A green car means spending more money up front and less over the long run. But if you’re not sure whether an electric car or hybrid is the better option, knowing the basics will help you make the best decision for your lifestyle and budget.
On average, electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) cost more than their gas counterparts. This is because the engine, battery and charging system are newer — and slightly more complex — than cars with combustion engines. But the real difference between the two will depend on the model you want to drive.
Fully electric cars don’t come cheap: Most fall somewhere in the $30,000 to $40,000 range. As of November 2019, the least expensive electric car is the 2019 Nissan Leaf, which comes in around $30,000. Electric models designed by luxury brands like Porsche, Lexus and Aston Martin can easily hit the $100,000 mark — with many going above $200,000.
Hybrids cost slightly less than electric cars, but even the most budget-friendly options are still over $20,000. The least expensive hybrid out there is the 2019 Toyota Prius c with its $21,530 price tag.
And as with electric cars, luxury brands will cost more. Acura, BMW, Porsche and Lexus all make hybrids that drop in above the $80,000 mark.
Electric and hybrid vehicles are extremely fuel-efficient, but it can take multiple years for that fuel efficiency to recoup the upfront cost of buying green. To get a better understanding of the cost for the specific car you have in mind, use the US Department of Energy’s vehicle cost calculator to compare models based on the annual fuel and electricity use, operating cost and cost per mile.
On average, the cost to charge an electric car is about $0.11 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), which makes them one of the cheapest options out there. However, the exact cost of charging one will depend on the cost of electricity where you live and the size of your car’s battery.
The cost to fuel a hybrid varies much more than an electric car. Depending on the type of hybrid you have — these days, it’s likely a plug-in hybrid that requires some charging — you will have to take both gas and electricity costs into account. This means gas and electricity rates in your area will determine your total fuel expenses.
But since hybrids are more fuel-efficient than gas-powered vehicles, you’re still likely to see some savings at the pump.
Both electric cars and hybrids qualify for federal tax credits — but the amount you receive back will depend on the exact vehicle you purchase. In addition, there are 10 states that offer an additional tax credit for the purchase or lease of a green car.
Electric cars will qualify for the full $7,500 federal tax credit and state tax credits.
Some hybrids, like the Chevrolet Volt and the Honda Clarity, will qualify for the full $7,500 tax credit. Others only qualify for a portion. Check the US Department of Energy’s website to see how much your PHEV qualifies for.
Like traditional vehicles, the range of an electric or hybrid car depends on road and traffic conditions.
Most electric cars will get anywhere from 84 to 258 miles per charge — but if you’re willing to invest in the Tesla Model S, you could get up to 370 miles per charge. For the most part, electric cars are best suited for driving shorter distances or longer trips with multiple charging pit stops along the way. If you have a long commute to work or are fond of cross-country road trips, an electric car likely won’t be the right choice.
Hybrids have an inherently longer range than electric cars because of their secondary gas-based engine. When it takes over, you should have the same driving range as any other traditional car. This means you should consider the range its electric engine has: It may be anywhere from 10 to 48 miles per charge.
Maintenance, repairs and battery life
As with any car, you’ll need to set aside a portion of your budget for maintenance and repairs.
There isn’t much information on the difference in maintenance costs between EVs, PHEVs and gas-powered cars. However, the batteries and brake pads for electric cars need to be replaced less often, which saves some money in the long run. And if your battery does need replacing, most manufacturers offer a long warranty — typically eight years or 100,000 miles.
Hybrids do require slightly more maintenance than electric cars, but their batteries are protected by an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty required by the federal government — and it may be longer in some states. And maintenance for the gas engine in a hybrid is about the same as any gas-fueled car. This means when it comes to maintenance and repairs, you’ll likely be spending around the same amount as you would with a nonhybrid vehicle.
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An electric car or hybrid will be more expensive starting out — but you’ll save money in the long run while working to preserve the environment. When you’re ready to make the switch, read our guide to buying a green car to better understand the process and your financing options.
Frequently asked questions
How will the car’s trade-in value be affected?
It depends. The condition of the battery will play a big role in determining your car’s worth, as will the market for electric cars and hybrids in your area. Other normal factors like vehicle condition and mileage will also impact your car’s trade-in value.
What’s the difference between a hybrid and an electric car?
Electric vehicles are powered entirely by electricity, while hybrids are fueled by both a battery-powered engine and a gas-powered engine.
Learn more with our guide to the types of four different electric cars.
How will an EV or hybrid affect my insurance rates?
Some providers offer green car discounts to drivers, but you may not see much of an impact since your rates are largely based on your driving history. However, because of the higher price point, your rates might be slightly higher when you insure an electric car or hybrid.
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