What’s the Difference Between Electric and Plug-in Cars?

What is the difference between an electric car and a plug-in hybrid car, and what are the benefits and downsides of each one? (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
What is the difference between an electric car and a plug-in hybrid car, and what are the benefits and downsides of each one? (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

While electric cars might not be a new concept, with one of the first electric cars holding the land speed record in 1900, they didn’t start to become really popular until the last decade. Now that there are several different types of electric cars on the market, it can be difficult to figure out which one is best for you. What is the difference between an electric car and a plug-in hybrid car, and what are the benefits and downsides of each one?

Plug-in cars

These aren’t fully electric cars, but are the precursor of the battery-powered models that are starting to become more commonplace today. Plug-in hybrids are a mix of gasoline and battery-powered electric cars. They have higher mileage per charge depending on how often you use the gasoline engine, and some models allow the driver to manually switch between electric and gas power.

The difference between these models and more traditional hybrids is that drivers can plug them into an external power source to charge the onboard battery. Traditional hybrids usually rely on the gas engine to recharge the battery when it is depleted — similar to the battery in any gasoline-powered car. Plug-in hybrids help improve gas mileage and reduce emissions by allowing you to plug your car into the wall to recharge the battery.

Plug-in hybrids are a mix of gasoline and battery-powered electric cars. (Image: mariordo59 via flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Plug-in hybrids are a mix of gasoline and battery-powered electric cars. (Image: mariordo59 via flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Electric cars

Fully electric cars have eliminated gasoline engines in favor of an electric engine powered by an enormous battery pack. You must recharge them before each use, and they have a limited range before they need to be recharged.

Thankfully, recharging most electric cars is simple — all you need to do is plug them in — and there are enough charging stations popping up across the country that it’s possible to make the road trip from Los Angeles to New York and back again without ever running out of battery power.

Advantages

The obvious advantage of both types of car is that they more environmentally friendly. They both release fewer emissions and fewer greenhouse gases, which helps to lessen our impact on the environment. The electric car is the better choice of the two for this — with no gasoline engine, the electric car releases no emissions. However, bear in mind that the electricity that powers the car comes from the power grid, and most electric power plants are coal-fueled.

Both hybrid cars and electric models often qualify for tax incentives and exemptions that can help you save money up front, as well as on your annual tax bill. Both these cars have a higher resale value than traditional gasoline-powered engines as well.

Fully electric cars have eliminated gasoline engines in favor of an electric engine powered by an enormous battery pack. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Fully electric cars have eliminated gasoline engines in favor of an electric engine powered by an enormous battery pack. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

There are a few drawbacks to having these green cars, too.

Disadvantages

Both plug-in hybrids and electric cars tend to be more expensive than their traditional counterparts, though the tax exemptions we mentioned earlier can offset some of this cost. They also cost less to operate in the long run, which offsets the increased cost even more.

The cost of maintaining these cars can be more expensive, though. Mechanics who work on electric cars and hybrids require special training above and beyond what it takes to repair a gasoline engine.

Electric engines are also less powerful than gasoline ones, so you’re not going to be towing a trailer with your electric car — but this isn’t a drawback for most drivers. Some drivers also complain these cars don’t handle as well as gasoline engines do. The cars are lighter because they are made of lightweight material to increase mileage, which makes it harder for the tires to grip the road.

Both plug-in hybrids and electric cars tend to be more expensive than their traditional counterparts, though the tax exemptions we mentioned earlier can offset some of this cost. (Image: Free-Photos via Pixabay cc 1.0)

Both plug-in hybrids and electric cars tend to be more expensive than their traditional counterparts, though the tax exemptions we mentioned earlier can offset some of this cost. (Image: Free-Photos via Pixabay cc 1.0)

If you drive long distances or don’t have the time to stop and recharge your battery during your morning commute, but you’re concerned about the amount of greenhouse gases you’re creating with your gasoline engine, a plug-in hybrid can be a great option. If you prefer to eliminate your car’s emissions entirely, a fully electric engine is the best option.

Both cars have their pluses and minuses, but they are both environmentally friendly options that can easily replace your gas guzzler for everything from your daily commute to a cross-country road trip.

Megan-Ray-Nichols

This article was written by Megan Ray Nichols. If you enjoyed this article, please visit her website Schooled by Science.

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