Hybrids, Plug-in Hybrids, and Full Electric Vehicles: Explaining the Differences and Common Concerns

With more automakers planning to go all electric in the next decade, you might be thinking about what your next car will run on. You might feel pressure to go electric, as well as confusion about what exactly you should be shopping for. There’s always a lot to consider when buying a new vehicle. Add in the transition from a gas engine, and you’re likely staring at a perfect storm of analysis paralysis.

Not a problem! Let’s start with the basics. Here’s a quick primer that should help de-mystify some of the language around electric cars.

What is a Hybrid Vehicle?

As you can safely assume from the name, a hybrid uses both gas and electricity. It combines a gas engine with an electric motor and a high-voltage battery. Since they still run on gas, hybrids aren’t zero emission, but they produce fewer emissions than gas-powered vehicles.

Hybrids rely on the gas engine at higher speeds and behave more like electric cars when traveling slowly. Depending on the vehicle, the gas and electric systems may work in tandem or alternate to provide power.

Within the category of hybrid cars, there are actually two varieties: mild hybrid and full hybrid. A full hybrid can accelerate and cruise exclusively using the electric motor. On the other hand, a mild hybrid needs the help of its gas engine to do these things. The battery primarily powers your climate control and sound system. Full hybrids will typically cost you more upfront, but you can save more on fuel consumption.

In many ways, you won’t notice too much of a change going from a gas-powered car to a hybrid. You can fill up on gas at a traditional station and don’t need to worry about plugging these cars in to charge them. This is due to the magic of regenerative braking.


Okay, it’s not really magic, but it’s still pretty cool. You probably know that energy can’t be created or destroyed. So traditional brakes turn your car’s kinetic energy into heat. The vehicle stops, but that energy is essentially wasted.

Regenerative brakes take your car’s kinetic energy and turn it into electricity, giving the hybrid more range. This is a highly simplified explanation, so you can read more about regenerative braking here if you’d like.

You’ll likely notice that the most significant difference with a hybrid is in driving. Some hybrid owners complain about “rubberbanding” when asking the car for more power.

Again, we’re going to be very basic here, but essentially there’s a delay between when the engine revs and when that power actually gets to the wheels. The result feels like the car loses power and then surges forward, which some drivers find pretty irritating.

If you’re in the market for a hybrid, expect to pay more than you would for a comparable gas-powered car. Here are a few suggestions to get your search started:

Now we’ll move on to plug-in hybrids.

What is a Plug-In Hybrid?

Plug-in hybrids split the difference between hybrids and fully electric vehicles. The setup is similar to a hybrid, but with a much larger battery, so they can operate longer on the electric motor, which is the primary power source. Once the battery is depleted, the car can run on the gas engine. Once you’re out of gas, the car stops.

Speaking of which, the gas engines in these vehicles typically have pretty respectable fuel economy. That’s good news since, as the name implies, you will need to plug in the car to charge the battery.

How does one charge a plug-in hybrid? With the same 120-volt wall plug you use to charge everything else.

If you can charge a phone you can charge a car. Patches O'Houlihan holding a wrench.

You should be able to fully charge your car in about six hours using 120 volts. Alternatively, a 240-volt plug will cut the time in half. You can also use Level 1 or 2 at a charging station.

We don’t want to rain on the plug-in parade (for the same reason we don’t throw a toaster into a bathtub), but there are a couple of drawbacks. One is that the range on the battery is only about 20-60 miles. The other is that all those electric components take up space, so you likely will only have a little cargo room.

Would a plug-in hybrid be for you? Let the research begin:

Finally, let’s cover full electric vehicles.

What is a Full Electric Car?

A fully electric car runs exclusively on a battery without a gas engine as a backup. Most can travel about 200 miles on a full charge, although the weather can affect this number. This means zero emissions, but it also means some significant changes from what you may be used to.

First, you will want to have someplace you can reliably plug in and charge. At home, you can use a standard 120-volt plug. You can also use a 240-volt plug, which you may need to have installed. Charging can take some time, but those options should get you about 40 to 80 miles of range overnight.

Fast charging is also an option, but it’s only available at public charging stations. Here in Austin, TX, it’s easy to find charging stations, but you need to be aware if you’re traveling or moving someplace where these vehicles still need to catch on. Renters especially should make sure they’ll be able to charge their cars.

Suppose charging isn’t a problem for you. In that case, full electric might be beneficial since charging the car is typically cheaper than filling up on gas. You might also qualify for several tax rebates or other incentives if you go electric. Austin Energy has a comprehensive guide to electric vehicle incentives for our fellow Austinites.

Something to note is that while fully electric cars are zero emissions, they can still harm the environment. The electricity used to charge them may come from fossil fuels, and the long-term impact of battery disposal still needs to be fully understood.

Here are a few full electric vehicles you might want to have a look at:

Ultimately, what type of car you drive is up to you, and you’ll want to do plenty of research before making the decision. Finally, when switching to any electric vehicle, you’ll want to plan ahead and be sure you can get it serviced locally. At Juke Auto, our technicians are familiar with most hybrid and electric systems. Contact us today to make an appointment.

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