Hybrid Cars

Difference Between Hybrid and Electric Cars

What's the Difference Between Hybrid and Electric Cars?

The main difference between a standard hybrid and an electric car is that a hybrid car derives some of its power from a non-electric power source, like gasoline. Electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric, or Tesla models run solely on electricity. Once the battery is depleted, an electric car needs to be recharged either at home or a charging station. With most hybrids, you can fill up with gasoline to complete your journey.

For the big picture on fully electric cars (also known as Battery Electric Vehicles, BEVs or EVs for short), check out our Definitive Guide to Electric Cars.

Similar Technology

The electric car is referred to as an Electric Vehicle (EV), Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) or Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV). For the purpose of this article, we will refer to electric vehicles simply as EV.

Similar technologies shared by hybrids and EVs include the battery technology and regenerative braking. The difference is that hybrids have reduced battery range and size compared to EVs. This is by design, as power is supplemented by the internal combustion engine for hybrid vehicles. EVs, however, need to be plugged in to recharge.

Regenerative charging provides power for both EVs and hybrids, but its effectiveness depends on the vehicle and conditions. For example, during winter, regenerative braking is slightly less efficient than during the summer. On average, energy recapture is anywhere between 10 and 27%. To learn more about batteries, check out our Definitive Guide to Electric Car Batteries & Range.

Not All Hybrids Can Be Charged

Unless it’s specified to be a PHEV, hybrids like the original Prius cannot be plugged into an electric source for charging. Bypassing the need to plug-in to recharge makes HEVs great for drivers who want the efficiency of reducing gasoline consumption without relying on charging equipment. Drivers who live in apartment buildings or businesses that deliver in urban areas can also benefit from the hassle-free efficiency of an HEV.

Note that a PHEV doesn't need to be charged either, as you can drive PHEVs 100% on gasoline; however, that would negate the fuel savings derived from using electricity as fuel. To learn more about PHEVs, please visit our Definitive Guide to Plug-in Hybrid Cars.

Cost to Maintain a Hybrid

Many automakers have introduced hybrids over the years, with reliable models that require little maintenance outside the scope of what a gasoline car would need. This includes traditional maintenance such as tire change, oil change, coolant replacement, etc.

There can be slightly increased costs when maintenance involves the battery, oxygen sensors or evaporative emissions systems that are not working properly. While these issues are not common occurrences, it is important to note that the added complexity of a hybrid system can require a more specialized technician and, as a result, can increase the cost for some repairs.

EVs, on the other hand, cost less to maintain than a gasoline car or a hybrid because there are fewer moving engine parts. No oil to change, transmission fluid to replace, or timing belts to wear down. These added benefits can have a positive impact on your total cost of ownership.