What is the difference between a petrol and diesel car to a hybrid and electric car?

by Steph Carty 7 months ago

Today, there are several types of cars on the road including petrol and diesel, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and electric cars, but what exactly is the difference? In this article we take a look at the most common car types and their differences.


Petrol & Diesel Cars

Petrol and diesel both fall under the same category in regards to that they both use internal combustion engines to power. No assistance is needed from an electric motor or mechanism. However, petrol and diesel vehicles differ in the way that the combustion occurs. For a petrol engine, it combines fuel with air before being ignited by spark plugs to power your car. With a diesel engine, the air is compressed beforehand and then the fuel is injected to power the car.

Why choose a petrol or diesel car?

The advantages to choosing a conventional petrol or diesel car is at present they provide a greater miler range. So, if you’re planning a trip across the country you’re more than likely to arrive at your destination without the need to refill your tank; however if you do need to, there are many fuel and service stations along main routes making you feel more comfortable and safer if you were to run low on fuel.

Another advantage to conventional cars is that there is a huge range of makes and models available so whichever type you’re looking for, you’re bound to find one to suit your needs. Petrol and diesel cars have been around for a number of years; the petrol-powered car was developed in 1885 by Karl Benz and production of the first diesel car started in 1933.

Petrol and diesel cars are more cost-effective to purchase, with some new smaller city cars starting from as little as £9,995. However, compare to this to the cost of an electric car from new, you’re looking at around a starting price from £20,000.

Disadvantages of petrol and diesel cars

There are some disadvantages to choosing a petrol and diesel, more widely known with diesel engines, which include higher road tax, the release of toxic emissions and greenhouse emissions into the environment. However it should be noted that vast improvements have been made in more recent times on engine performance and fuel cleanliness. One example is that direct injection devices are now controlled by advanced computers, which monitor fuel combustion, increasing efficiency and reducing emissions (How Stuff Works)

With petrol and diesel cars, fuel prices are a lot higher in comparison to an electric car. For example, to fill a medium sized petrol car with a fuel tank of 55 litres at a cost of £1.21 per litre, it would cost around £66.55 to fill. On average this would last up to around 450 miles (based on driving habits). To charge a Volkswagen e-Golf at home it would cost around £4.51 and that would provide around a 144 mile range (based on WLTP). To charge the electric e-Golf at a public rapid charger to  around 80% battery charge, it would cost around £4.64 (PodPoint). Comparing these two costs you would need to charge your electric car 3 times costing less than £15 to reach around the same range of a petrol car which costs around £66 to fill.


Plug-in Hybrid Car

You may see the term PHEV written across various websites and in the media, this is known as plug-in hybrid. A plug-in hybrid runs initially on an electric motor (supplied by a battery pack) and also a combustion engine; the electric motor powers the car for some of the journey, then once the power runs out the combustion engine takes over to run the car.

SKODA Superb iV plug-in hybrid
SKODA Superb iV Plug-in Hybrid

How far can a plug-in hybrid travel without using fuel?

This all depends on the make and the model but usually ranges between 30 to 50 miles on average; some cars which exceed this mileage can offer a range of nearly 100 mile electric range.

A plug-in hybrid can be charged several ways. The first way is through the combustion engine which can also recharge the car’s batteries; this is known more commonly as ‘regenerative braking’. This is a process where the electric motor helps to slow down the car and uses some of the energy which is normally converted to heat by the brakes. This way of charging can also be used on hybrid and 100% electric cars too.

Secondly, a PHEV can be charged at multiple locations which have charging stations. This could be at your place of work, a supermarket, a fully electric charging station and service stations or even at home. With all of these forms of charging, a cost may occur, although some workplaces will offer free charging. To find out about all of the available charging points and stations in your area visit Zap Map on both your desktop or mobile. Depending on the charging point type, it can take anywhere between 45 minutes to 8 hours to charge your battery to 80% to 100%.

Charging your plug-in hybrid in public

Advantages of plug-in hybrids

One of the key advantages for a plug-in hybrid is that if you’re travelling om short journeys, only the electric motor will be used, which will save you money on fuel. This is where a PHEV has a greater advantage over a hybrid car too; find out more about hybrid cars below.

On top of a greater electric range than a hybrid, PHEVs have lower CO2 emissions and in some cases, you pay no road tax (if the vehicle emits less than 100g/km of CO2). As less gas is being used, fewer emissions are released.

Disadvantages of plug-in hybrids

A disadvantage for a plug-in hybrid is that it can be slightly pricier than a hybrid due to the larger battery size, and also more expensive than a conventional car (petrol and diesel). Also if you are travelling on a longer journey, it’s likely that the combustion engine will be mainly in use to power the car, this can reduce the mileage you can travel before you need to refill/charge, as the car will be carrying extra weight (i.e. the battery as well as the gasoline engine).

What plug-in hybrids are coming soon and now available?

In 2020 there will be a range of plug-in hybrids available including the SKODA Superb, SEAT Tarraco PHEV, SEAT Leon and Volkswagen Touareg. Already on the market is the Volkswagen Golf GTE, Volkswagen Passat GTE and Passat Estate GTE, BMW 530e, Volvo XC60 and Kia Niro.


Hybrid Car

A hybrid, also known as a HEV, is where both the electric motor and combustion engine work together to provide forward motion. Usually in a HEV, it starts off using the electric motor, then as the load or the speed of the car increases, the fuel engine starts; this makes it very economical for stop/start city driving and fuel economy. When only the electric power is running, the car is very quiet, this also applies to plug-in hybrid cars too.

