HEV vs PHEV – Comparing Fuel Efficiency, Cost and More
If you’re looking for an easy way to get into electric vehicles without the cost or challenge of buying an all-electric car, hybrids are a great alternative. Once you start shopping, you’ll find cars described as both “HEVs” and PHEVs” — similar, but with some key differences. Before you make your decision, take a look at how they measure up to choose the one that’s best for you.
HEV vs. PHEV: the Basics
“HEV” stands for “hybrid electric vehicle,” or “hybrid” for short. “PHEV” stands for “plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.” The names give a clue as to one of their biggest differences: whereas hybrids run on combustion engines with fuel-saving electric power for low speeds, PHEVs come with a larger battery that can be recharged and used for short trips.
“HEV” can also mean one of two hybrid subtypes: mild or full hybrids.
Mild hybrids combine a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) with a small electric motor and battery pack. The electric motor provides some assistance to the engine at low speeds and powers accessories and secondary systems like the HVAC system and engine cooling.
Full HEV hybrids run on electric power at low speeds and gas at higher speeds. Depending on the model, the electric motor and the ICE may alternate when powering the vehicle, or they may be operated together to generate extra power with lower emissions.
Like HEVs, plug-in hybrids contain both gas-burning engines and electric motors and battery packs. You can think of a PHEV as a cross between a hybrid and an all-electric car. Unlike a hybrid, however, you can plug the battery in a PHEV into an external power source to recharge it.
PHEVs can also run on electric power alone at low speeds, typically with a range of about 20 to 40 miles. Besides giving off fewer overall emissions than HEVs, PHEVs have greater electric range on a fully-charged battery since the gas-burning engine can assist the electric motor.
The biggest difference between HEVs and PHEVs involves batteries. The smaller batteries in HEVs are only suitable for assisting the ICE and driving at very low speeds. PHEV batteries, on the other hand, can provide independent propulsion at higher speeds, albeit with limited range compared to a fully electric car.
They also differ in recharging. A full hybrid can only recharge its battery pack through regenerative braking, or recycling heat from braking as energy. A PHEV can also use regenerative braking to regain some charge.
However, the primary method of recharging a PHEV’s battery is by plugging it into an external power source, whether that’s a standard 120-volt household outlet or a 240-volt charging unit. This is because the battery on a PHEV is larger and takes longer to fully recharge, which also makes it more expensive to purchase, maintain, and replace.
One of the main advantages of both hybrids and plug-in hybrids is the improved fuel economy they offer. While average mileage will vary depending on the make and model and factors like driving conditions and habits, any hybrid will be more efficient than a conventional car because it can switch to, or be assisted by, electric power while on the move.
However, HEVs are still primarily gas-burning vehicles, and as such, can’t quite compare to PHEVs in fuel economy. While HEVs typically can’t run on electric power alone, PHEVs can, making it possible to complete most short journeys without burning any gas at all.
As a rule, PHEVs cost more upfront due to the larger battery packs and slightly more powerful electric motors they’re equipped with. More sophisticated hardware and software needed to operate them also drive up the cost of a PHEV, in many cases, by as much as several thousand dollars more than a base-model hybrid from the same manufacturer.
The tradeoff is long-term costs. Because they generate more heat and dirt, gas-burning engines require regular maintenance. Combined with the need to refuel them more regularly, this makes hybrids more expensive to maintain in the long run.
PHEVs vs. HEVs: Which One is Right for You?
Whether you choose a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid will come down to your budget, your driving needs and habits, and your preferences in a vehicle. If you want to save money at the gas station but don’t want to pay too much upfront, a hybrid is a great option that can also reduce your environmental impact.
The higher price tag of a PHEV can make it a less appealing option, but what you get for that extra cost can make a world of difference. Besides lower lifetime maintenance and repair costs, a PHEV will consume much less gas than an HEV, especially when driving in all-electric mode at short range. And, since over half of car journeys made in the United States are less than three miles, you could be looking at some substantial long-term savings if you stick to local trips.
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