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Hybrid and Electric Vehicles to Avoid

BY: Keith Benline
Electric car plugged in outside house

You’re not alone if you’re considering buying an electrified car (a hybrid or electric vehicle). According to the U.S. Energy Administration, it’s a path taken by almost 18% of new car buyers in the third quarter of 2023. That translates into more than 680,000 consumers looking beyond conventional automotive choices to save on gas costs and reduce environmental impact. The number rises to the millions when looking at annualized sales.

While more people are buying hybrids and EVs, not all purchasers are familiar with the unique functionality and ownership considerations these vehicles present. It’s less of an issue with hybrids because these vehicles still require trips to the gas station and engine maintenance. However, EVs introduce a new world of factors, like range, charging, and different upkeep standards. Whether you’re buying new or used, getting a handle on these essentials will put you on the right course.

Keep reading as we explore the primary elements of hybrids and electric vehicles. You’ll not only learn about key concepts but also discover examples of what electrified vehicles to avoid.

Terms to Know

Hybrid A hybrid car (sometimes called a hybrid electric vehicle or HEV) uses an internal combustion engine and an electric motor (powered by a battery pack that charges through regenerative braking and the internal combustion engine to propel the wheels). The system switches between the power sources automatically for optimal fuel efficiency.
Plug-In Hybrid A plug-in hybrid (or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle or PHEV) is a type of hybrid automobile that has a larger, more advanced battery that can be charged by plugging it into an electric power source, allowing the car to be powered solely by the electric battery for a limited range (usually 20-50 miles) before switching over to the gasoline hybrid mode for longer trips.
EV An EV (electric vehicle) is an automobile that uses one or more electric motors powered by a battery pack that is charged by plugging the vehicle into an electric power source. The system propels the wheels solely on electric power without an internal combustion engine. These cars are sometimes referred to as BEVs (battery electric vehicles). 

Factors in Assessing Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

Think about how the telephone has changed over the past decade. Chances are you grew up in a household with a landline telephone. Today, less than 25% of homes have a hard-wire connection to the telephone network. Radical technological changes have impacted the car industry, too.

Modern conventional automobiles are more advanced than models from the 1980s and 1990s, but they still have an internal combustion engine (ICE) in common. However, hybrid technology has brought gasoline engines to another level of efficiency, and EVs do away with fuel-powered engines altogether. Along with changes comes new terminology and new understandings.

While hybrid technology is elaborate under the hood, it’s relatively straightforward from a usability standpoint. Just fill the car up and drive, relying on a battery pack and electric motor to maximize fuel economy. You’re mostly focusing on miles per gallon. There are maintenance matters, which are discussed below.

A PHEV adds a layer of complexity. You’ll need to pay attention to charging and all-electric range. However, there’s still the gas-powered hybrid engine to fall back on. The charging and range equation changes significantly with an EV. Ignore these elements, and you have a brick on wheels. Let’s dive into these and other considerations.

Battery Range and Charging

Commonly referred to as “range anxiety,” some EV buyers and owners get concerned about not having enough battery range. This is less of a problem for a secondary vehicle mainly used for commuting and local errands but can be a real issue for a primary vehicle, especially for longer trips.

Older lower-cost EVs like the Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen e-Golf offer a range of around 100 miles per charge, while newer mainstream models offer a capacity of 250-300 miles. Examples include the Hyundai Ioniq 5, and the Tesla Model Y. High-end EVs (such as the Lucid Air and the Tesla Model S) provide 400-500 miles of range.

Owning an EV requires having access to a charging solution. A 2022 J.D. Power report reveals that 84% of EV owners charge their cars at home. This means relying on a standard 120-volt household current (Level 1) or a 240-volt system (Level 2). Commercial chargers also offer Level 3 charging (DC fast charging). How fast an EV charges depends on the charging level and the battery’s ability to accept current.

