The Difference Between Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles

Updated on January 22, 2019
beagrie profile image

John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. Former automatic-transmission repairer, welder and hobbyist game developer.


In recent decades, technology has had a tendency to move at break-neck speeds. It's easy to forget that only three generations ago, most people didn't have electricity, let alone a car. These days electric cars are making major in-roads (pun intended) into the mainstream market. But the shift from combustion engines to electric vehicles is far from smooth. It's no surprise, then, that in all the bluff and bluster of old versus new, an intermediary has emerged to ease the transition. That intermediary is the hybrid engine. But what is the difference between hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles?

Hybrid engines have become increasingly popular, but what do they actually do?

What Is a Hybrid Engine?

Hybrid vehicles make the best of both worlds. They use traditional combustion engine technology to make use of existing infrastructure. The traditional engine is then supplemented with a more efficient electric motor. The result is a vehicle that is cheaper to run, easier on the environment, and doesn't require charging stations to be built all over the world.

In its most simple form, a hybrid vehicle will use the electric motor to power the vehicle at lower speeds. It will then switch to the combustion engine when faster speeds are required. The hybrid system may make use of both the electric and combustion side of things if a little extra "juice" is needed: for example, when climbing a steep hill.

The Toyota Prius is one of the most successful examples of hybrid vehicles.
The Toyota Prius is one of the most successful examples of hybrid vehicles. | Source

Essentially a hybrid engine is a regular engine with an electric motor attached to take some of the workload. The engine itself still runs on fossil fuel like regular cars, but it uses much less fuel and puts out much less emissions.

But that's not all. There is another kind of hybrid. Plug-in hybrids are the latest in this kind of automotive technology, and there is a significant difference between hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Now you understand what a hybrid does, let's look at the plug-in flavour.

What Is a Plug-in Hybrid?

Where a regular hybrid is pretty much a typical internal combustion engine with added electrical goodness, a plug-in hybrid approaches things from the other direction. In fact, it is more akin to a full electric vehicle than to the average road-going combustion variety. It uses its electric motor as often as possible, and will only make use of the internal combustion engine component when the battery level of the vehicle has dropped to the point that it can no longer adequately power the vehicle.

Plug-In Hybrid vehicles make use of both traditional fossil fuels and electrical charging.
Plug-In Hybrid vehicles make use of both traditional fossil fuels and electrical charging. | Source

The combustion engine component of a plug-in hybrid can act in one of two ways. Either as a regular engine—converting combustion energy into movement—or as a generator, running purely to charge the vehicle's batteries. Other than in low battery situations, however, a plug-in hybrid exclusively uses stored electricity which came from—you guessed it—being plugged in.

We know what they do, but let's spell out the differences.

So What Is the Difference Between Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid?

Think of a hybrid vehicle as a regular internal-combustion-engine vehicle with an extra electrical motor. This motor can be used in certain situations, with the result that overall you use less fuel and have fewer emissions. A plug-in, on the other hand, is like an all-electric vehicle that has an extra internal combustion engine as back up. This means that the range of a plug-in hybrid is greater than that of an all-electric car.

What's the Difference Between Hybrid and Plug-In?

Consider a spectrum, with internal combustion engines on one side and all-electric on the other. The difference between hybrid and plug-in cars is that they are at slightly different points on that spectrum. They serve the same purpose using similar technology. A hybrid is not quite an internal combustion engine, and a plug-in hybrid is not quite an all-electric car.

Of course, knowing the difference between hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars is only half the battle. It also helps to know what those differences mean.

Which One?

What would you like your next vehicle to be?

See results

Let's look at the pros and cons of each of the four main engine types.

Pros and Cons

Perhaps you're looking to buy a car and aren't sure what kind of engine to get. Maybe you're just curious. Knowing the difference between hybrid and plug -n hybrid is all well and good, but what are the positives (and negatives) of having one?

They don't exist alone in the market, however. So in this section you will find the pros and cons of both hybrid and plug-in hybrid, as well as internal combustion engine and all-electric.

Internal combustion engines are the engine of choice for the overwhelming majority of vehicles.
Internal combustion engines are the engine of choice for the overwhelming majority of vehicles. | Source

Internal Combustion Engine


Internal combustion engine vehicles have been in production—in some form or another—for hundreds of years. We as a species have gotten good at making them, and can mass-produce to a very high quality. Another positive that comes from a long time in production is lower costs. Regular internal combustion engines are far cheaper to make than their hybrid and electric replacements, just because the production process has been refined over such a long time.

