Hybrid, Plug-In Hybrid and Electric Cars: What’s The Difference?

Hybrid electric cars

You may have heard the news that selling new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2040 to help cut pollution. Before you start panicking, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to drive your trusty motor any more, but it does mean that if you buy a new car after 2040 it’ll have to be a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric car. So what’s the difference?

Electric cars

Let’s start with electric cars as they’re the easiest to explain. Electric or EV cars run on electricity and don’t use any kid of fuel. With an electric car you simply use a charging cable to pump your car full of the good stuff and away you go. It’s more or less the same as charging your phone. The electricity is stored in the battery and used to power your car.

The benefits are also pretty straightforward. Instead of paying to fill up your petrol tank, you only need to pay for the electricity you use to power your car. You may even be entitled to tax breaks if you invest in an electric car, and they’re better for the planet as there are no nasty gas emissions. They’re also much quieter than fuel-powered cars and are similar to automatics, offering high power even at low speeds.

The main disadvantage is that it takes longer to charge the battery than to fill a fuel tank, and you ideally need a driveway so you can plug your car into an electricity source while you’re at home. There are also some questions over where the electricity will come from to power all these new electric cars, and some claim their indirect emissions aren’t much of an improvement on some hybrid models.

Examples of electric cars include:

  • The Nissan Leaf
  • The Tesla Model S3
  • The Renault Zoe
Hybrid cars

Hybrid cars are a bit trickier to define as there are various types. In general, hybrid cars use a combination of electricity, which is stored in the battery, and petrol, which is stored in the fuel tank. In most cases, petrol is also used to charge the battery.

Plug-in hybrids are closer to electric cars as they can be plugged into the national grid to charge the battery, which reduces petrol usage. Mild hybrids are closer to fuel-based cars as the electric motor is really only used to fill gaps when the car is coasting rather than to power the car most of the time. Mild hybrids tend to be the cheapest to buy but may be more expensive to run than plug-in varieties. Plug-in hybrids tend to be better for the environment and the running costs may be cheaper as you won’t need to fill the petrol tank as often. Plug-in hybrids can run without you plugging the car in, but this will increase petrol usage.

Hybrid cars can be expensive to buy, but should save you money in the long run. There’s plenty of choice, with more than 50 currently on the market in the UK, so you could go for a low-end model or a really high-spec, sporty set of wheels. Some manufacturers offer the choice between a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or petrol option on certain models, so it’s worth weighing up the options before you buy.

Examples of hybrid cars include:

  • The Toyota Prius (hybrid or plug-in hybrid)
  • The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug-in hybrid)
  • The Suzuki Ignis (mild hybrid)