What's the difference between electric and other cars?

Which car type? The difference between electric, hybrid and petrol / diesel vehicles explained   

For years, most of us have driven petrol or diesel-powered cars, also known as ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. But in the UK alone, there are now more than 1 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road, whether battery electric vehicles (BEVs) or plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). If you are thinking of upgrading or switching to an electric vehicle, it's important to understand the differences between the types, so you can pick the car that's right for you. 


A battery electric car uses one or more electric motors to drive the wheels; all the power comes from a battery. You charge your car by plugging it in, at home or at one of over 35,000 public charge points across the UK (as of November 2022). Electric cars are quieter and have no gears, resulting in a more relaxing driving experience. Another benefit is that they are more responsive, the power being instantly available to drive the electric motor.

There’s no need to fill up with petrol or diesel. This type of car, with no nasty exhaust emissions, is your best option if you want to go green. If you are able to charge at home and have an EV-friendly tariff, you should be able to fully charge an electric car with a 64kWh battery (for example) for about £7.70, based on 12p/kWh from 12:30am to 4:30am (November 2022). And if you can’t charge at home, don’t worry: there are public charge points all over the UK. To find chargers near you, have a look at our charge point map.

The cost of a brand-new electric car can be higher than an equivalent petrol or diesel vehicle, but as manufacturers launch new models, the budget-conscious driver has more cars to choose from than ever before. It also pays to look at all the costs involved – check out our total cost of ownership tool here, where you can compare the cost of an electric car with its petrol equivalent. 

There are financial benefits of driving an electric car if the organisation you work for offers a salary sacrifice scheme (whereby an employee pays for the vehicle from their gross salary), or you can arrange a lease through your business. What’s more, electric car drivers don’t pay vehicle tax (as at November 2022), while the cars have fewer moving parts so there’s less to go wrong. This brings the price of maintenance down compared with ICE vehicles. 

Just like petrol or diesel vehicles, electric cars can be leased on personal contract or business contract schemes. Find your perfect car to lease with ElectriX


Plug-in hybrids 

A plug-in hybrid vehicle, or PHEV, can be powered by petrol or diesel with an additional input of electricity, with the option of plugging it in to charge the battery.

The battery is much smaller than in a “proper” electric car – and only able to go about 20 to 30 miles on each charge. So, if you do a lot of short journeys you’ll benefit from the cost savings of using the battery. However, as soon as it runs out of charge, you’ll be back to burning diesel or petrol.

PHEVs are charged by connecting the vehicle to a charge point at your home, or at one of the many public charge points across the country.

A plug-in hybrid – or any other type of hybrid – won’t be as green as a battery electric car, as it has a conventional engine under the bonnet. And the long-term cost savings are unlikely to be as good as those of an EV, as you’ll need to maintain the engine as well as the electric motor.



A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) is refuelled with petrol or diesel only, but uses some of that fuel to charge a small battery that lets you drive a few miles using electricity. It can’t be charged with an exterior power supply. 

The battery grabs energy from what’s known as regenerative braking – a clever system that sends power back to the battery when you brake, as it does in a battery electric car. 



Petrol and diesel

Most of us drive a petrol or diesel car. We’re comfortable with them, we understand the technology and it’s familiar. What’s more, they are generally cheaper to buy new than their electric equivalents. There’s also a well-established used car market if you decide to replace your existing vehicle with a newer one.

However, petrol and diesel engines are bad for the environment. They consume huge amounts of fossil fuels that can’t be replaced, and pump harmful emissions into the atmosphere. In addition, they usually have higher running and maintenance costs than electric cars, and forecourt petrol and diesel prices continue to fluctuate. For more information, see our article that looks at how much it costs to run an electric car.

You won't be able to buy a new petrol or diesel car from 2030, thanks to government legislation. So, if you’re in the market for a new car, now is the time to look at other options, such as leasing an electric vehicle.

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