Hybrid v electric: what are the differences?

If you’re considering changing to a greener vehicle, your research has probably led you to both all-electric and hybrid options.

But what are the differences between hybrid and electric vehicles (HEVs and EVs)? We’ve put together a guide to help.z

What are electric vehicles?

Electric vehicles are seen as one the best solutions to reducing carbon emissions. Releasing no tail-pipe emissions, they are the only type of car that will be sold in the UK from 2035.

Electric vehicles are powered by a big battery and a motor, and do not have a combustion engine. That means no petrol, gas or diesel!

Instead they solely run off electricity and can be charged via specialised charging points at home, in public and at many workplaces.

What are hybrids?

Hybrids are powered by the combination of a combustion engine, motor, and battery. There are three common types of hybrids used in the UK.

Mild hybrids

In mild hybrids, the electric motor is used to start the engine instead of a starter motor. On some models, the electric power can also be used to drive at coasting speeds, lowering emissions in traffic scenarios.

However, when driving at higher speeds, the electric motor runs alongside the combustion engine, providing power assistance.

The battery is then recharged using a combination of the engine and the energy generated from braking.

Full hybrids

On full hybrids, the vehicle can be powered solely by the electric motor, the combustion engine, or by a combination of the two.

However, electric range is usually only a handful of miles and the motor can only be used when cruising at low speeds.

Like mild hybrids, the battery is recharged by a combination of the regenerative braking and the engine.

Plug-in hybrids

Also powered by the motor, engine, or a combination of the two, a plug-in hybrid has a much larger battery. These usually provide up to 40 miles of range.

Plug-in hybrids can also be charged via a plug in the same way as an electric vehicle.

Now that we’ve covered what each type of vehicle is, let’s take a look at how they all stack up against each other. 

Range

One of the key reasons for changing from a fuel-powered vehicle is to reduce your emissions. This means spending as much time using the electric motor as possible.

It’s no surprise that electric vehicles have the greatest electrical range, with the average at 195 miles. Many can now go more than 300 miles.

In comparison, plug-in hybrids typically have an electric range of around 40 miles. For full-hybrids this is less than 10, and some mild-hybrids don’t run solely on electric at all.

Of course, hybrids are also powered by engines. The range with the engine and motor will commonly surpass that of an electric vehicle, meaning they may be a better option for longer journeys.

Plug-in hybrids can also be a great choice for those living in cities. The electric range is usually enough for most urban commutes, and you’ll mostly be driving slow enough for the vehicle to run solely off the motor. However, you’ll need to ensure that the motor is regularly charged.

For high milage users, the benefits of plug-in hybrids quickly diminish.

Charging speeds

To get the full benefits of a battery’s range, it needs to be regularly charged.

For full- and mild-hybrids, this is taken care of by the engine. As the batteries are only small, these will quickly top up while driving.

Both EVs and plug-in hybrids can be charged at specialised charging points. Most owners have these installed at home, plus there is an ever-expanding network of charging points throughout the UK.

Charging speeds will depend on the charging load of both the charging point and the car’s battery. As plug-in hybrids have smaller batteries, they tend to have lower charging loads so take longer to charge. Most are not compatible with rapid charging points.

Most electric vehicles have batteries that can take higher loads, so should charge quicker. However, these charging speeds can vary depending on the model of car, and this is something you may want to factor in when researching your options.

Emissions

Electric cars come out on top here. After all, you can’t get any greener than no tail-pipe emissions at all!

The carbon footprint from using electricity is also getting lower, meaning electric vehicles are much greener overall than fuel-powered vehicles.

Hybrids can also be a green option, but this depends on usage. If charged effectively, most journeys made using plug-in hybrids can be powered solely off the electric motor. However, it’s likely that you’ll still sometimes need to use the engine, so you’ll still be producing some emissions.

Mild- and full-hybrid vehicles spend much more time using the engine, meaning they are less eco-friendly than the other two options. However, they still produce less emissions than non-electrified vehicles.

The last thing to consider here is that, as hybrids tend to be heavier than fuel vehicles, they can produce more emissions than them when powered by the engine. This highlights how important it is to maximise your motor usage to reduce your emissions.

Cost comparison

Running costs

Electric vehicles and hybrids can both benefit from low running costs.

The average electricity tariff in the UK is only 14.37p per kWh. At this price, it costs less than £9 to fully charge the average electric vehicle battery.

Plug-in hybrids also benefit from these cheap tariffs. If used efficiently, they can solely run off their electric motor with no need to fill up the tank. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll solely use the motor so would likely have to pay more for fuel.

Other types of hybrids are much more fuel dependent, so generally incur more running costs. They are also generally more expensive to purchase than a non-electrified vehicle, although they retain their value better.

Maintenance costs

Compared to a combustion engine, electric motors are much simpler. They have fewer moving parts, which means less things that can go wrong.

As a result, they can require less maintenance and can prove cheaper to maintain.

As hybrid vehicles feature both electric motors and an engine, there are more parts susceptible to wear.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up paying more, as running costs can depend as much on the model of the car as they can on the type. Check out WhatCar’s reliability surveys to find their list of the most reliable cars.

Tax savings

The government has various initiatives to help encourage drivers to choose eco-friendly vehicles.

For a start, owners of vehicles that release no tail-pipe emissions pay no road tax. This is great news for electric vehicle owners. Unfortunately, recent changes to these rules mean only cars with no emissions are eligible, which doesn’t include hybrids.

On top of this, fully electric vehicles and some hybrids are also exempt from congestion charges.

That concludes our guide to electric and hybrid vehicles. To find out more about electric vehicles, head over to our electrification hub where we have lots more advice.

You can explore our range of electric car accessories over at Halfords.com. We also offer a range of car services for both electric and hybrid vehicles and you can find your nearest autocentre here.