run on electric power until the battery is almost completely dead before switching to drawing power from the internal combustion engine.

Hybrid vs. plug-in hybrid Cars

At this point in your research, you may be wondering what exactly the difference between hybrids and plug-in hybrids is (aside from the obvious charging cord, of course). We’ve compiled the pros and cons of each below.

Hybrid car pros and cons

Conventional hybrid cars have been around a bit longer than their plug-in counterparts and are offered by most major vehicle brands. On the plus side, hybrid cars:

  • Use their internal combustion engines to recharge their electric batteries while you drive (so you never have to plug them in)
  • Get much better fuel economy in city driving than traditional gas-powered vehicles

On the other hand, some negatives of conventional hybrids include:

  • No substantial improvement in highway mileage over other types of vehicles
  • Small or mid-sized batteries, meaning they almost never operate on electric power alone. They will almost always need an assist from the ICE

Plug-in hybrid pros and cons

Plug-in hybrids are a bit newer to the market and come with both higher costs and more electric mileage capability than conventional hybrids. Some of the pros of plug-in hybrids include:

  • Larger batteries than conventional hybrids
  • Much more electric-only mileage than conventional hybrids (25 miles or more for many vehicles)

Some of the cons of plug-in hybrids are as follows:

  • Bigger batteries and more hardware and software mean a bigger price tag
  • The 240-volt charger needed for these vehicles, and its installation in your home, can rack up substantial costs

If you’re torn between a conventional hybrid and a plug-in hybrid, consider: do you more often drive in the city or on the highway? Do you have easy access to charging stations? Are you willing (and can you afford) to have a charger installed in your home? Is completely cutting out emissions a priority for you, or is reducing them enough? The answers to these questions can help you decide between these two similar types of vehicles.

What is an electric car?

Next up, electric cars. An electric car is one that doesn’t have a traditional internal combustion engine — it must be frequently recharged and runs on electricity alone. An electric vehicle does not produce any emissions, and generally accelerates faster than other types of vehicles, making it feel lighter to drive.

Hybrid vs. electric cars

Hybrid and electric cars, while similar, do come with their own distinct pros and cons. It’s worth examining those of each before you make your decision.

Hybrid car pros and cons

As we mentioned above, hybrid cars come with several pros and cons. They reduce your vehicle’s overall emissions but lack the capacity to travel many electric-only miles. They recharge as you drive, so you never have to plug them in. Finally, they return much better city mileage than most other vehicles, but offer no substantial improvement in highway mileage.

Electric vehicle pros and cons

Electric vehicles offer many benefits for the eco-conscious driver, including:

  • Reduced emissions: electric cars do not release any tailpipe emissions, a major source of pollution in the US
  • Energy efficiency
  • Lower maintenance than gas-powered vehicles

Among the downsides of electric cars are the following:

  • Limited travel distance before refueling
  • Longer “fueling” time: fully refueling an electric car can take up to 8 hours, depending on the type of charger available
  • Sometimes more expensive than more traditional vehicles, and battery packs may need to be replaced several times over the vehicle’s lifetime

Plug-in hybrid vs. electric cars

When comparing hybrid vehicles to electric options, don’t forget to consider plug-in hybrids as well. Plug-in hybrids can essentially function as an electric vehicle during your weekday commute, assuming it isn’t too long; they will continue to run even when out of electricity, meaning they can be used for road trips; they can also be used as your sole vehicle if you prefer.

Electric vehicles, on the other hand, boast zero tailpipe emissions, quiet acceleration, less maintenance, and no need to stop for gas. However, they do have a limited mile range before they need to be recharged; they are more expensive to purchase; and they require fast-charging stations for longer trips.

What does the future hold for hybrids and electric cars?

Hybrid and electric vehicles are already massive innovations in the automotive sector. And, with the advent of self-driving cars, you may well be wondering what the future holds for high-tech cars.

Going forward, we anticipate even more options among hybrid and electric cars, with more and more makers jumping on board. We also look forward to seeing further advancements in self-driving cars, from vehicles that can intervene if their sensors feel the vehicle drifting from the appropriate lane, all the way up to cars that can drive themselves completely (currently only a hypothetical).

Further, we expect to see more vehicles that utilize biometrics like fingerprints as a locking/unlocking mechanism, as well as cars from which you can pay for gas or feed the meter without ever touching your phone.

Tax rebates and costs of insuring hybrids and electric vehicles

Even though the cost of some electric or hybrid vehicles can be a bit daunting, don’t discount the impact of tax credits. As of 2021, quite a few electric vehicles qualify for a federal tax incentive of $7,500.

However, this tax credit is only worth the full $7,500 if you have a tax bill totaling $7,500 at the end of the year. For example, if you have purchased an eligible electric vehicle, but your end-of-year tax bill is only $5,000, you will only receive $5,000 from the electric vehicle tax incentive. You won’t be compensated for an additional $2,500. Still, this tax credit could be seriously helpful at tax time! Keep this in mind if you’re thinking about purchasing an electric vehicle.

On the other hand, it’s worth noting that electric and hybrid vehicles will generally cost you more for insurance than a traditional gas-powered vehicle. This is because they can be more expensive overall, can be damaged more easily, and are more difficult and expensive to repair.

While you look into whether a hybrid or an electric vehicle is the best choice for you, see how insuring with Elephant can save you money on insurance. Get a quote today!

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