Plug In Hybrid Advantages and Disadvantages

February 16, 2012

Plug in hybrid cars offer many benefits of both conventional electric and hybrid cars. Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of plug in hybrids.

Plug In Hybrid

Not everyone knows what a plug in hybrid is or what kind of benefits one offers, much less how they work or how they are different from normal hybrids.

The Hybrid Concept
Very simply, a hybrid car is a vehicle that relies on two or more sources of power to move it. In the case of today's mass-produced hybrids, that means that they use both a gasoline and an electric power plant to drive them. The hybrid drive system can operate using electric power only, gasoline power only or both, depending on conditions. The reason that hybrid vehicles are more efficient than conventional gasoline-only vehicles is because they have the ability to "reclaim" energy that was once wasted, for example, the energy used when braking.

The Plug-In Difference
All hybrid cars carry a battery pack in order to store electricity for their electric motor. In a normal hybrid car, this battery pack is charged by components within the vehicle itself (either by electricity from an engine generator or regenerative braking). The difference between a conventional and a plug in hybrid is simple. The plug in hybrid can also be charged by connecting it to a wall outlet in your home or elsewhere.

Apart from the Chevy Volt, there are few mass-produced Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) available. Consumers that want to take advantage of the plug-in concept can modify an existing hybrid car to function as a PHEV. Basically, this involves adding extra batteries in order to improve the hybrid's electrical holding capacity (its electric "fuel tank") and adding a "jack" in order to connect it to the power grid.

The extra battery capacity of the plug-in hybrid is the key to reaping the benefits of the PHEV configuration. On a conventional hybrid car, that kind of extra capacity is out of reach. The car never fully charges except on long freeway trips. By adding the plug in jack with the extra battery, the PHEV has the ability to use its extra capacity by running on all-electric mode for an extended range (30 miles or more). That means that instead of burning gasoline, the car uses electrical energy (which is much cheaper). Since most trips are less than 30 miles, that means the vehicle can operate in-town without ever using a drop of gasoline. Beyond just the economic savings of using a cheaper energy source, PHEVs drastically reduce harmful emissions and also help to reduce our country's dependence on foreign oil. As with most new technologies, there are some advantages and disadvantages that prospective buyers should be aware of.


  • The miles per gallon on a plug in hybrid are often amazing. There were talks of making a 100-mpg vehicle. Some plug in hybrids even exceeded that mark. The Chevrolet Volt's 150 miles per gallon is currently the best fuel economy you can get
  • Lower emissions is another benefit of plug in hybrids. Less gas is being used, so fewer emissions come out. Emission levels are even lower than from regular hybrids, and obviously much lower than normal, gasoline cars
  • Plug in hybrid cars typically have battery capacities large enough that you can drive on just the electric battery and not use a drop of gas. Most of these ranges are 50 miles or so. The only time you would need gas is on longer trips
  • The cost for a plug in hybrid's electricity is much cheaper than gas. If you are using mostly electricity, then paying the equivalent of 75 cents per gallon is much better than three or four dollars a gallon for gas. You can fill up your car with any electrical outlet at your home, someone else's home, or a gas station


  • Plug in hybrid batteries do cost more than normal hybrid batteries. They are powerful lithium ion batteries but with that power comes added cost. Up front, it can be a few thousand extra. However, in time the batteries pay for themselves, and then save you money by using cheap electricity compared to expensive gasoline. These batteries do have less range in them as a whole. The plug in hybrid is much tougher on the battery, causing fewer cycles for the battery's lifespan. The number of charges may be the same, but since the range is less than other electric cars, you will go much less distance overall on a plug in hybrid battery
  • There are some safety concerns with a plug in hybrid. Gasoline is flammable, and is definitely needed in the car. Coupled with that, there are also charged batteries, and many more than in your normal hybrid. If a collision were to occur, there are worries of potential dangers
  • Plug in hybrids still use gas. So you still need to keep up with your car as you would your normal car with checkups, oil changes, etc.
  • If you are going on long trips, the gasoline engine will pretty much do all of the work. This can cause reduced mileage over a long trip because your car is carrying unwanted weight in batteries plus the gasoline engine

    Plug In Hybrid vs. Common Hybrid Vehicles

    The greatest difference between the plug in hybrid and the common hybrid electric vehicle is that HEVs rely on gasoline and electricity to run while the PHEV can run on electricity alone. The use of both gasoline and electricity was already fuel efficient, but only at 70 to 80 percent. With a vehicle running solely on electricity, its fuel efficiency can reach its maximum.

    In a HEV, the gasoline engine refuels at a gas station and as it's running it charges batteries to run the electric motor. A PHEV does this too, but it has the added ability to recharge at any electrical outlet of the correct wattage. The plug-in is designed to charge like any home appliance with its own electrical plug. Today's home can be a charging station without replacing any electrical outlets.

    In Europe, they have built solar stations and parking structures where plug-in hybrids can safely park and recharge their battery reserve. These facilities collect solar energy while providing secured parking. Although the use of plug in hybrids in the U.S. is still at a minimum, charging stations gather increasing interest, as manufacturers encourage locals to drive plug in hybrids.

    What Is the Best Plug In Hybrid Vehicle?

    The best plug in hybrid would have to be the Chevy Volt. Some may say the Fisker Karma, which is a great car, but it's so expensive, $80,000, that many can't afford it. The Chevy Volt is a car that most people can afford, at $30,000. The car can work by using its two motors, electric and gas, getting around 50 miles per gallon. However, when it's plugged in, the fuel economy triples to 150 miles per gallon. Chevy wanted a car that could enable someone to drive to their work, and then come back home, without using any gas whatsoever. It has done so with the Chevy Volt. The car has a range of around 40 or 50 miles while on electric power. If your trip is longer than that, there is the gas tank to finish the job for you. The Chevy Volt is a reliable car that can, over time, save you some money with its incredible fuel efficiency.