Charging Level Voltage Charging Speed Example Charging Times Common Locations
Level 1 120V AC Slowest Light-duty BEV: 40-50 hrs from empty

PHEV: 4-8 hrs

Homes
Level 2 240V AC (residential)

208V AC (commercial)

Faster than Level 1 Light-duty BEV: 4-10 hrs from empty

PHEV: 1-4 hrs

Homes, workplaces, public stations
Level 3/DC Fast Charging DC (direct current) Fastest Light-duty BEV: 80% in 20 min-1 hr

Most PHEVs: not compatible

Heavy traffic areas, public stations

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

Battery Longevity

The high-voltage battery (or traction battery) is a vital component of any hybrid, PHEV, or EV. And, like all batteries, it wears down over time. Perhaps you’ve noticed your cell phone or laptop doesn’t stay powered as long as it used to. Electrified vehicles are no different.

You’ll want to keep this in mind if you’re buying used or if you buy new with the intent of keeping the car for a decade or so. Depending on the manufacturer, high-voltage batteries are generally warranted for eight to ten years or 100,000-150,000 miles. For instance, the traction battery in a newer Toyota Prius comes with a guarantee that’s good for ten years or 150,000 miles. Some Tesla Model 3 editions are covered for eight years or 100,000 miles, others for a longer period.

Eventually, the traction battery requires replacement. So, buying an older Prius may seem to be a bargain, but getting hit with a $2,000-$5,000 bill for a new battery can make a deal less appealing. Replacing all or some high-voltage cells in an EV can run $10,000-$20,000.

Fuel Efficiency and Environmental Savings

It’s not unusual to see some hybrids achieve 50+ MPG, 40%-50% higher than ICE-powered equivalents. If you’re going the EV route, get used to a new term, MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). EVs typically exceed 100 MPGe ratings (a 30 MPG gas vehicle equates to 99 MPGe). Like with conventional vehicles, smaller EVs are more efficient than larger ones.

Once you have a handle on numbers, determine how the savings might add up. This can be more complex with EVs, but an online calculator can help with the process. Electricity rates vary by utility, and using a commercial charger (like Tesla Supercharger, Electrify America, or ChargePoint) usually costs even more.

Incentives and EV Tax Credits

Federal and state incentives for electrified vehicles are a moving target. Rather than list rebates and other programs that may become outdated, spend time researching what’s available in your area. Consumer Reports offers a handy online tool; there are numerous other resources. Remember that recent federal programs include up to a $4,000 tax credit on used EVs, and some states offer generous incentives.

Ongoing Ownership Cost Considerations

While EVs have lower maintenance costs than hybrids and conventional automobiles, they still require upkeep. Sure, tune-ups and other engine-related repairs are things of the past, but EVs weigh more. So, you’ll likely have to replace the tires sooner, and the suspension can require more frequent attention. Further, when service is necessary, expect higher repair bills. Parts can be harder to find, and fewer shops can work on electrified vehicles.

In addition, spend time getting insurance quotes before committing to a hybrid or EV. More complex technology and higher service costs usually mean more expensive premiums. For example, MarketWatch reports that it costs about $3,000 annually to insure a Tesla, 50% higher than the national average for a conventional car.

Hybrid Models to Approach with Caution

While models like the Prius have helped establish the legitimacy of hybrid technology, some examples are best left in someone else’s driveway. These include:

Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid

Sold from 2008-2013, the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid seemed like a good idea on paper. Yet combining a large SUV with hybrid technology never appealed to the masses due to higher upfront costs and not-so-great fuel economy. Although the car received generally good owner reviews, seeing a “worst ever vehicle owned” comment is a cause for concern.

Chevrolet Volt

Chevy’s first plug-in hybrid (2011-2019) proved popular and reinforced the automaker’s electrified car credentials, but this PHEV has a history of electrical troubles. It’s an issue that undercuts the confidence in the vehicle’s core technology.

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Combining a minivan’s hauling capabilities and a hybrid’s fuel economy makes sense, but Chrysler couldn’t quite pull off the effort. The Pacifica Hybrid has a history of numerous troubles, including electrical issues and engine problems. The vehicle is still in production.

