Hybrid vs. Plug-in Hybrid – Which Should You Buy?
Perhaps you want a hybrid or plug-in hybrid because you care deeply about the environment. If so, more power to you. But let’s be honest, most of you are just sick of paying so much at the gas pump. Regardless of your motives, here is a simple guide to help you better understand hybrids and plug-in hybrids.
Hybrid cars and plug-in hybrid cars utilize electric power and traditional internal-combustion engine power. Both types of hybrids tend to achieve much better fuel economy than that of a standard gas-powered vehicle. Let’s break down each hybrid car to help you make the best choice for yourself and your family.
Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV)
In 1997, Toyota released the Toyota Prius, and by 2000 the Prius became the first four-door sedan hybrid available in the U.S. With unstable and unfavorable gas prices, the hybrid caught the attention of many. Other car makers, like Ford, jumped on the band-wagon quickly. Ford created the Ford Escape Hybrid in 2004, the first hybrid SUV. Today, worldwide hybrid sales continue to grow steadily.
The basic concept of the hybrid is simple. A gasoline-powered internal combustion engine is the primary source of power, complemented by an electric motor. At low speeds a hybrid car will pull exclusively from the electric motor. As the engine requires more power, the hybrid will use the internal combustion engine. In a situation that requires high power, like climbing a hill or accelerating, the hybrid can draw from both systems simultaneously. The assistance of the electric motor allows hybrids to utilize smaller, more efficient internal combustion engines.
The electricity for the hybrid is produced on board through regenerative braking. When you press the brakes in a traditional car, you waste energy. According to physics, energy cannot be destroyed, so where does the energy go? In a standard gas-powered engine, most of the energy dissipates as heat. In a hybrid, this energy is recaptured and converted to a form of electricity usable by the electric motor.
Because of regenerative braking, many hybrids are more efficient in stop and go traffic than on the highway. When stopped, the hybrid shuts off the internal combustion engine and restarts the engine when needed, removing the fuel waste of idling. Modern hybrid SUVs will perform at around 28-35 MPG, while modern hybrid cars can expect to run around 40-50 MPG.
As you enjoy filling up with gas less often, be happy knowing hybrids release less carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.
The most prevalent hybrid sedans have MSRP prices around $24,000 to $35,000. Hybrids tend to be more expensive, but this technology could potentially save you thousands on fuel throughout the life of the car.
Can a hybrid save you money? The U.S. Department of Energy has a tool to help you calculate expenses and savings of owning an HEV.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV)
Plug-in hybrids broke into the U.S. market at the end of 2010, combining the best of all-electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles. This time around, Chevrolet changed the automotive landscape by producing the Volt, the first mass-production PHEV. Toyota, Honda, Ford and others quickly followed.
The PHEV is run primarily by the battery-powered electric motor, complemented by an internal combustion engine to extend the vehicle’s range. The battery in the PHEV is larger than that of a standard hybrid, and it can be connected to an external power source. All-electric vehicles are often criticized for limited battery life. With the plug-in hybrid, you never have to worry about the battery running down.
If you only take short trips, you could potentially drive months without ever starting the engine. When a trip takes you farther than the battery charge can handle, the internal combustion engine will kick in to finish the journey. Most plug-in hybrids can drive around 40 miles on electricity only.
Because PHEVs are capable of never using the gasoline engine, MPG depends completely on driving distance and how frequently the car is charged. PHEVs perform at around 50-100 MPG. With such great fuel efficiency, these vehicles tend to produce even less harmful carbon emissions than standard hybrids.
You can expect to pay around one dollar in electricity every time you fully charge a plug-in hybrid. Sound expensive? At 40 miles per charge, the expense of charging a PHEV is equivalent to a standard engine receiving roughly 120 MPG at $3.00 per gallon. Because of these great savings, PHEVs tend to cost more than HEVs. The MSRPs of the newest, most prevalent PHEVs ranges from roughly $30,000 to $40,000.
Not sure if a plug-in hybrid will save you money? The U.S. Department of Energy has created the My Plug-in Hybrid Calculator to help you calculate the expenses and savings of a PHEV.