What you need to know about electric, plug-in and hybrids, and how to tell which is right for you
The Skinny on Green Cars
Hybrids: Gas + Battery = Great MPG
- Uses a large lithium-ion battery to store enough juice to operate a car at low speeds and to run the car’s electrical system while idling
- Uses the gas engine to recharge the battery (the same way the standard 12 volt car battery is recharged)
- Uses braking to recharge the battery (the friction drives energy back into the battery–very smart
- Relies on a gas engine for much of its performance
- Efficiency can be reduced in winter months (due to a fuel mix that is less efficient)
- Use of heating and air conditioning can reduce efficiency, too
Plug-in hybrid: Months between gas station visits
- Has a larger battery that can be charged through a 120-volt (standard household) outlet
- Can travel 20 to 40 miles on a charge
- Takes up to 12 hours to fully charge
- Costs .75 to $1.50 for that charge (on average)
- Recharges the battery (slightly) during driving and braking
- Relies on a gas engine when the battery’s charge is exhausted, and for acceleration or driving at high speeds.
- Owners who plug in their car daily often only hit the gas station every few months. Yes, months.
The added advantages of a plug-in hybrid or a hybrid
- You’re never at the mercy of a dead battery when it runs out of juice
- You have the power you need on the highway, in hilly areas or in challenging conditions like snow and ice.
- Both are virtually silent when operating on battery power, and very quiet when operating on gas
- Most use lightweight plastic parts in places such as bumpers and side panels to reduce the car’s weight
- Many use recycled materials throughout the car
- Most have reinvented instrument panels so you get all kinds of cool indicators of how much energy you are using and how much gas you are saving
- Most have reduced emissions systems called ULEV, or Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle; being practically fume free, you can start the car in your garage on a cold day, turn on the heat to get it toasty warm and have no gas fumes in the garage or the car.
Three Cars Worth Seeing
- Read here about the Ford C-Max Hybrid
- Read here about the Chevrolet Volt
- Read here about the Ford Fusion