And let's not forget the infrastructure. Gas stations litter the developed world. If you have a car that runs on petrol or diesel, you can be confident you will be able to find somewhere to fill it up when you need to. The same cannot be said for electric vehicles... yet.


The most obvious downside to the internal combustion engine is the environment. There is no longer a valid debate to be had on whether or not climate change is real, only on what we can do about it. How significant a role internal combustion engines play in this may be argued, but that they do play a significant role is obvious.

If the environmental impact isn't enough of a negative, however, consider the fossil fuels used to power the vehicle. They will eventually run out. And for those of you born after 2000, there's a good chance they'll run out in your lifetime.

Hybrid Engine


Essentially, the pros and cons of the hybrid are the same as those of an internal combustion engine. You can make use of the existing infrastructure, and most of the technology under the hood is well established and relatively inexpensive to make.

Now, however, you have the added bonus of lower running costs and less of an environmental impact.


Of course, on the flip side, most of the cons are the same. Hybrid engines are still reliant on fossil fuels and all the baggage that comes with that. They are also more expensive than their fossil-fuel-only counterparts.

Plug in and electric vehicles can be charged at the home using a special cable.
Plug in and electric vehicles can be charged at the home using a special cable.

Plug-In Hybrid Engine


Plug in hybrid cars have the advantage of not being entirely reliant on fossil fuels. Though they are designed to make use of traditional automotive fuel, they can be run without ever needing to "fill up."


While they are more efficient and environmentally friendly than the previous two engines, they are not as efficient as fully electric vehicles for most cases. Research has shown that the fuel efficiency of a plug-in hybrid is always less than that of an electric car when the journey is under 100 miles.

Electric Engine


Absolutely zero direct impact on the environment. Of course, the electricity you're charging your car with could have come from a coal-fueled power plant, but that's a different issue.


The range of an electric vehicle is somewhat limited by its batteries. Battery technology has not advanced as quickly as other areas. The result is that the range of your all-electric will be considerably lower than that of one of the above alternatives.

Which would you buy? Which SHOULD you buy? Let's sum it up.

Summing It Up

The difference between hybrid and plug-in hybrid is really not a lot in practical terms. There are major differences that go largely unseen by the average driver, sure. But the car itself operates in much the same fashion, save that you can charge it.

If you came here trying to decide what kind of car to get, there are a number of personal factors not mentioned in this article that will affect your choice. The most significant two are cost and journey.

If you are limited in the amount you can spend on your vehicle, you will be looking at an internal combustion engine or hybrid vehicle. The technology of plug-in hybrid and all-electric is not mature or widely adopted enough to get around that unfortunate reality.

If your vehicle will be used for long journeys you can almost certainly rule out all electric vehicles. The technology in electric cars isn't up to road-trip length drives. And charging stations are not yet ubiquitous.

Ultimately, you want to aim for a car that's as free of fossil-fuel dependence as possible. If not for the warm and fuzzy feeling of being better to the environment, then for the longer term benefits to your bank account when it comes to running cost. Remember, fossil fuels are only going to get more expensive. Meanwhile plug-in hybrid and electric technology will decrease in cost as more adopt it.

Unfortunately, we're not there yet. And many will be forced by practicality to go for more traditional vehicles, and take steps later toward that cleaner future.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 John Bullock


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Eli abiraad 

      7 weeks ago

      Great article indeed! simple English and straight to the point!

      On the other hand, I will say it's excellent if you add few lines about the maintenance cost for each category. Moreover, and after the release of the "Planet of the Human" documentary by Michael Moore on YouTube couple of weeks back, it seems that Fossil fuel is not a good option as we thought it is!!

    • profile image


      3 months ago

      Extremely well explained and clearly informative

    • profile image


      6 months ago

      Great article. Really laid out the differences clearly

    • profile image

      Ed Breyer 

      16 months ago

      Very useful and informative info! I'm seriously considering a hybrid. However, I did wonder about your comment that climate change is definitely related to the internal combustion engine. I have a sincere question that nobody seems to be able to answer: If mankind (and our creations like the internal combustion engine) are indeed responsible for rising global temp - what caused the earth to be MUCH warmer than it is today back when dinosaurs roamed? That is a serious question.

      I'm all for stopping global warming - if we can do it without returning to the stone age - but are we really sure we can?

      Thanks again for the great article!

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      2 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      A really useful hub. Informative and well presented. You clearly know your subject. Tip top.


    • WheelScene profile image


      2 years ago from U.S.A.

      Really comprehensive article, thanks so much for sharing! The future is electric!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)