• Sign in
  • |
  • Sign up

Car Buying

Should You Buy an Electric Vehicle or a Plug-In Hybrid?

RELATED READING
RESEARCH BY MAKE
Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs
Acura cars, trucks and SUVs Alfa Romeo cars, trucks and SUVs AMC cars, trucks and SUVs Aston Martin cars, trucks and SUVs Audi cars, trucks and SUVs Bentley cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Bugatti cars, trucks and SUVs Buick cars, trucks and SUVs Cadillac cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Chrysler cars, trucks and SUVs Daewoo cars, trucks and SUVs Datsun cars, trucks and SUVs DeLorean cars, trucks and SUVs Dodge cars, trucks and SUVs Eagle cars, trucks and SUVs Ferrari cars, trucks and SUVs FIAT cars, trucks and SUVs Fisker cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Freightliner cars, trucks and SUVs Genesis cars, trucks and SUVs Geo cars, trucks and SUVs GMC cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs HUMMER cars, trucks and SUVs Hyundai cars, trucks and SUVs INFINITI cars, trucks and SUVs Isuzu cars, trucks and SUVs Jaguar cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Kia cars, trucks and SUVs Lamborghini cars, trucks and SUVs Land Rover cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Lincoln cars, trucks and SUVs Lotus cars, trucks and SUVs Maserati cars, trucks and SUVs Maybach cars, trucks and SUVs Mazda cars, trucks and SUVs McLaren cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs Mercury cars, trucks and SUVs MINI cars, trucks and SUVs Mitsubishi cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Oldsmobile cars, trucks and SUVs Plymouth cars, trucks and SUVs Pontiac cars, trucks and SUVs Porsche cars, trucks and SUVs RAM cars, trucks and SUVs Rolls-Royce cars, trucks and SUVs Saab cars, trucks and SUVs Saturn cars, trucks and SUVs Scion cars, trucks and SUVs smart cars, trucks and SUVs SRT cars, trucks and SUVs Subaru cars, trucks and SUVs Suzuki cars, trucks and SUVs Tesla cars, trucks and SUVs Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Volvo cars, trucks and SUVs Yugo cars, trucks and SUVs
RESEARCH BY STYLE
AWD/4WD
Commercial
Convertible
Coupe
Hatchback
Hybrid/Electric
Luxury
Sedan
SUV/Crossover
Truck
Van/Minivan
Wagon

author photo by Doug DeMuro April 2014

If you're interested in buying a new car with a focus on the latest fuel-efficient technology, then you're probably trying to choose between a plug-in hybrid and an electric vehicle (EV). So, which one is right for you? We go over the benefits and drawbacks of each to help you decide.

Plug-In vs. Electric: What's the Difference?

Before we cover the benefits and drawbacks of EVs and plug-ins, it's important to understand the difference between the two vehicle types.

Plug-in hybrid cars are exactly what their name suggests: They're hybrid cars that can be plugged in. Examples include the Cadillac ELR, the Chevrolet Volt and the Toyota Prius Plug-In. Essentially, plug-in cars use two different powertrains, both of which can drive the wheels. There's an electric motor that lets drivers go a certain limited distance (often between 30 and 40 miles), and there's a normal gasoline engine that kicks in once the electric motor is depleted.

Electric vehicles, on the other hand, are fully electric, meaning they don't use any gasoline. Popular examples include the Ford Focus Electric, the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S, among others. Because electric vehicles use electric power alone, there's no backup engine to help you out when the batteries run out of juice. But usually they have more room for batteries, since they don't have to make space for the gasoline engine. That means EVs offer a longer electric-only range than plug-in hybrids.

Electric Vehicles: Benefits and Drawbacks

Electric vehicles offer several advantages over plug-in hybrids. The main attraction is that electric vehicles benefit the environment more than plug-in hybrids, since they don't use any fuel at all. That's a big deal for shoppers looking to minimize their carbon footprint as much as possible.

Additionally, electric vehicles help drivers save more money than plug-in hybrids do, since they don't use any fuel. They also offer a longer electric-only range than plug-in hybrids. That means drivers who want to cruise for as long as possible without using a drop of fuel will be better served with an EV than a plug-in.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to EVs. By far the largest is range: While a plug-in hybrid can usually travel 30 or 40 miles on fully electric power and an extra 200 to 300 miles on gasoline, most electric vehicles are limited to 60 to 70 miles of total range. That means drivers with a long commute, or those who routinely travel more than 60 to 70 miles without overnight stops, would be wise to consider a plug-in hybrid instead of an EV. An exception is the Tesla Model S, which can travel well over 150 miles between charges. The Model S still doesn't have the range of most plug-in hybrids, however, or the ability to refuel as quickly.

Plug-In Hybrids: Benefits and Drawbacks

Of course, plug-in hybrid cars also offer their own advantages and disadvantages. The primary advantage is described above: range. While an electric car can only travel as far as its batteries allow, plug-in hybrids use gasoline engines in addition to their electric powertrains. The result is that plug-in drivers get the best of both worlds: electric-vehicle efficiency around town, and traditional car range for longer trips.

When it comes to disadvantages, the biggest drawback endured by plug-in hybrids is variety. There simply aren't many models to choose from, as most automakers have instead chosen to offer fully electric vehicles instead. This is largely because drivers interested in an electric vehicle tend to want the full experience, using no fuel and benefiting the environment as much as possible. In fact, today's crop of plug-in hybrids is limited to just a few models (the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-In are the most popular) compared to a larger offering for EVs.

Taxes and Other Savings

If your main purpose for buying a new car with a fuel-efficient focus is gas-pump savings and tax rebates, don't worry: Both plug-in hybrids and EVs will benefit you. While plug-in hybrids still need to be filled with gas occasionally, fuel costs are still much lower than traditional cars. More importantly, federal income tax rebates apply to both plug-in hybrids and EVs, as do most state tax credits. Even states that allow alternative-fuel carpool use tend to allow both plug-in hybrids and EVs. In other words, you won't go wrong when choosing an EV or a plug-in hybrid; you'll just have to choose the one that works best for your situation.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Should You Buy an Electric Vehicle or a Plug-In Hybrid? - Autotrader