Whether you’re looking to reduce tailpipe emissions, save on gasoline costs or both, green vehicles are the way to go. However, you may not be ready to convert 100% to a fully electric vehicle like a Nissan LEAF or Tesla Model 3.

Fortunately, other electrified vehicles are more convenient than fully electric cars, and these are hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. When considering hybrid vs. plug-in hybrid, it can be challenging to decide which is best for you. Below, we compare the two to help you decide if you’re best suited for a hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicle.

Hybrid vs. Plug-In Hybrid: The 30,000-Foot View

When looking at a hybrid vs. a plug-in hybrid, the basic differences are clear on the surface, giving you the 30,000-foot overview of this comparison.

Hybrid vehicles come in two main flavours: mild hybrid or full hybrid. Mild hybrids were popular in years past because they were less expensive and simpler, so they cost less. However, a mild hybrid has an electric motor, but its dedicated use is to power various accessories and give the internal combustion engine (ICE) a boost from a stop. It does not continuously power the vehicle in any manner and generally has minimal impact on fuel economy and tailpipe emissions.

A full hybrid vehicle, on the other hand, has electric motors that can operate in full electric mode — almost like an electric vehicle — at low speeds. At higher speeds, the ICE kicks in to provide primary power while the electric motor helps increase efficiency and power. These two power units will work together to ensure your full-hybrid car delivers optimal power and fuel economy.

A plug-in hybrid vehicle plugs into an electrical outlet at your home or into an electric car charger to charge its battery. That battery, in turn, gives you a range in which you drive 100% on electricity. Once you deplete the battery, the vehicle operates like any other hybrid.

Hybrid vs. Plug-In Hybrid: The Bigger Picture

With the basics out of the way, it’s time to get a look at the more significant differences between a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).

Hybrid vs. Plug-In Hybrid: Battery

HEVs and PHEVs both have battery packs, but they differ in their purpose. The battery has just enough juice in an HEV to offer power for low-speed driving in cities and parking lots. At higher speeds, the ICE takes over with only minimal help from the electric motors and battery. This low-capacity battery prevents it from driving long distances or high speeds on electricity alone, but it is also dramatically cheaper.

A PHEV, on the other hand, uses a much larger battery pack. This allows the PHEV to drive as an EV for longer periods until you deplete the battery. At that point, a PHEV operates much like a standard hybrid, alternating between electricity and a gas engine. This larger battery comes at a higher cost, hence PHEVs higher starting prices.

Hybrid vs. Plug-In Hybrid: Charging and Driving Range

Another significant consideration when looking at hybrid vs. plug-in hybrid is the charging and driving range. The first thing you’ll notice is a PHEV has a charging port, whereas a hybrid does not. A hybrid charges its small battery pack in two ways, through a generator attached to the gasoline engine and via regenerative braking. Because it rarely relies solely on electricity and has no full-electric driving range, it doesn’t have a large electricity demand.

A PHEV, however, generally has at least a small all-electric driving range — often 40 kilometres or so — making them ideal for those who drive short distances. To get the electric power needed for this driving range, you generally need to charge it overnight on a standard 120-volt power outlet. You can also charge them on 240-volt level 2 chargers — in-home public charging stations — but this is overkill for most owners.

Once you deplete the battery pack, a plug-in hybrid car continues operating like a full-hybrid vehicle.

Hybrid vs. Plug-In Hybrid: Fuel Efficiency

Fuel efficiency is another area where PHEVs and HEVs differ. A PHEV will have two sets of fuel economy ratings, Le/100 km and the standard L/100 km. The Le/100 km is the rating when it’s operating only on electricity, and the L/100 km is when it switches to a regular hybrid. On top of these economy numbers, you’ll also see a driving range, the distance the vehicle can drive on electricity only with a fully charged battery.

An HEV, on the other hand, will only have the L/100 km rating, as they have no official electric driving range.

A good overview of the fuel economy differences is the Hyundai IONIQ, which has a hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrain available. The base IONIQ has fuel-consumption ratings of 4.3 L/100 km city, 4.1 L/100 km highway, and 4.2 L/100 km combined.

The IONIQ PHEV, on the other hand, has ratings of 4.5 L/100 km city, 4.6 L/100 km highway, and 4.5 L/100 km combined. When operating on the car’s battery power alone, though, it has a rating of 2 Le/100 km combined and a 47 km driving range.

Hybrid vs. Plug-In Hybrid: Pricing and Incentives

Pricing between an HEV and PHEV will vary greatly with the type, year, make, and model of vehicles you’re looking at. However, all things being equal, you can expect to pay more for a PHEV than an HEV, whether it’s new or used.

Their incentives also vary. Hybrid vehicles have no federal incentives, whereas PHEVs have two levels of federal incentives. With an electric range of 50 km or more, you can get a point-of-sale incentive of up to $5,000 on a new PHEV. For those with a range under 50 km, you’ll get up to a $2,500 incentive. Some provinces also have incentives for new and used PHEVs. Sometimes, these incentives can make up the difference in pricing between a hybrid and plug-in hybrid.

Hybrid vs. Plug-In Hybrid: Which Is Right for Me?

Deciding between a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid depends on various factors, but the main ones are budget, driving style, and charging accessibility.

If you commute only short distances, like 40 km or less round trip, a plug-in hybrid could make you forget that gas stations even exist. Many PHEV owners like this will fill up their gas tanks only a few times per year, as they use the battery power for most of their trips. They only use gasoline if they go on a road trip.

If this is you, a PHEV model, such as the Toyota Prius Prime, Toyota RAV4 Prime, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, and others may be best.

You also have to consider your budget, as all other things being equal, a PHEV will typically cost more than an HEV. If you can’t swing the extra cost, this could force your hand to a hybrid model, such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, Kia Optima Hybrid, and more. However, calculate all the national and provincial incentives when looking at your budget.

You also need to consider whether or not you have access to electricity to charge a PHEV. If you live in a home, you likely have a 120- or 240-volt plug nearby to charge a PHEV. However, if you live in an apartment complex that does not have public charging stations, you may not be able to charge it overnight, rendering its all-electric range useless.

Find a Quality Used HEV or PHEV at Clutch

Have you decided on the hybrid vs. plug-in hybrid debate and are ready to buy your next HEV or PHEV? You can save thousands compared to a new car by opting for a quality used hybrid or plug-in hybrid from Clutch, Canada’s premier online automotive retailer.

At Clutch, quality is always our main focus, so we put every car we sell through a 210-point inspection and reconditioning process. We then toss in our 90-Day Protection Plan and nationwide roadside assistance for extra peace of mind. If you need more coverage, we also offer a range of Extended Warranties.

If you are uncomfortable buying a car 100% online, Clutch helps put your mind at ease with our 10-Day Money-Back Guarantee. This ensures that if you don’t love your new HEV or PHEV in the first 10 days, you can exchange it for a new one or return it for a no-questions-asked refund.

Check out our inventory of quality used hybrid vehicles and used plug-in hybrid vehicles today and choose a model suitable for you. You can also set up financing and even get your trade-in vehicle appraised online. There’s no need to set foot in a dealership.