Whether you’re hoping to save the environment or just some green for your wallet, you’ve probably thought about hybrid and electric vehicles. You likely have a lot of questions about the differences between these two types of eco-friendly automobiles. We have some answers.
Let’s Talk Range
It’s true that you can plug in to any regular, grounded outlet and charge your electric vehicle, or EV, overnight. As long as your daily driving falls well within the model’s stated range per charge, you’ll likely have no problems relying on nightly charge-ups.
Right now, range varies drastically based on price. On the low end, you get around 80 to 90 miles per full charge with the Fiat 500e. The distance jumps to over 300 miles per juice break with the Tesla Model S, and then other automakers, such as BMW, Chevrolet, and Hyundai, fill in the middle ground.
However, taking an electric vehicle on a long road trip can mean taking lots of detours. It can be difficult to find a dedicated fast-charging station en route. That’s when having a hybrid comes in handy.
The average hybrid electric vehicle, or HEV, more than doubles the highest range for EVs. For many consumers, there’s still a lot of confusion about plug-in hybrids.
HEVs actually have two types of range—electric only and gas-electric. That first figure, usually around 20 miles, can look very low if you don’t understand that it applies only for short drives around town using only the electric motor. Otherwise, the gas engine kicks in, too, and you can get 700 miles or more per tank of gas with some models along with daily charging.
The Chevy Volt is the current leader in electric only range, also known as “EV mode,” at 53 miles. The Ford Fusion Energi goes the distance, though, with 610 miles when using both the gas engine and battery—with field tests showing even higher numbers.
Level 1 charging, also known as your typical wall outlet, works for nightly charges for the average commuter. Generally, 9 hours will get you 40 miles of juice in an EV and is plenty for an HEV.
EV and HEV Prices vs. Gas-powered Cars
Remember that ‘low-end’ Fiat 500e that we discussed? Its base package costs a little over $30k, so it’s still quite pricey compared to many gas-powered vehicles. Meanwhile, the Tesla Model S, widely considered to be the best electric car so far, can come in at anywhere from the high 60s to over $110,000.
Toyota’s Prius C has a base price around $20k, making it much more cost-competitive with gas-fueled cars than a full EV. Even though HEVs are generally more affordable up front than EVs, their greater variety on the market means that some high-end models can be way pricier, too. For example, the BMW i8 starts at $143,400.
How Much Do EVs and HEVs Cost to Maintain?
One reason that a lot of consumers hesitate in making the switch to a hybrid or electric automobile is concern about the maintenance costs. When hybrids were fresh on the market, not many mechanics were trained and felt comfortable enough to work on them—as a result, some rates were a bit inflated. However, most dealerships today require this training for all new hires.
In fact, the gas engine typically gets less use due to all those short, electric only drives, so they can go longer between oil changes and sustain less wear than traditional motors. Less maintenance equals less overall cost. The battery pack can cost a couple thousand dollars to replace after the warranty expires, but most last well beyond that 8- to 10-year period.
Fully electric vehicles, of course, don’t require any of those messy gas engine components—i.e., gas, oil, transmission fluid—so there’s much less regular maintenance needed. Their batteries cost about twice as much as hybrids’ to replace, but these can last up to 20 years.
How Well Do Electric and Hybrid Cars Perform?
Hybrids conserve fuel by running a smaller engine alongside a battery-powered motor. You may notice weaker acceleration when merging onto the highway, but most hybrids still go up to 100 miles per hour—well over the speed limits on even the fastest U.S. roadways.
Hybrid SUVs, such as the Ford Escape and Chevrolet Tahoe, can even tow a bit of weight. However, the higher the towing capacity, the lower the gas mileage.
Full EVs have suffered from clunky acceleration until recently. Besides Tesla, the Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus Electric have greatly improved the high-speed performance needed for highway driving.
You won’t win many drag races with these eco-friendly vehicles, but you’ll certainly spend less time twiddling your thumbs next to a gas pump. Your lowered gas and maintenance expenses might just feel like winning to you as well.