Finding the Right Electric Car
So, you’ve decided to make the big leap into an electrified vehicle. Your reasons could be one of many. Perhaps you’re looking to save fuel. Maybe you’re attracted by the prospects of improved performance and silent running. Or you’re looking for lower running costs. Or maybe you want to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to a more sustainable world.
If you’re just starting your green car journey, the array of choices available on the market can seem bewildering. How do you decide which of the many hybrids, plug-in hybrids, or electric vehicles on the market is right for you? A clear understanding of what each kind of vehicle has to offer, as well as your specific driving circumstances, home charging situation, and regional and local incentives, will help you make the right choice.
There are three different kinds of electrified vehicles available to you – hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and full-electric. Each represents potential savings in fuel and emissions.
Pure battery-electric vehicles – or “BEVs” – get rid of the gasoline drivetrain completely and focus purely on electric power, with much more powerful electric motors and much larger batteries. By going fully electric, you end up with a significantly less complex car with reduced maintenance costs and zero emissions. Plug-in hybrids combine a relatively large battery with a gasoline engine – they can drive significant distances under electric power alone, can be recharged by plugging in, and still give you a gas engine for long trips. But they are heavy and complex.
Hybrid vehicles, the focus of this article, are simpler and lighter than plug-in hybrids. They use an integrated motor/generator to recuperate normally wasted energy by using regenerative braking, converting it to electricity. They still have a gasoline engine and its associated support systems, like a fuel system, exhaust, and transmission.
Fuel Efficiency and Tailpipe Emissions
By combining electric power with a gasoline engine, hybrid cars offer improved efficiency and performance. They deliver reduced greenhouse gas emissions and better fuel economy than a gasoline-only vehicle, as the instantaneous torque and mechanical efficiency of the electric motor shoulder some of the burden of moving the car around, particularly at low speeds, without needing the gasoline engine to kick in.
How? Electric motors are compact, simple, and powerful; with just one moving part, they can produce a lot of torque for their size and weight –which supplements what comes from the gasoline engine. By using electric power to deliver some of the vehicle’s motive power, the burden on the gasoline engine is reduced, helping reduce its fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions.
How much more efficient can a hybrid car be? Depending on how much driving you do in the city – where the electric motor takes more of the burden – you could see your fuel bills drop by 30 percent or more compared to a similar gasoline-powered vehicle. If you do a lot of longer highway trips, you won’t see quite the same benefit, but a hybrid car will still come with lower fuel bills.
Easily Adapts to Your Lifestyle
Perhaps the greatest benefit of a hybrid car is how easy it is. If you’re coming out of a gasoline vehicle, you won’t need to change any of your driving habits to enjoy the benefits of hybrid driving.
Unlike full electric cars and plug-in hybrids, you won’t need to worry about installing a home charging station, which is a plus if you have an older home or live in a rental property with a shared parking garage. Hybrids recharge their batteries using “regenerative braking.” When slowing down, the electric motor turns into a generator and charges the battery, re-capturing energy that would have otherwise been wasted. And while they can’t travel any significant distance on battery power alone, the electric motor assists the gasoline engine, reducing its emissions and fuel consumption.
Having gasoline and electric power on-board means you can drive on gasoline when the battery’s charge is depleted, making hybrid cars convenient on long journeys, or in areas where charging is hard to find. Indeed, the on-board power electronics will automatically juggle electric and gasoline power to ensure the battery is never completely depleted, even using the gasoline engine to help charge the battery when needed.
Drawbacks of Hybrids
Bypassing the need to plug in makes hybrid cars great if you want the efficiency of reducing gasoline consumption without relying on charging equipment. If you live in an apartment building or have a business that does a lot of delivery in urban areas, you can also benefit from the hassle-free efficiency of an HEV.
However, compared to pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles, hybrid cars do generate more greenhouse gas emissions.
Compared to a pure electric car, the extra machinery of a full gasoline engine and transmission along with the electric components also increases complexity and weight. Other than reduced brake wear, you also won’t see a reduction in maintenance costs as there’s still an engine, transmission, and other related mechanical items to service.
There can be slightly increased costs when maintenance involves the battery, oxygen sensors or evaporative emissions systems that are not working properly. While these issues are not common occurrences, it is important to note that the added complexity of a hybrid system can require a more specialized technician and, as a result, can increase the cost for some repairs.
Finding the Best Fit for You
Where you live can have a significant effect on your choice of green car – from a usability perspective as well as a financial one. The closer you are to a city center, the more it makes sense to go fully electric – and the further away you get, the more you should consider a plug-in hybrid, or a conventional hybrid.