Volvo XC60 plug-in hybrid charging

Electric vs hybrid vs plug-in hybrid cars

What are electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars, and which one is right for you?

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By Cazoo editorial team

The days of simply choosing between a petrol car and a diesel car are well and truly behind us. Electrification – using electric power to drive a car’s wheels – has taken over, but in a variety of ways. In this piece, we’ll look at the three main types – fully electric cars, hybrids and plug-in hybrids. We’ll explain the pros and cons of each to help you decide which might suit you best.

What does ‘electrification’ mean?

In the car world, ‘electrification’ generally refers to the use of battery-powered electric motors to drive the wheels. It’s an umbrella term that covers pure electric cars that don’t have a petrol or diesel combustion engine, as well as different types of hybrids, where the electric motor works alongside a combustion engine. It can also cover mild hybrids, but for this piece, we’ll focus on electric cars, full-hybrid cars (also just called hybrids) and plug-in hybrids.

The advantage of electrification is that it takes the strain away from a petrol or diesel engine, either partially in the case of hybrids, or completely if you’ve got a fully electric car. The less work an engine has to do, the less fuel it burns, saving you money and reducing polluting exhaust emissions.

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What’s the difference between electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid?

The main difference between the different types of electrified cars is the amount of electrical assistance provided. Hybrids provide a bit, plug-in hybrids provide a lot, and full electric cars provide all of the power to turn the car’s wheels.

You can learn more about how each one works in our dedicated articles in the links below. When it comes to pros and cons, broadly speaking the more electrified a car is, the more cost-effective it will be to run. But cars with more electrification generally cost more to buy, because the technology is more complicated.

Is a hybrid or plug-in hybrid car right for me?

Well, it depends on several factors. How much do you want to spend on buying your next car? Hybrids are usually the most affordable option, with plug-in hybrids costing more and electric cars more still.

But you’ll also need to consider the broader running costs. In early 2022, fuel prices were climbing, which made more fuel-efficient cars more attractive but also higher-priced. But it also means they could hold their value very well, saving you cash when you decide to sell. Electrified cars generally emit fewer pollutants, which also means lower Vehicle Excise Duty (car tax).

Fuelling costs can make a substantial difference to how much you spend on your car during your time with it. Regular hybrids can’t be plugged into the mains to recharge, so while they’ll be a bit easier on fuel than a normal petrol or diesel car, the difference won’t be dramatic.

Plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, have the potential to save loads of fuel, but only if you use them in a certain way. To get the most out of them, you’ll want to rely heavily on the electric motor and battery and think of the engine as a backup. Most plug-in hybrids will go around 30 miles before they need to be recharged, so if the majority of your journeys are shorter than that – and you have somewhere to plug in – a plug-in hybrid could be for you. Longer journeys will drain the battery and the fuel tank more quickly, although the presence of the engine means you won’t need long stops to recharge the battery.

Is a fully electric car right for me?

Electric cars will obviously use no fuel. Some new electric cars can go for more than 400 miles on a single battery charge, and even mid-range models can manage more than 200, which for a lot of us will be enough for most everyday journeys. However, charging takes longer than refuelling, so if you do a lot of long trips, you’ll need to factor in charging time, as well as finding a public charger.

Ultimately, you’ll need to weigh up the cost of a purchase or a subscription against longer-term running costs, depending on how you use your car. And of course, the environmental benefits of an electrified car could have a big impact on your decision.

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