What is a plug-in hybrid or PHEV? | DrivingElectric

If you’re not quite ready to switch to driving an all-electric car, you might be considering a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) as a solution that offers the best of both worlds. As with any type of hybrid, they have pros and cons. But with some of the best plug-in hybrids now claiming over 50 miles of electric range, is a PHEV the best hybrid type for your needs?

Here we will explain the differences and similarities between plug-in hybrids and other types of hybrid cars, which are hybrids (sometimes called “full hybrids” or abbreviated as “HEV”, for “hybrid electric vehicle”) and mild hybrids (sometimes abbreviated as “MHEV”, for “mild hybrid electric vehicle”).

Just like other types of hybrids, plug-in hybrids combine an internal combustion engine with an electric motor and a battery. Unlike “full” hybrids, however, they need to be plugged in to charge regularly in order to work as intended.

Non-plug-in and plug-in hybrids use an electric motor and a combustion engine to drive the car. These can work independently or in combination, but the plug-in’s larger batteries allow the motor to be used over much longer distances – typically 20-30 miles or more, compared to just a mile or two for a non- plugin.

PHEVs occupy a middle ground between battery electric vehicles and full hybrids. The main practical difference between them and battery electric vehicles is that they can continue to drive after their battery is completely depleted, relying solely on the internal combustion engine to turn the wheels.

How does a PHEV (plug-in hybrid) work?

Plug-in hybrids typically have a battery connected to an electric motor, with the battery being larger than what you get in a “full hybrid”, but smaller than what you get in a purely electric car.

The Renault Captur E-TECH plug-in, for example, has a 9.8 kWh battery. The plug-ins also feature an internal combustion engine, which is usually a petrol, but can sometimes be a diesel, as in the case of the Mercedes E-Class hybrid.

The battery in a PHEV is charged from the mains, which means you need to plug the vehicle into a regular household outlet, household wall box or public charging point. Usually the electric motor does all the driving at slower speeds, until the battery runs out or you demand a level of speed and acceleration where the extra power of the combustion engine is needed.

Driven gently, PHEVs can typically travel 20 to 30 miles or more on electricity, after which the internal combustion engine takes over. Some of the more recently launched models, such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE plug-ins, extend that range to over 80km or more.

However, the battery does not need to be empty for the engine to start. This can happen if the electric motor is too cold or too hot, or when functions that consume a lot of energy such as heating or air conditioning are activated.

Rhythm F

Advantages and disadvantages of plug-in hybrids (PHEV)

Plug-in hybrids address one of the main concerns of buyers regarding electric vehicles, namely battery range. Many looking to upgrade to an electric car may worry about how far they can travel in a purely electric car and how long it takes to fully charge the batteries.

With a PHEV, as mentioned above, the internal combustion engine takes over from the electric motor when the battery is depleted. But the daily commute and errands of many British motorists could easily be done in electric mode. And when it comes to long drives, you don’t have to worry about battery drain, as the car automatically switches to the internal combustion engine.

However, there are a few drawbacks. Because plug-in hybrids effectively have two different powertrains, they weigh more than conventional cars. This has an effect on ride quality, with plug-in hybrids often feeling heavier and harsher than internal combustion engine vehicles, especially on poorer roads.

It can also be difficult to achieve the fuel economy figures claimed for plug-in hybrids, which are often in the triple digits. Depending on your driving style, distances covered and how easily you can recharge the battery in the evening, you can see closer to 30 or 40 mpg.

Kia Sportage PHEV

Are PHEVs tax-exempt?

Whether your plug-in hybrid is completely tax-free depends more on when you bought it than on the exact type it is. In April 2017, the Department of Transport introduced a new set of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) bands. These apply to all new cars registered after 1 April 2017.

Under the current system, only zero-emission cars are exempt from VED, so PHEVs registered in April 2017 or later are subject to road tax. This is usually £155 per year (a £10 reduction on the normal annual rate of £165), but can be higher if your car’s list price (including selected options) exceeds £40,000. In this case, you have to pay an additional £355 the first five times you tax it, bringing the annual bill for that period to £510.

Grandland PHEV

How can I get the most out of my PHEV?

Just like a regular electric car, there are plenty of ways to maximize your plug-in’s battery life. Try to accelerate gently and steadily in all-electric mode, as rapid acceleration and hard braking will reduce range. Also consider turning off features like the air conditioning if you don’t really need it, as this also draws power from the batteries.

The condition of your tires and their pressure can also make a difference. Properly inflated tires reduce road resistance and therefore mean your engine or electric motor (or both) don’t have to work as hard to keep the car going.

Sportage PHEV

How to recharge a PHEV?

You charge a PHEV the same way you charge an electric car. The first thing you need to do is make sure you know what type of plug your car needs. Most PHEVs come with a Type 2 plug as standard.

At home, you can use a standard three-prong outlet to charge your PHEV, but it will take several hours. The exact time depends on the size of your car battery. Renault claims that a three-prong plug would take around four to five hours to charge a Captur E-TECH plug-in’s battery, which might just be all you need if you’re leaving the car to charge during the night.

To locate charging stations to charge on the go, use your car’s built-in satellite navigation system (most PHEVs have this) or download a dedicated charging station app. These all show charging points near your current location and the best ones should also show information such as if they are currently busy or down, what type of wired connections they have, how much they charge and who operates them .

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