Explained: the difference between Electric and Hybrid cars

Are you looking to invest in your next car, but considering if you should go full electric or opt for a hybrid model? In this guide we dive into all the important differences between electric and hybrid vehicles. From upfront cost to performance, charging time to running costs - find out everything you need to know, so you can decide which option is right for you.

Firstly, let’s cover the basics of what we mean by an ‘electric’ and ‘hybrid’ car.

What is an electric car?

Simply put, an electric car is a vehicle that runs solely on electricity. It has an electric motor instead of an internal combustion (gas) engine. Electric cars are powered by rechargeable batteries that store energy from an external power source, such as a charging station or wall socket.

Unlike petrol or diesel engines, electric motors don't have gears, so they provide instant torque and acceleration. This makes electric cars a sensible choice for city driving, where you need to start and stop frequently.​

What is a hybrid car?

In comparison, a hybrid car has both a traditional gas-powered (petrol or diesel) engine along with an electric motor, combining the two power sources and allowing it to run on either gas or electricity. For example, the electric motor can be used to power the car at low speeds (such as in traffic) whereas the petrol or diesel engine can be used to power the car at high speeds, such as on the motorway.

Hybrid cars are designed to be more fuel-efficient than traditional petrol or diesel vehicles, since the electric motor helps to reduce the amount of fuel the engine needs to use.

There are three types of hybrid cars: Mild, Strong and Plug-In. Let’s dive into how each of these vary.

Mild Hybrid

A mild hybrid uses a smaller electric motor and battery to give a boost to the traditional petrol/diesel engine during acceleration and other high-demand situations.

The electric motor can't drive the vehicle on its own, but it does help reduce fuel consumption and emissions. The battery is charged through regenerative braking or by the internal combustion engine, so you don’t even need to plug it in to charge from an external source. Just like a traditional car, you simply fill the tank with fuel. 

Strong / Full hybrid

This type of hybrid has a larger electric motor and battery system, which means it can drive on electric power alone for short distances at low speeds.

Strong hybrids have larger batteries and can be charged through regenerative braking or by the internal combustion engine. Some models may also be able to charge from an external power source.

The full hybrid will automatically switch to running on electric power when it can, only engaging the diesel/petrol engine when it needs to (such as acceleration or going up a steep hill.)

Plug-In Hybrid

A plug-in hybrid has a large battery that you can charge from an external power source, such as a charging station or a household outlet.

This means you can travel longer distances on electric power alone, typically between 15 and 50 miles, depending on the model and battery size. Once the battery is depleted, the combustion engine takes over, and the vehicle operates like a strong hybrid.

Plug-in hybrids are a good choice as they allow you to drive on electric power for shorter trips and then switch to diesel/petrol power for longer journeys.

Should I buy an electric or hybrid car?

Now we know the basic differences between an electric and hybrid car, let’s see how they compare across various key areas, and how that can impact your buying decision.

Which is more environmentally friendly, a hybrid or an electric car?

Hybrid cars use a combination of petrol or diesel combined with electric power so whilst they produce fewer emissions than petrol or diesel cars, they do still produce some emissions.

Electric cars on the other hand produce zero emissions. They are also extremely efficient, using less energy to travel the same distance as a petrol, diesel or even a hybrid car.

If it’s the most environmentally friendly option you’re looking for, then electric is the obvious choice.

Hybrid vs electric: which is more expensive? 

The cost can vary widely for both electric and hybrid cars depending on the make and model. Generally speaking, electric cars will always be the more expensive choice.

When comparing car prices, it's important to look at the total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the vehicle. Whilst electric cars will be more expensive to purchase upfront, they may offer lower operating costs over time due to lower fuel and running costs. In contrast, whilst hybrid cars generally require a smaller upfront payment, they will cost more to run and may have higher maintenance costs. 

Additionally, there may be incentives and tax credits available for purchasing an electric or hybrid car, so it's worth considering these as they may help offset some of the costs.

With so many factors to consider on cost alone, we’d strongly recommend speaking to one of our friendly expert to help you determine the best option for your needs. 

What about driving range?

One of the biggest downsides to owning an electric car is the limited driving range, commonly referred to as 'range anxiety'. Whilst many modern electric cars claim to have a range of over 200+ miles on a single charge, this will always be dependant on a number of contributing factors (driving conditions, weather, tyre pressures to name a few). Electric cars may not be practical for long journeys or for those who do a lot of driving on a day-to-day basis.

This issue is made worse due to the limited availability of charging points in the UK. Whilst we have made significant progress in expanding the network of public charging points, there are still many areas where charging infrastructure is lacking, especially in rural areas, so make sure you take your location into account when deciding. 

Hybrid cars on the other hand, offer a much better range than electric cars, since they always have the petrol or diesel engine to rely on. This means they can travel much further on a single tank of fuel than an electric car can on a single charge - ideal for those who take longer journeys, use their car more frequently or simply want to remove any 'range anxiety'.

Is it faster to charge an electric or a hybrid car?​

Charging an electric car and filling up a hybrid car are also different experiences. 

Electric cars need to be charged using a charging station or a wall-mounted charger, which can take several hours depending on the size of the battery. This can be a challenge for those who need to charge on the go or who do not have access to a home charging point.

The hybrid in comparison usually has a much shorter charge time, since less electricity is required to power the car.

Which car requires more maintenance, an electric or a hybrid? 

Generally speaking, electric cars require less maintenance than hybrid cars. This is because electric cars have fewer moving parts, simpler engines, and fewer fluids than hybrid cars. The primary maintenance needs for electric cars are tyre rotations, brake fluid changes, and battery coolant replacements. Electric cars also have regenerative braking systems that help reduce wear and tear on brake pads, which means they require less frequent brake replacements.

Hybrid cars in comparison, have both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, which means they require more regular maintenance and servicing to keep both systems running smoothly. Hybrid cars also have more complex transmissions and more intricate cooling systems than electric cars. This means that hybrid cars typically require more frequent oil changes and coolant flushes than electric cars.

Overall, both hybrid and electric cars require less maintenance than traditional cars, but electric cars in general require the least due to their simpler design and fewer moving parts.

Which car is right for you: an electric or a hybrid?

When it comes to choosing between an electric car and a hybrid car, there are a few factors to consider. If you're looking for a car that is environmentally friendly and doesn't produce any emissions, an electric car is the way to go. However, if you're looking for a car that offers better fuel efficiency and a longer range, a hybrid car might be a better choice.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to your personal preferences and driving habits. If you have a short commute and access to charging stations, an electric car could be an option. If you do a lot of driving and need a car that can handle longer distances, a hybrid car is likely to be the better choice. Either way, both electric and hybrid cars offer more eco-friendly options than traditional petrol or diesel powered cars and are worth considering if you're in the market for a new vehicle.

Explore Hybrid & Electric cars at Colin Appleyard

As official dealers for Suzuki and Subaru, we have a great selection of new & used cars for you to explore. Our experienced & knowledgeable teams at our dealerships in West Yorkshire & Greater Manchester are happy to help you understand which car will best suit your needs. Whether it's a compact SUV like the Suzuki Ignis mild hybrid, the go-anywhere Subaru self-charging all-wheel drive XV or Forester, a spacious fully-loaded estate such as the Suzuki Swace, the plug-in Suzuki A-Cross or the all-electric all-wheel drive Subaru Solterra, we've got something to suit all your needs.

Contact us today to experience the very latest hybrid & electric cars.