Electric Cars, Hybrids, and Plug-in Hybrids Explained

By Renee Valdes 03/31/2023 4:00pm


If you’re contemplating your next car and you want either an electric car, hybrid, or plug-in hybrid, this guide explains how each vehicle functions and what you can expect, so you can decide on your next move for purchasing a car.

Electric Cars

The 2023 Kia EV9 GT-Line seen from a front quarter angle

Electric cars are battery-powered vehicles. They use only an electric motor or motors for propulsion. Because they lack a traditional internal combustion engine and use no gasoline, they are considered zero-emissions vehicles. As a result, some new, used, and leased EVs get a federal tax credit. Many states, local governments, and utilities provide additional tax benefits and other incentives.


Charging basics

Graphic provided by Charged Future

  • Level 1 standard outlet plug for a slower charge
  • Level 2 240-volt plug like a household dryer uses or at a public charging station
  • Level 3 DC fast charger found at a public charging station.

Most EVs can travel between 200 to 400 miles on a single charge, but some have a longer range. For example, the Tesla Model S can travel as much as 405 miles in range. However, the Lucid Air can travel up to 520 miles. Electric vehicle battery range will only get better over time.

According to research from Kelley Blue Book parent Cox Automotive, electric cars make up 5.6% of overall vehicle sales in the U.S., compared with 3.2% in 2021. Of the more than 14 million new cars and trucks sold yearly, that figure will increase as manufacturers continue introducing new models and building out plans for an all-electric future. Find EV models for sale.


Blue 2023 Honda Accord Hybrid near bushes.

Hybrids run on both an internal combustion engine powered by gasoline and an electric motor using energy from a battery. You don’t need to charge a hybrid vehicle. You can take a hybrid on a long road trip and never need to worry about finding a charger. The first hybrid vehicle debuted in 1999, so they are tried and tested.

Hybrids use regenerative braking to store energy created when slowing the car to charge its battery. Hybrids typically get good fuel economy, typically around 30-35 mpg city and highway. When you drive a hybrid, you can drive locally using battery power, decreasing the amount of gas the internal combustion engine uses.

If you’re considering an electric vehicle but can’t wrap your head around charging and if you worry about range anxiety (i.e., not making it to a charger before depleting the battery), then consider a hybrid as a great stepping stone into the world of electrified cars. You’ll find plenty of hybrid options, too like the Toyota Prius, Kia Sorento, Honda CR-V, and Ford F-150 Hybrid. The Honda Civic will be available in a hybrid version in 2024. You might even see a Porsche 911 hybrid in the future. Find hybrid vehicles for sale.

Plug-in Hybrids

2023 Kia Sportage PHEV at sunset.

Just as with a hybrid, you can also take a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) on long road trips without the angst of stopping for a charge. It uses an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. But a PHEV’s larger, rechargable battery pack enables it to travel on electric power alone. Plug-in hybrids typically can travel about 40 miles on electric power when fully charged. Most PHEVs can use a Level 1 standard household outlet for charging, though some owners install Level 2 chargers at home.

When charged, a PHEV’s battery pack powers an electric motor, and when it depletes, a gas engine seamlessly kicks in to keep the ride going. You will find a selection of at least 33 PHEV models as some carmakers continue to add them to their lineups.

Some plug-in hybrids can qualify for a federal tax incentive of up to $7,500.