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There are many types of zero or low emission cars, with different technologies. Two of the most popular types are electric cars and hybrid cars. Here is a quick summary of these to help you decide which suits you.
An EV (sometimes known as a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)) is powered by battery; not by petrol or diesel. You can recharge it by plugging it into a home-installed or public charging point. Public chargers are being installed in more and more places, such as supermarkets, motorway services, petrol stations and even at places of work.
If you choose to install a charging point at home, check to see if you are able to get a Government grant to help pay for the installation.
EV ranges tend to be less than petrol or diesel cars. But most EVs can now travel between 200 and 350 miles on a single charge under official testing. And with no exhaust emissions, EVs are considered a very 'green' way to drive.
Charging your car at home normally takes longer (8-12 hours) than by using public charge points (3-4 hours on fast charge or 20-40 minutes using an ultra-fast unit) . However, home charging is normally done overnight so can be very easy. Just like charging a mobile phone.
The cost of buying an EV depends mainly on make and model, but they are normally more expensive than a similar petrol or diesel car. This cost may be reduced if you are eligible for a plug-in Government grant or manufacturer’s incentive. Also, they can be cheaper to run and maintain in the long run.
A plug-in hybrid (PHEV) has both a petrol or diesel engine and a battery powered motor. Again, these can work together to help reduce emissions, run on the engine alone or on electric-only for up to 35-40 miles of emission-free travel. That could be perfect for your daily or weekly commute and trips to shops.
If you need to travel further, the electric motor can still power the car for higher speeds and longer distances than a full hybrid (FHEV) car. Once the battery gets low, the petrol engine takes over seamlessly.
These types of hybrids do have some regenerative braking technology but can only recharge the battery a little. To get the most out of them, they must be plugged in and charged in the same way as electric cars. However, the recharge times are quicker than with EVs as the batteries are much smaller.
As with electric cars, you can plug them into either home or public charging points. If you want to install a charging point at home, you may be able to get a Government grant to help pay for the installation.
Typically, you should be able to travel 20-30 miles using the electric motor, but some models can do 30-40 miles. As the batteries in PHEVs are much larger, as is the motor, they can do longer journeys in electric mode than FHEVs. And, as you have the petrol or diesel engine ready to take over, there should be no range anxiety in using a PHEV.
As PHEVs have smaller batteries than electric cars, the recharge times are less. Again, charge times depend on whether you are using a home or public charge point and the size of the battery. Generally speaking, the longer the car can travel using the battery motor, the longer the charge time.
The fuel economy of PHEVs can vary greatly. The miles per gallon (MPG) depends on the model, distance and speed of travel, driving style. And most importantly, it also depends on how much EV mode is used (electricity is much cheaper and more efficient than petrol or diesel).
The manufacturers' official figures can range from around 100 - 250 MPG. However, real world driving MPG can be less and you will have to do much of the driving in electric mode to achieve this. If you mainly use your PHEV for short trips here and there, you could drive without using the petrol engine at all. But normally, there are times when the engine kicks in to power the car.
A full hybrid car is powered by both a petrol/diesel engine and a battery. This lets you drive on petrol/diesel only, electric-only or a combination of both. When using both engine and electric motor together the power switches between them automatically.
The batteries are much smaller than those found in electric cars or plug-in hybrids, so can only cover a mile or two, at low speed, on electric-only power. However, these do not need to be plugged in to recharge. By using regenerative braking, they recharge the small battery while the car is being driven under braking.
The benefits of this type of hybrid are an increased fuel economy over standard petrol/diesel cars with reduced CO2 emissions.
With new legislation taking effect from 2030, hybrid cars are unlikely to be sold as new cars in the UK as they do not have a significant zero emission mileage capability. Existing hybrid cars built and registered before this date can still be used or sold though.
An FHEV cannot travel for long distances on electric-only. Electric-only travel is normally for slower, town or city centre driving and limited to only a mile or so. At higher speeds, the petrol or diesel engine will take over and power the car fully.
Due to the use of a battery helping the petrol engine, FHEVs tend to get better fuel economy than a standard petrol or diesel engine car. In terms of (official) miles per gallon (MPG), this could be in the region of around 80-90 MPG. The MPG in the real world depends on speed, distance and how you are driving and could be more like 60-65 MPG.
On the test drive
After you’ve finished
 Nature Sustainability: Net emission reductions - from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions over time.
This information is correct as of 8th October 2021
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