Your Hybrid Car Questions Answered

A hybrid car differs in several ways from other types of vehicles, so before you commit to buying one, it's important to gain a better understanding of these somewhat complex cars. Cari Crane, Senior Industry Analyst with TrueCar, explains the ins and outs of hybrids to help you figure out whether one is right for you.

What is a hybrid car?

A hybrid car has both an internal combustion — gas-powered — engine and electric motor to power the vehicle. A hybrid may use one or both of these power sources when in motion.

What are the different types of hybrids?

Two common types of hybrids are traditional hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV).

Hybrid electric vehicle: In an HEV, the gas and electric motors work together to power the vehicle, and the gas-powered engine recharges the small electric engine to optimize fuel economy.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle: While this hybrid performs like an HEV in that the gas powered engine works with an electric motor, a PHEV has a larger battery that can be charged and recharged using an electrical outlet. The rechargeable battery allows the driver to operate the vehicle using only the electric motor for a longer distance.

How does a hybrid differ from other types of cars?

Hybrid vehicles typically get better fuel economy than gas-only powered vehicles. For example, you can compare the combined city and highway gas mileage between two similar models with different fuel types: a 2015 Honda Civic with a hybrid engine gets 44 mpg, while the gas-powered 2015 Civic gets 31 to 33 mpg depending on the specs.

What are the benefits of hybrids over electric vehicles?

Hybrid cars typically allow drivers to travel longer distances without stopping than electric vehicles do. Hybrid drivers can refuel at any nearby gas station, whereas electric car drivers need to locate a charging station. As of November 2016, there were more than 14,000 public electric stations and 38,000 public charging outlets.

What are the benefits of hybrid over gas?

The primary benefit of a hybrid is fuel economy. Hybrid drivers typically spend less money on gas and can travel farther between fill-ups, depending on the size of the gas tank. Hybrid vehicles also typically produce less tailpipe emissions than gas-only vehicles.

What peripheral benefits do hybrid drivers enjoy?

Drivers who purchase plug-in hybrids can receive federal tax incentives of up to $7,500. However, typical hybrid electric cars do not qualify for these tax credits. In addition, many states offer tax incentives on alternative powertrain vehicles, but the qualifications and amounts vary by state.

What drawbacks should drivers consider about hybrids?

Hybrids are typically more expensive than gas-powered cars. Additionally, they often offer less cargo space due to the size of the battery. Different hybrids come with different features, so drivers should research specific options before purchasing.

Under what circumstances might a hybrid be a better option than other vehicles?

Hybrids are considered well-suited for city driving. Many hybrid electric vehicles achieve higher fuel economy ratings in the city than on the highway because the electric motor recharges when braking and turns off the gas-powered engine when stopped.

If you're considering a hybrid vehicle, make sure you understand the trade-offs of buying one. You'll likely pay more up front for a hybrid, but you'll save money on gas while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

To learn more about how owning a car affects your budget, use a vehicle payment calculator to determine your budget, and be sure to calculate your total car costs.