Sustainable Living

A Guide to Hybrid Vs. Electric Cars, So You Can Choose the One That Fits Your Lifestyle

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ICYMI: Global warming is real. It’s because of this and overwhelming concern surrounding climate change that more people than ever are taking actions to lead more sustainable lives. Some are focusing on recycling and nixing single-use plastics or wearing the right sunscreen for the health of environment-supporting coral reefs. While others are trading in gas-guzzling vehicles in favor of eco-friendlier models. In myriad ways, folks across the world are hoping that these daily changes are what will make our future brighter (but hopefully not warmer). If you're considering switching to a more sustainable vehicle, though, it may seem like a big jump to go fully electric—which is where hybrid models come into play. In comparing hybrid vs. electric cars, it's helpful to take into account factors like cost and the specific features that matter to you most.

Thankfully, it's about to get easier to leave your gas-powered vehicle behind, no matter if you're going for a hybrid car or electric vehicle (EV). On December 13, 2021, the Biden administration released its EV Charging Action Plan, which outlines “steps federal agencies are taking to support developing and deploying chargers in American communities across the country.” Beyond ensuring that charging stations are more readily available across the country (thus addressing one of the biggest stresses associated with electric vehicle ownership), President Biden hopes that, by 2030, the US will make up 50 percent of all EV sales, consequently outcompeting China and positioning itself as the most-climate-conscientious country in the world.

Pretty impressive, right? As applaudable as these efforts (or, rather, intentions) are, it’s important to consider everything that goes into being the owner of a hybrid or electric car. Namely, what sets hybrid and electric cars apart, what makes a high-quality EV, and who the best candidate is for both types.

What to know about hybrid vs. electric cars

Hybrids are split into two categories: Standard hybrids have a combustion engine that pairs gas with an electric motor, while plug-in hybrids run primarily off of an electric motor, but they have a combustion engine on stand-by should the electric charge sputter out mid-drive. Then, there are electric vehicles, which don’t use any gas at all.

“There are many advantages to both hybrid and electric vehicles, mainly the decreased reliance on petrol,” explains Andre Hudson, Head of Design at INDI EV, a Los Angeles-based EV manufacturer that released its first car, the INDI One back in October.

Additionally, Hudson points out that another key advantage of electric cars vs. hybrid models, in particular, is that, thanks to their high-voltage systems, they can also run mobile computer hardware, helping to further navigate the digital future of transportation. In other words, it’s because of these computers that cars like Teslas offer everything from hands-free driving to in-car entertainment, like video streaming and car karaoke.

“Electric vehicles are fast, quiet and smooth; they require less maintenance, have lower costs of ownership, and can be plugged in at home or on-the-go at public charging locations.” —Shad Balch, communications director at General Motors

In that way, Shad Balch, director of Chevrolet communications at General Motors, says that electric vehicles bring new levels of ease and affordability to the lives of owners. “EVs are fast, quiet and smooth; they require less maintenance, have lower costs of ownership, and can be plugged in at home or on-the-go at public charging locations,” he says, noting that, best of all, EVs have no tailpipe emissions.

The best candidate for an electric car

Now, we know what you’re thinking, EVs have lower costs? While they may initially cost more than your average fuel-powered vehicle, during the span of their life, they will ultimately cost less since they don’t require gas. That said, in order to be a good candidate for an electric car, you have to be able to afford it upfront—that’s not necessarily to say in full, but rather that your income can support the payments.

Beyond being financially capable, the best candidates for electric cars are eco-conscious people looking to incorporate their means of transportation into their sustainable lifestyle.

Key things to remember about electric vehicles

One of the biggest misconceptions about EVs is that they’re less powerful than fossil-fueled vehicles. In reality, “from daily commuting to weekend adventures, electric vehicles can do everything a gas-powered vehicle can do,” Balch explains, noting that,Chevrolet will be offering five electric vehicles in 2023, ranging from small SUVs to full-size trucks.

As more electric-powered car options come to market—145 million are expected to be on the road by 2030, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)—you’re bound to find a vehicle that fits both your lifestyle and budget needs. But with the rise of EVs comes a problem researchers are still attempting to solve for: How to recycle electric car batteries in a way that doesn’t release the toxic chemicals or heavy metals they contain back into the environment. This was less of an issue when there were fewer EVs in use, but with increased demand, scientists, car manufacturers, and legislators are all looking into ways to ensure that the eco-advantages of electric vehicles aren’t negated once they’re no longer in service.

Potentially, this could look like a combination of government-mandated rules around recycling electric car batteries and manufacturers repurposing materials from existing EV batteries to make new ones rather than mining for new materials, according to the AAAS. Before buying a new EV or hybrid car, it’s worth asking your dealership or researching the manufacturer to determine what options (if any) they offer for recycling your car’s battery at the end of its life cycle.

At the moment, electric car batteries are expected to last 15 to 20 years, according to National Grid. So while solving the problem for how to recycle them a decade or two from now needs to absolutely be a priority, what’ll happen to your battery in the future doesn’t need to deter you from making a more eco-friendly investment today. Just know that when the time comes, you’ll need to find a way to dispose of it that diverts it from landfills, so factor that into pros, cons, and costs of owning one.

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