The Difference Between Plug-In and Standard Hybrid Cars

Charge white electric car

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A hybrid vehicle uses two or more distinct types of power, such as a gas-powered, internal combustion engine plus an electric motor on a battery pack. There are two primary types of hybrid cars on the market, a standard hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. Neither requires that you plug in the car to an electric source, however, with a plug-in hybrid you have the option to do so.

The beauty of hybrid cars over gasoline-powered cars is that they run cleaner with fewer emissions, they get better gas mileage, which makes them more environment-friendly, and depending on the model, you may be eligible for a tax credit.

Standard Hybrids

Standard hybrids are very much like regular gasoline-powered cars. The only difference is internal—the car can recharge its batteries by reclaiming energy through a process called regenerative braking or while driving on engine power.

Standard hybrids do not need to be plugged in. A standard hybrid uses both a gasoline engine and an electric motor to help offset fuel costs and increase gas mileage. When the battery is heavily taxed by a lot of electric motor usage without a lot of braking, the internal combustion engine picks up the slack while the battery comes back up to charge.

Hybrids still use gasoline as the primary source of power, you fill up the tank as you normally would. Popular standard hybrid models are the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. Luxury car makers like Porsche and Lexus in recent years have added hybrids to its fleet of vehicles.

Plug-In Hybrids

In order to increase electric motor cruising time, some manufacturers are creating plug-in hybrids that have more powerful batteries which can be recharged by “plugging in” the vehicle to normal household current. This feature allows the vehicle to perform more like a true electric car and less like a conventional gasoline car, all the while delivering exceptional fuel mileage.

Plug-in hybrids, like the Chevrolet Volt, operate in much the same way as a hybrid by providing an all-electric driving range using a battery pack. Once the battery has been depleted, the vehicle can slip back to being a regular fuel-fed hybrid and recharge its batteries using the gasoline-powered motor as a generator.

The big difference here is that you can also plug it in and recharge the electric motor instead of using the engine to charge it up. Depending on your driving needs, if you can plan your trips and just drive on electricity and then charge back up, you can go a very long time without having to gas up.

All Electric Vehicles

Although they are not considered hybrids since they run solely on electricity and are not a "hybrid" of anything, all-electric vehicles are worthy of mention if saving on gas is what you want to accomplish.

All-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, Ford Focus Electric, and Chevy Spark EV run on electricity and use electrons as their solitary source of energy. The more you drive, the more of the battery charge is depleted. The biggest disadvantage is that there is no gas engine built in to rescue you if you run out the battery completely. All electric vehicles must be recharged either at your home or at a charging station.

View Article Sources
  1. Electric Vehicle Benefits and Considerations.” U.S. Department of Energy.

  2. Hybrid Electric Vehicles.” U.S. Department of Energy.

  3. How do Hybrid Electric Cars Work?.” U.S. Department of Energy.

  4. U.S. HEV Sales by Model.” U.S. Department of Energy.

  5. Explaining Electric & Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  6. How Do All-Electric Cars Work?.” U.S. Department of Energy.