Just like the plug-in hybrid, whenever you deaccelerate or use the brakes, the regenerative braking system kicks in (see above for more information), which is stored in the battery for use later.

Both an advantage to hybrid and plug-in hybrids is that company car drivers will pay less Benefit-In-Kind (BIK) tax than drivers of petrol or diesel cars. In addition to this, cars which emit less than 75g/km qualify for London congestion charge exemption.

A disadvantage to a hybrid car, like a PHEV, is that they are usually more expensive to purchase than a petrol/diesel, although in the long run, this would even out once you compare the cost to charge and fuel the car to a conventional car. Hybrids are less effective when it comes to long distance driving, as it will be the combustion engine doing the hard work, in turn, this can lower your total mileage before topping up your fuel, as you will be driving with the weight of the battery too.

Hybrids currently available

There are a number of hybrids currently available on the market from Volkswagen, Toyota, BMW and Hyundai.

Volkswagen Golf GTE Hybrid
Volkswagen Golf GTE Hybrid

100% Electric Car

A 100% electric car is basically what it says on the tin, power is provided by an electric motor with no gasoline engine. You may also electric vehicles written as EV or BEV (Battery Electric Vehicles).

2020 is going to be the year of electric cars, many car manufacturers are launching a number of electric cars. To name a few; Volkswagen ID.3, Volkswagen e-Up!, SEAT el-Born, SKODA CITIGOe iV and Vision iV plus the SEAT Mii Electric is already open to order. Other manufacturers which offer fully electric cars include BMW, Nissan, Audi and Tesla.

So what happens when the battery runs low on an electric car?

When the electric range runs low, the car must be plugged in to a socket to recharge its batteries, if not, the car will not run once the battery loses its charge. Many of the fully electric cars which are currently on the UK roads offer ranges of over 140 miles on a single charge, this will only increase in time as the technology develops for future electric cars. However, there are EVs on the road today which offer over around 200 to 300 mile range just on one charge.

The upcoming Volkswagen ID.3 which is coming in 2020, will offer an electric driving range of up to 340 miles (depending on the battery size you choose). Find out more about the Volkswagen ID.3.

As electric cars are on the rise, there are more charging points being installed. As of 13th November there were 10,243 locations in the UK with charging points (see the latest updates at Zap Map). These charging points can be found at supermarkets, at your workplace, certain car parks and also some service stations.

There are multiple ways to charge your electric car; the first is from a standard household (120v) outlet which can take around 8 hours to charge. You usually find these at home or at your workplace. The next charging outlet provides 240v which can take up to 4 hours to charge; again, these can be found at your workplace or public charging stations. Finally, DC fast charging is currently the fastest charging solution on the market which can be found at dedicated charging stations at some supermarkets and service stations on the motorway; the battery can be charged to 80% in around 30 minutes.

Advantages of an electric car

An electric vehicle is very cost-effective to run. When it comes to powering and charging your EV in comparison to filling a petrol/diesel tank it only costs between 2 and 5 pence, this can save you around £1,000 a year!

One of the key reasons drivers are moving to electric vehicles as their first choice, is down to helping the environment become a greener environment! EVs do not emit any harmful emissions meaning there is less pollution in the air. In turn this creates better air quality which leads to better health for humans and animals. Further to this as EVs are very quiet, there is less noise pollution.

As there are fewer moving parts in an electric car in comparison to a conventional car, all in all, it’s cheaper to maintain; there’s no exhaust, fuel injection, radiator etc… on an EV. Batteries on an EV typically come with an 8 year warranty, but after this time the performance remains high; read more about the warranty on a electric battery.

Volkswagen ID.3 charging

In terms of power, torque and acceleration, electric vehicles generally perform better as they have a low centre of gravity which means it’s easier to turn and pull away from traffic lights, as well as less risk of rolling should an EV be involved in an accident. One example of performance is for the Volkswagen ID R which not only set a record for the fastest EV to climb Pikes Peak in 2018, but also smashed an impressive 15 seconds off the outright Pikes Peak climb record!

Electric vehicles are great news for company car drivers! In 2020/21 company car drivers who opt for an EV will pay no Benefit-In-Kind (BIK) tax, after 2021 there will be a small percentage to pay but this will be minimum in comparison to a petrol/diesel car.

Disadvantages of electric cars

With many new electric cars currently, a high price tag is attached in comparison to conventional cars. The price is usually attached with the battery and the technology within the car. However, the cost of the battery is currently falling around 20% each year, so it won’t be long until EVs cost the same as a fuel and soon become major competition.

Non-electric car drivers have ‘range anxiety’ when it comes to deciding if they want an EV as their next car. This means the panic of running out of electric charge and not knowing where to go or what to do. This fortunately works the same as running low on fuel, you know where the nearest fuel stations are around you and if you’re planning a long trip, you ensure your tank is filled. So just as you would do with a conventional car, you’d do the same with your EV; charge your battery fully before heading on a long-distance trip. There are also many apps which show you where the nearest charging points are, and today there are now more charging points than petrol stations in the UK, many of which include rapid charges which charge your battery to 80% in around 30-45 minutes!

Zap Map electric charging point map
Zap Map of electric charging points

As driving fully electric is still a fairly new concept for many drivers, the advancements in technology will soon shape the future of driving and electric cars is going to be a big part of the future. Read more about the top 10 myths associated with electric vehicles.


So, whether you choose to stick with what you know with a petrol or diesel, or you join the ever-growing hybrid and electric car club, there are pros and cons to all. In the coming years there will be a huge influx of hybrid and electric cars on the roads, and you never know once you learn more about EVs, in time you may convert to electric!

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