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Plug-In Hybrid: Why Choosing One Helps You Save on Gas Now


There’s no getting around it; gas prices are volatile. If you’re contemplating a new or used car, consider a plug-in hybrid to save money on fuel right now.

A plug-in hybrid, or PHEV, brings some of the best qualities of a gasoline-powered car and those of a fully electric vehicle. Of course, an electric car uses no gas, but it can be expensive to buy in the first place.

Read on to learn about hybrids compared to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and how much your savings can be when driving a PHEV.

Hybrid vs. Plug-In Hybrid

Here’s how a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) works: Like a traditional hybrid,  a PHEV combines a gasoline engine with an electric motor or motors. While a regular hybrid uses a small battery that helps run an electric motor that works in combination with the gas engine, a plug-in hybrid gets built with an even larger battery with the option to plug into a charger so the car can run on electricity alone. The main difference between a hybrid and a PHEV is the ability to run on just electricity.

Hybrid

Some hybrids can run on electricity alone but only briefly. For example, it would work while looking for a good parking spot. In a hybrid, the electricity is generated by the gasoline engine and by the regenerative braking system. That little bit of electrical power helps the car get excellent gas mileage.

Plug-in Hybrid

With a PHEV, the car can run between 20 and 50 miles on electricity alone, depending on the specific model, driving habits, terrain, and weather. The PHEV can run longer on just electricity because of its larger battery. Plus, the vehicle is set up to run on battery power first. When that electricity depletes, the gasoline engine kicks in and works like a traditional hybrid until you plug it in and recharge that battery.

With a PHEV, the car will work with or without plugging it in. But, plugging in the car gets you the exceptional fuel economy. The more you drive on electricity alone, the better your gas mileage. The electric-only range of PHEVs varies greatly.

How Far Can a PHEV Drive on Electricity?

Check out our list of some popular plug-in hybrids and the distance they can drive on electricity alone after being charged up at home or a charging station. Remember, your fuel economy will surpass the EPA estimate if you can do all your daily driving within the stated electric range.

Electric and partially electric car efficiency is measured by Miles Per Gallon Equivalent (MPGe). MPGe is the equivalent of miles per gallon when combining gasoline and electricity. MPGe, referring to a PHEV, measures the efficiency of the gasoline engine and the electric motor.

2022 Model All-Electric Range MPGe
Chrysler Pacifica PHEV 32 miles 82
Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-In Hybrid 30 miles 76
Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid 33 miles 80
Jeep Wrangler 4xe 22 miles 49
Kia Niro 26 miles 105
Lexus NX 450+ 37 miles 84
Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid 17 miles 46
Toyota Prius Prime 25 miles 133
Toyota RAV4 Prime 42 miles 94
Volvo XC60 Recharge 36 miles 63

Source: Staff research and EPA

How Much Money Can I Save Driving a PHEV?

The average 2022 new car gets 27 miles per gallon. Using EPA data, here’s how much money you can save. If you buy a Toyota Prius Prime PHEV, you will save $8,500 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new 2022 car.

You even save money on fuel costs if you compare the Prius Prime to a similar gasoline-powered Toyota compact car using the EPA estimates for average fuel costs. A plug-in still saves you money on your fuel bill when comparing similar Toyota vehicles to each other.

Vehicle Average Annual Fuel Cost
2022 Toyota Prius Prime PHEV $850
2022 Toyota Corolla XLE – gas only $2,150
2022 Toyota Corolla hybrid $1,350

Source: EPA

Typically, plug-in hybrids cost more. Keeping the car longer, as most Americans do these days, helps you justify a PHEV’s higher price over time. Also, buying a used or certified pre-owned PHEV can save you money versus what you would pay for the average new PHEV. Don’t forget that there’s a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for buyers of new PHEVs.

To calculate the actual savings in that first year, you need to subtract the additional cost of the PHEV you want. Comparing a new Corolla with the Prius Prime, the base price difference comes to $8,200. So, in the first year, any savings on gas is a wash. Also, the Prius Prime LE offers many additional features versus the Corolla L, so a direct comparison is only a rough example. The savings will happen over time.

Your driving habits matter. The more you drive on electricity alone, the greater your fuel economy. For example, we put a Volvo XC60 Recharge to the test and got 80 mpg. Most people can accomplish daily errands and commutes within the 30 or so miles a PHEV will go on electricity only.

So if you’re looking for a way to save money on gas right now? Consider a plug-in hybrid.

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FAQ

Does a plug-in hybrid use gas?

Yes. The beauty of driving a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV, is that you can fall back on your gasoline-powered engine when needed, including in extreme temperatures.

How long can I drive on electricity in a PHEV?

PHEVs can drive between 20 and 50 miles on electricity alone, depending on the specific model, driving habits, terrain, and weather.

Do plug-in hybrids qualify for a federal tax credit?

Yes. Many PHEVs qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500.

Brian Moody
Brian Moody is an author specializing in transportation, automotive, electric cars, future vehicles as well as new, used, and certified pre-owned advice. He also specializes in liking ridiculous cars like the Buick Reatta, Studebaker Lark, and the GM A-Body wagons from the late 80s and mid-90s. Why? You'd have to ask him. Brian graduated from Cal State Long Beach and has been creating written... Read More about Brian Moody

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