Drivers Aren’t Plugging in Their Plug-In Hybrids

Laurance Yap
January 21, 2023
Plug-in hybrids combine the zero-emissions benefits of electric cars with the convenience and long-distance ability of gasoline vehicles. But a recent study shows many owners aren't plugging in their PHEVs - meaning that they're actually using more fuel and polluting more than a gasoline car.
Man carrying car charger cable

Not Plugging in Increases Consumption and Emissions

One of the greatest benefits of plug-in hybrid cars is the amazing flexibility that they offer drivers. With a plug-in hybrid, you have the option of cruising zero-emissions on electric power alone, or leaning into a gasoline engine for convenience when taking longer trips. In theory, when used as intended, they offer the best of both worlds.

However, a new study from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), based on real-world data collected from self-reporting on fuelly.com as well as engine-off distances traveled collected by the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), has found that fuel consumption of plug-in hybrids in the U.S. is between 42 and 67 percent higher than their EPA rated MPG.

Under the hood of a hybrid
2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

PHEVs Have Smaller Batteries

What gives? Well, in order to derive the fuel consumption and environmental benefits of plug-in hybrids, drivers actually have to plug them in on a regular basis – ideally on a level 1 or a level 2 charger at home. Unlike electric cars, most plug-in hybrids don’t have the electric range to drive several days on electric power alone – their electric range generally is between 15 and 60 miles. That’s enough for the daily commute, but only if you plug in and top up the battery overnight.

If you don’t plug in a plug-in hybrid, and lean more on the combustion engine for daily commuting, it’s actually far less efficient than a pure gasoline vehicle or a conventional hybrid. The batteries, the electric motor, and the charging electronics add significant extra weight – weight that you’re hauling around with no benefit. That makes them the worst of both worlds!

This study from the ICCT actually isn’t the first one to question the environmental benefits of plug-in hybrids. In 2020, a report from the environmental lobby group Transport & Environment found that real-world emissions from plug-in hybrids in Europe are significantly higher than official ratings. Indeed, European regulators have considered ending many of the benefits, such as reduced taxes and other financial incentives, for plug-in hybrids, instead shifting their focus to all-electric cars.

Toyota Rav4 Plug-In Hybrid
Toyota Rav4 PHEV

Maximize the Advantages of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Americans now have more, and better, choices for plug-in hybrids than ever before. Volvo has eliminated pure gasoline engines from its lineup for 2023. The latest Toyota Prius and RAV4 offer Prime plug-in models with over 40 miles of electric range. And the latest Range Rover PHEVs offer a staggering 60-plus miles on electric power. But that’s only if you plug them in.

Really, the message of the ICCT study is simple: if you’ve made the decision to purchase a plug-in hybrid, then plug it in! While charging a PHEV is not mandatory, like in an electric car, they only deliver their benefits when plugged in regularly and when operated on electric power as much as possible. If you’ve made the commitment to the additional up-front or monthly cost for a PHEV, maximize its benefit by charging it at home or work – and enjoy significant fuel savings, and do your part for the environment as well.

With the electric driving range offered by most modern plug-in hybrids, daily charging might mean you only have to visit a gas station once every several weeks, as most of your driving will be completed in EV mode. That means less messing with fuel pumps, fewer hassles, and the ultimate in comfort and convenience.

Car charging in front of home

Charging Your PHEV at Home

The best solution, if you have a driveway or a garage, is to install a level 2 charger at home. Home charging lets you simply plug in your PHEV at night, just like you would your phone. Plus, the best and cheapest time to charge is typically at night, when you’re sleeping. When you get up the next day, your PHEV will have a full tank of electrons – ready to take you on your daily errands and continue reducing your carbon footprint.

If you’re ready to make the switch to a plug-in hybrid, or already have, GreenCars offer simple tools to find the home charger that’s best for you, and even locate an electrician who can install it professionally.

Front view of a Tesla Model 3 driving through canyon roads

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