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Should You Buy an EV or a Hybrid?

EV vs gasoline
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If you’re thinking about buying an electric vehicle for your next car, there is no shortage of options. These days you can choose from a gas car or all-electric, but you’ll also want to consider a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or a full hybrid vehicle.

With the rising popularity of electric cars, many buyers are rightfully starting to weigh all their options. And while EVs like the latest Tesla are exciting, other hybrid models are a great place to start for your first alternative fuel vehicle.

Each type of vehicle is different, with its own pros and cons, and here’s what you need to know before buying.

EV vs. Hybrid: What’s the Difference?

Tesla supercharger station
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You’ll first want to know the difference between an electric vehicle and a hybrid. As the name suggests, an electric vehicle (or EV) is entirely electric, with nothing powering the vehicle other than a massive battery pack and electric motors. Vehicles like a Tesla, the Ford F-150 Lightning, and Hyundai IONIQ 5 are all-electric.

EVs come in several different styles, battery sizes, and range options. You plug the car in to recharge the battery, whether at home or at a charging station, and all that power stays in the battery cell. There is no fuel or gas of any kind.

Then, we have several different types of hybrid electric vehicles, which we’ll explain in the next section. However, all you need to know is that with hybrid cars, you’ll have both gas or diesel-powered engine, along with a battery, electric motor, and other features like regenerative braking.

Hybrid cars use the combination of both to offer increased performance and longer range. A prime example is the KIA Niro, which can easily get upwards of 50 miles per gallon. One of the most recognizable hybrids is the Toyota Prius. With a regular hybrid, you’ll never have to plug the car in to recharge the battery.

Hybrid vs. Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV)

Toyota RAV4 hybrid PHEV

There are several different categories when it comes to hybrid vehicles. You’ll see terms like a full hybrid, mild hybrid, HEV, or PHEV. Knowing the difference is essential before you start shopping for a new car.

Full or mild hybrids still have a gas or diesel-powered engine, a battery, electric motor, regenerative braking, and other EV aspects. You do not plug in a regular hybrid to recharge the battery. With a hybrid, the car will typically use the EV aspect to help you accelerate but switch to gas-only as you drive around. Additionally, these will often change to electric-only as you coast or slow down, saving gas and using regenerative braking to help charge the built-in battery.

Depending on the model, the power and forces created from the engine and braking get converted into battery power to charge the EV hybrid aspect of the car. As you brake, it’ll recharge the battery.

For these types of hybrid vehicles, you can’t really drive on pure electrification, and if so, it’s only a mile or so. The main goal of a full or mild hybrid is to improve performance and mileage while taking advantage of the electric motors in select scenarios.

Then, we have plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) that operate differently from a regular hybrid. With a plug-in hybrid, you’ll have an entire gas-powered system and an electrical drivetrain. It can use one or the other, or both. The most significant difference here is, again, in the name. You’ll be able to plug in and recharge a PHEV at home or a public charging station.

A plug-in hybrid can’t go as far as a regular all-electric vehicle and won’t have as much power. That said, they offer a longer electric range than the hybrid vehicles mentioned above. Most PHEV models provide anywhere from 40-100 miles on a charge. However, the biggest benefit here is you also have a gas engine for longer trips, and the engine can take over when you’re low on battery power.

If you don’t travel very far each day for work, like in a city, you can easily go home and back or run errands with a PHEV and never buy gas. Simply plug it in and recharge your car at home. Then, when necessary, it’ll still take gas for a long road trip or if you run out of battery. Plus, when using the gas engine, it’ll use regenerative braking to recharge the battery.

With a PHEV, the vehicle can use both engines simultaneously for improved performance, like the Toyota RAV4 Prime, but most PHEVs are more expensive than a regular hybrid.

Pros and Cons

All current Tesla models lined up

As you can imagine, there are pros and cons to any of these options. If you choose to get a hybrid vehicle, it’ll be an easy transition into something a little different. You’ll still need gas; you’ll just get excellent MPG and a boost in performance, depending on the model you buy.

However, hybrid vehicles don’t have insane performance and torque like a Tesla Model S or Ford F-150 Lightning and operate mainly like a regular car we’re all familiar with.

Additionally, a plug-in hybrid gets you the best of both worlds, in a way. These function like an EV, typically have excellent performance and MPG ratings, yet get you the benefits of a hybrid at the same time. Driving a plug-in hybrid will feel like an electric vehicle when not using gas, and you’ll have to charge it at home or at EV charging stations around town. If a plug-in hybrid battery dies, you’re not stranded, and you can revert to the regular gasoline engine to keep going.

Again, pros and cons. With a plug-in hybrid, you’ll likely spend more money than you would on a regular hybrid, and most PHEVs are on the bigger side, like an SUV. They also won’t get the range of a hybrid or fully electric, but it’s a great middle ground.

However, you’ll still need to rely on gas for a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. So while these certainly have several benefits, the only way to ditch the pump entirely is to go all-electric. And finally, with a PHEV, you can take advantage of select state or federal EV tax credits and incentives. Those recently changed, so do your research or talk to a dealership salesperson for more details.

Then, of course, we all know the pros and cons of a regular electric vehicle. You typically get excellent performance and fancy features, but you’ll be 100% reliant on battery power, charging stations, and may experience range anxiety. You’ll have to plot out charging networks with an EV and can’t switch back to gas like you could on a plug-in hybrid. But EVs are the future, and they’re pretty awesome.

Should You Buy an EV or a Hybrid?

electric vehicle charging graphic
Smile Fight/Shutterstock.com

So, which one should you buy? Should you get an electric vehicle or opt for a plug-in hybrid instead? That’s a tricky question for me to answer, as it depends on you.

When determining what vehicle is right for you, there are several factors you’ll want to consider. Think about your driving habits and distances, budget, priorities, and charging networks. Where you live and how far you travel could decide for you. A hybrid is a good option if you can’t install a charger at home or live in an apartment building.

If you don’t travel far distances and have a short commute to and from work each day yet hate paying the ever-increasing price of gas, a plug-in hybrid could be the perfect answer. You can drive to and from work or around town on the electric engine, charge it at home, and rarely stop for gas. But then, when it’s time for a road trip, fill up the gas tank and never worry about if you’ll be able to find an EV charger.

Hybrid vehicles are the cheapest option, but they won’t save your wallet when stopping for gas. Plug-in hybrids are more expensive upfront, but you can spend less on fuel over the car’s lifetime than with a full hybrid.

Electric vehicles promise the most when it comes to saving on gas, requiring less maintenance, plus offering outstanding performance. However, you’ll need to consider charging stations, installing a charger at home, and your budget.

In the end, you will have to do some research and decide what’s best for you, your family, or your lifestyle. A great option is to head to a dealership and take one of each for a test drive. See how it feels to drive a hybrid, test out a plug-in hybrid, then drive an EV.

But again, keep your budget in mind. Obviously, a beautiful and expensive Tesla Model S will be better than an affordable hybrid, so maybe don’t drive one of those unless you can afford it. Determine what’s in your range and suitable for you, then buy one.

Cory Gunther Cory Gunther
Cory Gunther has been writing about phones, Android, cars, and technology in general for over a decade. He's a staff writer for Review Geek covering roundups, EVs, and news. He's previously written for GottaBeMobile, SlashGear, AndroidCentral, and InputMag, and he's written over 9,000 articles. Read Full Bio »