What's different about electric cars?

What makes petrol, diesel, hybrid and electric cars different?   

For years we’ve all driven petrol or diesel cars, also known as ICE (internal combustion engine) cars, and now suddenly there are electric and hybrids all over the place. You need to know the main differences so you can pick the right car for you. 

Petrol and diesel

The good bits  

  • Most of us drive a petrol or diesel car and we’re comfortable with them  
  • Mostly cheaper to buy than electric  

The bad bits 

  • Petrol and diesel engines are bad for the environment. Full stop. They chew up huge amounts of fossil fuels we can’t replace and pump harmful emissions into the atmosphere    .  
  • High running and maintenance costs    
  • Rising cost of petrol and diesel 
  • Planned government ban on sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 


An electric car uses electric motors to move the wheels and the power comes from a battery. You charge your battery by plugging it in, kind of like giant toaster or kettle, at home or at one of the 29,000 or so public charge points across the UK.  


The good bits 

You don’t need to fill it with petrol or  diesel, just plain old electricity and as a bonus there are no nasty emissions coming from the car's exhaust.

The bad bits 

  • Although car manufacturers are getting new models on the market all the time, the cost for a brand-new electric car is normally higher than the equivalent petrol or diesel.  
  • Some worry about how to charge them, and you either need a home charger or access to one of the 29,000 public charge points across the UK. 

Hybrid or electrified  

Hybrid, or electrified cars, aren’t electric cars. Instead, think of them as a mash up between a petrol or diesel and an electric car - and there are several different kinds.  

The good bits 

  • They use less fuel than petrol or diesel cars so they’re a bit better for the planet.  
  • You can save on congestion charges and road tax against petrol (but not as much as electric).  
  • If you do a mix of short journeys in town (less than 20 miles) and longer cross-country driving, then hybrid could be an option.  

The bad bits 

  • You don’t get the same ongoing cost saving as electric  
  • They aren’t as green as proper electric cars.  

The most common electrified hybrids on the market right now are mild or standard hybrids and plug-in hybrids. But there are also Fuel cell vehicles (FCV), also called hydrogen cars, powered from a hydrogen tank in the car.

Do electric cars produce less CO2 than other cars?

If you drive a petrol or diesel car you're pumping CO2 into the atmosphere every time you nip out. Electric car exhausts don't have any carbon emissions.
Find out more