Article | Guide

Hybrid and electric cars – what's the difference?

011 Mar 2024

This easy guide explains the difference between the two

Curious about the new car types available out there? Contemplating a more electric way of driving? Or just want to understand the difference between electric and hybrid cars? We’ve got you covered. At bp pulse, we help people get clued-up with electric driving.

So, first things first. Both electric cars (EVs) and hybrids run on electricity but have crucial differences. Let’s take a look at the main five.

1. Their power source

Electric cars (EVs) are powered only by electricity which is stored in their battery pack (like your other electric devices, such as your phone or laptop.) EVs get their charge by plugging into an electric power source – the chargers that you’ll have seen.

Hybrid cars also get their power from electricity, but they can also run on petrol, or a combination of both. That's because their insides are slightly different. Look inside a hybrid and you’d see, as well as a battery and an electric motor, an internal combustion engine.

In a nutshell: Both use electricity, only hybrid uses gasoline too.

2. Tailpipe emissions

The combustion engines in hybrid cars release waste products from their fuel. These come out of the car when the engine is deployed, and are known as tailpipe emissions.

Electric vehicles (EVs) produce zero tailpipe emissions.

In short: Only hybrids produce tailpipe emissions.

3. Clean air zone exemptions

As you may know, cities across the UK such as Bristol, Glasgow, and London and others have clean air zones, (CAZ, or in London, ULEZ) which charge vehicles with higher tailpipe emissions.

Generally, EVs may be exempt from paying charges, because they have zero tailpipe emissions. Hybrids may not be.

Because there’s no one-size-fits-all policy across separate city councils, it’s always worth double checking with the relevant city if you’re planning a trip. This guide to exemptions is useful, too.

In short: EVs are less likely to be charged in clean air zones because they have zero tailpipe emissions, but double-check for each city.

Find out more about public EV charging

We'll keep your electric vehicle moving as you travel around the UK with our network of charging points—so you can plug in, power up, and go.

4. Charging up

EVs get their power source using a charging station or home charger, and how quickly they reach their chosen charge depends on things like the charger speed of the charger, and the capacity of the battery, too.

Hybrid cars do not need to be plugged in for charging. That’s because they typically charge their batteries through regenerative braking and engine power while driving. (But always double check for each make and model, if you’re thinking of buying one.) They don’t need any external sources of charging or rely on a charging infrastructure.

In short: Only EVs use chargers or charging stations

5. Their battery size and range

Both cars have batteries. But there’s a crucial difference. The battery in a hybrid car is relatively small compared to an EV’s battery. That’s because a hybrid’s battery assists the combustion engine, rather than work on its own to power the vehicle. In a way, it’s the engine’s sidekick. This means that hybrids typically have a shorter electric-only range of around a few miles.

EVs have larger battery packs, because that’s their sole way of getting power. The range of an EV – or, how long it can travel on one charge – varies depending on its make and model and battery capacity, but many modern EVs can travel over 200 miles (320 kilometres) on a single charge. That’s about the distance between London and Leeds.

Essentially: Because of their bigger battery size, EVs can typically go considerably longer than a hybrid on a single electric charge.

Now you’ve got the five facts at your fingertips, we hope you feel clearer about these two types of vehicles. If you are driving – or thinking about getting – a hybrid, our Fuel & Charge card can help you fuel and charge in the UK and across Europe.

And for more helpful charging, why not download the bp pulse app (it’s free) and see where you’ll find us.

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