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Hybrid versus electric cars

Hybrid and electric vehicles can both run on electricity but their emissions, running costs and maintenance vary. So which is the right choice for you?

gocompare author
Updated 13 July 2021  | 3 min read

Key points

  • Electric cars can travel further on electricity alone, they're cheap to run and they have zero emissions - but they can be much more expensive to buy in the first place
  • Hybrid cars offer the flexibility of running on a combination of electricity and petrol. They're ideal for commuting, but petrol costs can add up for longer journeys.
  • Hybrid and electric cars are both eligible for charger installation grants from the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme.

What is a hybrid car?

A hybrid car is one that uses a combination of electricity stored in batteries but also has a petrol or diesel engine. It means these cars use both a fuel tank and a battery pack to supply their power and maximise their efficiency.

There are generally two types of hybrid cars: standard hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

Standard hybrid cars have self-generating batteries where the petrol or diesel engine is used to recharge the battery. The charging power is generated through braking and driving.

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) have bigger batteries, which will last longer than standard hybrid batteries. You plug these in at a charging station with a cable, the same way electric cars are charged

What is an electric car?

An electric car runs purely on electricity. Electric Vehicles (EVs) are charged by plugging the car in to charge points.

These cars can be charged at home, using a normal household three-pin plug or a home fast-charging point, or at various public and roadside charging points. The electric power from charging is stored in the EV’s battery, which is used by the electric motor to move the car.

What’s the difference in running costs between hybrids and EVs?

Electric and hybrid cars are much more economical to run than traditional cars. But there are still some differences in running costs between the two:

  • Fuel - Electricity will cost you much less than petrol or diesel, especially if you charge your car from home rather than paying at public charging stations. The equivalent in petrol and diesel can cost three to four times as much. Hybrids usually have a smaller battery range than all-electric cars, so you’re likely to spend more on fuel with a hybrid car. For this reason, hybrids are more cost-effective when journeys are short and you can rely on your small electric battery most of the time.
  • Tax - You won’t have to pay road tax on an electric car. Tax is based on CO2 emissions from the car’s exhaust and EVs emit nothing. For hybrid cars, you'll benefit from slightly reduced road tax.
  • Insurance - Insurance costs have come down for EVs and hybrids in recent years, but it’s always a good idea to compare policies from different providers to get the best deal.
  • Difference in costs of maintenance

    With fewer moving parts electric cars tend to need much less maintenance and avoid the usual repair costs associated with regular engines, like oil changes and cam belt replacements.

    Hybrid cars still need these parts maintaining due to their dual-engine, but sharing the load with their electric motor can reduce the wear and tear. So, although they’re likely to need more maintenance than EVs, they generally won’t cost as much to maintain and service as regular cars.

    Difference in incentives and grants

    There are a number of incentives to encourage people to buy low-emission cars and these include government grant schemes and tax reductions. These discounts differ in which type of cars are eligible:

    Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme

    Both electric cars and PHEVs are eligible for this government scheme. If you have a home with off-street parking that’s suitable for an electric car charger, this grant will give you up to £350 towards the costs of buying and installing a home wallbox charger.

    Plug-in car grant

    Only all-electric cars are eligible for this scheme that provides a discount on the price of a brand new low-emission car. This grant allows you to get up to £2,500 off the price of a new car providing your EV costs less than £35,000, emits less than 50g/km of CO2 and can travel at least 70 miles with zero emissions.

    Cleaner vehicle discount

    The cleaner vehicle discount applies to all battery electric vehicles and only plug-in hybrids that have been approved as an ‘ultra-low emission vehicle’ by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles. This discount allows all eligible cars to avoid paying the £15 daily charge if you drive within London’s congestion zone.

    In 2020, the UK government announced there will be a ban on selling hybrid cars from 2035 or earlier. This may add a further incentive for people to buy electric cars over hybrids, as their availability and popularity increases.

    Electric car pros and cons

    Electric cars are increasingly popular, they’re clean, quiet and use the latest in car technology, so what are the advantages and disadvantages of buying one?

    Pros:

    • They don’t produce any exhaust emissions as they run solely on electricity
    • EVs are far quieter due to their electric motors
    • EVs are much cheaper to refuel than petrol or diesel cars
    • They're eligible for a number of money-saving schemes including exemption from road tax and the London Congestion Charge
    • Because they have fewer mechanical parts and their battery delivers power instantly to the wheels, EVs can be quicker and lighter to drive
    • EVs have an average range of up to 193 miles on a single battery charge
    • Fewer moving parts mean they’re cheaper to maintain

    Cons:

    • Larger batteries of EVs mean longer charging times at home
    • You’ll need to rely on finding charging points on long journeys and factor in rapid charging times of 30-40 minutes
    • Electric cars are often more expensive to buy than hybrids
    • Insurance for EVs can be more expensive than for hybrids

    Hybrid car pros and cons

    Hybrid cars are seen as a good compromise for people who want to enjoy the benefits of an electric car but the flexibility of using conventional fuels too, so how do they rack up?

    Pros:

    • Hybrids have a longer range than EVs because you can use two types of fuel
    • Hybrid cars can generate their own energy while you’re on the move and can automatically switch fuel types so you need fewer fuel stops on longer journeys
    • Hybrid vehicles are cheap to use in cities and for short journeys where you’re only relying on the electric motor and it’s being recharged with regular braking
    • Hybrid cars tend to cost less to buy than EVs, depending on the make and model you choose
    • Because the battery is used less often than an EV, a hybrid’s battery is less likely to need replacing

    Cons:

    • They still use fossil fuels, so they’re not as green as EVs
    • The batteries in hybrids add weight which reduces fuel economy on the motorway and uses the battery up faster at higher speeds and greater acceleration
    • Hybrids will need to charge their battery more often and their batteries have less range than an electric car
    • You’ll still need to buy conventional fuel which is an added cost
    • Sales of hybrids will be banned from 2035 or earlier
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