Nissan Altima Hybrid

Nissan joined the hybrid craze by licensing Toyota technology and putting it in the Altima sedan. The underlying concept appeared sound, but fuel-conscious consumers bought the Prius instead. The Altima Hybrid (2007-2011) was never popular. Due to its rarity, hybrid-related parts can be hard to find and expensive.

EVs Falling Short of Expectations

EVs aren’t perfect, either. Here are some that fail to deliver.

BMW i3

BMWs are known for two things: sharp looks and engaging driving characteristics—the i3 featured neither. Putting its quirky appearance aside, the expensive i3 offered sluggish performance. Meanwhile, its electric-only range maxed out at 150 miles (some editions couldn’t go beyond 75 miles). An optional range extender (an on-board gas-fueled generator) doubled (at best) the i3’s distance capability.

Lexus RZ

While Toyota stands out as a leader in hybrid technology, its efforts with EVs are underwhelming. The Lexus RZ, the first EV from Toyota’s luxury division, features a 266-mile range. It’s a capability that matches the Chevy Bolt, an EV that sells for half the price.  The RZ is the upscale corporate cousin to the Toyota Bz4X, another EV with a sub-par range (252 miles).

Nissan Leaf

Nissan’s Leaf deserves credit as the first mass-market EV made available to U.S. consumers. However, early editions were short on range (about 75-105 miles) and slow to charge. Even the second-generation base model only offers 150 miles of use.

Volkswagen e-Golf

While new Volkswagen EVs provide competitive range and capabilities, this wasn’t the case with an earlier effort, the e-Golf. Adapted from the ICE-powered Golf, this all-electric hatchback suffered from poor range (80-100 miles) and anemic acceleration. U.S. sales lasted from 2015 to 2019.

Limitations of These Models

Seeing that some hybrids and EVs are far from perfect is a good opportunity to recap what buyers and owners have to understand

  • Range/Charging: Range (or lack thereof) is at the core of EV ownership. Like gas limits how far an ICE-powered vehicle can travel, so does the charge in an EV’s battery pack. Charging also goes hand-in-hand with EV ownership. It’s not much of an issue once a charger is set up at home, but public charging facilities aren’t as ubiquitous as gas stations.
  • Battery Life / Warranty: It’s essential for EV buyers and owners to understand that high-voltage batteries don’t last forever. Eventually, they’ll need to be replaced at the cost of thousands of dollars.
  • Upkeep Costs: Maintenance for an EV doesn’t involve oil changes, but there are still upkeep requirements. And service work can be more expensive because EV repairs often require specialized skills.

Extended Warranties and Protecting Your EV/Hybrid Investment

Daily life is filled with enough to worry about. But the reality is that eventually, every car needs repairs. The potential for a breakdown and surprise repair bills makes matters worse. One way around these concerns is an extended warranty (also called a vehicle service contract or auto protection plan). An Endurance VSC can limit out-of-pocket expenses and provide peace of mind against the uncertainty of car ownership. This coverage can be invaluable after the factory warranty has expired.

For instance, we offer plans that protect hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius. There are options to cover primary powertrain components like the engine, transmission, and drive axle. Expanded programs can protect the air conditioning, electrical system, and complex electronics such as the infotainment system. Coverage excludes the hybrid traction battery.

In addition, Endurance offers coverage to Tesla owners. It’s a comprehensive program that covers qualified high-voltage batteries (the traction battery) and other key components.

Endurance customers enjoy 24/7 roadside assistance (with towing coverage and lockout assistance), rental car reimbursement, and trip interruption support. In addition, plan holders can choose from any ASE Certified mechanic or shop for covered repair work.

Discover all the benefits of an extended warranty! Request a FREE online quote, call (800) 253-8203 for one-on-one help from an Endurance plan advisor, or visit our online store for instant price and plan details.

Read the Endurance blog for expert-written articles about vehicle maintenance, DIY tips, car reviews, and more.

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