Is it time for you to go green with your car? It’s no secret that the current climate emergency has us all thinking more about our carbon footprints and the impact our day-to-day lives have on the world around us. We all want to do our bit for the environment where we can. Eco-friendly cars are one of the biggest and easiest steps we can take.

For a long time, cars with any sort of ‘electric’ engine component were seen as a laughing stock. Only suitable for those who were desperate to show off how conscious they were about the environment. This was in part thanks to the general public opinion on climate change and global warming. But also because of the technology. The early electric cars were glorified go-karts, with limited range and only really suitable for short trips. The good news is that the technology has changed.

Electric and hybrid cars today are comparable with their regular petrol and diesel engine counterparts. In fact, if you look at most of the models, they are indistinguishable from their fossil fuel counterparts. Charging stations are also much more prevalent, with the network expanding all the time.

But even with the improved technology and charging network, you still might be hesitant when it comes to making the switch. Have you considered going for a PHEV? Combining the best of a regular engine car with the benefits of an electric vehicle, it could be the solution you’re looking for.

What are PHEV's?

A PHEV is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Like a hybrid vehicle, a PHEV will switch to a petrol or diesel engine when the battery gets too low or it needs more power to achieve high speeds on a motorway. Unlike some hybrid vehicles, you can plug this car in to increase the charge, so you don’t need to expend any petrol or diesel to charge the electric battery.

The first PHEVs were mass produced in 2010, with models hitting the road in the US and China before rolling out across Europe and Canada. In December 2019, it was recorded that 2.4 million PHEVs were on the road across the globe, with over 150,000 in the UK alone.

What are the benefits?

The biggest benefit of a PHEV is how it combines the ease of charging with the extended range of a normal engine vehicle.

With the majority of hybrid cars, you have to drive them to charge them. That means you end up spending money on petrol and diesel to help recharge the battery of the electric car. The action of the engine and the rotation of the wheels helps generate the electricity to refill the battery. While you do end up spending less money at the petrol pump than you would with a petrol or diesel engine car, you still have to make a trip to the pumps. With a PHEV, you can plug-in your car to charge it. So if you are not making a long distance journey and are just using the electric engine, you can recharge the battery at home or at a charging station.

The next best thing about a PHEV is the hybrid part of a car. Electric vehicles today are still limited by their range. So unless you can factor in regular breaks at a charging network, you can only do the amount of miles that are in the electric battery. Having it be a hybrid means you can use the petrol or diesel aspect when you need to. So if you are travelling in a part of the country where the charging network is not as widespread, or if you spot a long queue for the charging station, you can decide to continue on with your journey and recharge later. You may also find that it’s easier to find a petrol station than it is to find a charging point.

An often overlooked positive of an electrically powered vehicle is the reduced noise. Normal combustion engines are by their nature noisy, as the burning of the petrol and the diesel to create the energy takes place. Electric engines don’t have the same issue. So, in a well-designed vehicle, the noise as you drive is greatly reduced. If you’ve ever driven an older car, or one that has been well-used, the variety of different noises and screeches that you hear as you go about your business. So at first you’ll probably find it unnerving to not have any of those sounds, just the gentle whir of the electric engine.

But of course, the biggest plus of any electric vehicle is that you spend less money at the petrol pump. Aside from the environmental implications, a PHEV will mean you aren’t going to be having to budget for a regular trip to the pump. Electric vehicles are also amongst the lowest taxed cars on the road, and the insurance costs can also be lower.

What are the downsides?

With all electric cars, you are relying on the availability of the charging network. Range is one of the biggest factors when it comes to deciding whether an electric vehicle will work for you. The network is growing by the day, but at the moment, it’s mainly in urban areas that they are prevalent. And, while you have the petrol and diesel option of the hybrid engine, you still might be wanting to use the electric engine to save on costs. That means planning each trip to ensure you have charging points available to power your journey.

There is also the time it takes to charge. While it’s getting faster all the time, you still have to wait for the battery to charge a lot longer than it takes to fill up at the petrol pump. And that’s if you can get to the charger. You might have seen the long queues at charging points in the US as drivers wait their turn to plug-in their vehicle. This may leave you resorting to your fossil fuels, something that makes buying a PHEV a bit pointless.

You also have less choice when it comes to PHEV. Many car manufacturers are taking steps to provide PHEV versions of their popular models, there are still a lot more options to choose from if you decide to go for petrol or diesel.

One other factor to consider is repairing your car. PHEVs are a new type of technology so there’s no guarantee that every mechanic will have the expertise needed to repair your vehicle. This may lead to you having to change garage, or have less of a choice when it comes to where to take your car for repairs and services.

A final thought, PHEVs are not as fun to drive as petrol/diesel vehicles. They are more practical than their regular-engine counterparts. This may change in the future as the electric engines become more powerful and the handling improves, just see how Tesla’s quick start can launch you from 0-80mph. But for now, it’s something to consider if you need some fun in your driving.

Can you plug it in?

When you are considering buying a PHEV, there is one thing you need to think about more than anything – will I be able to plug it in at home? If you have a house with a garage, then this can be relatively straightforward, with the dealer you buy the car from able to help install the charging point for you.

But if you live in a block of flats, or you rent a place somewhere, then it might not be so straightforward. Plug-in cars are still a relatively new phenomenon, and most homes don’t have the infrastructure in place to cater for them. So you will need to speak to your landlord or the building management company to see what can be done to ensure you can have access to a charging point.

Installation itself is not an issue, providing you have the permission and space to have it installed. And if you buy a secondhand PHEV, there are companies out there that will install a charging point for you.

What incentives are there?

The UK government currently has some incentives in place for those looking to buy a PHEV. If the car is described as being in ‘category 1’, then you can apply for a grant. To qualify for the grant, the car must cost less than £50,000. The grant will pay up to 35% of the car, up to a maximum of £3,000, including delivery costs and VAT.

If you need to install a car charger, there is an additional grant that you can apply for. This is £350 (including VAT) that goes towards the cost of installing the charger at your home. This is called the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme.

Tax is also much lower than most cars, with the cost set between £0-100  during the first year, depending on the CO2 emissions of the hybrid engine. After that, tax can be anything up to £140 for the year.

Which plug-in cars are there?

There are more options than you might expect for a PHEV, even if not every make and model has a PHEV spec to choose from.

Car companies in South Korea and Japan have been ahead of the curve with electric and hybrid technology. The Hyundai Ioniq is one of the most economical PHEVs available, and it also comes with a five year unlimited mile warranty.

One of the most famous hybrids is the Toyota Prius, which was the first model to introduce the idea to the mass market. The Prius Plug-In is the model’s 4th generation, and it’s been recorded as getting a mightily impressive 67.2 miles to the gallon, comparable with the smartest diesel engines.

European car makers are also making strides into the hybrid and PHEV market. One of the best looking PHEVs is the BMW 330e, which converts the famous 3 series into a plug-in option. You can benefit from the BMW turbocharged petrol engine and add a powerful electric motor to the package.

Skoda have also entered the race, with the Skoda Superb IV taking the powerful engine from the Volkswagen Passat and combining it with a smart electric engine. You’ll also find plenty of space inside and the car itself is relatively affordable. However, range is a bit limited to 35 miles, so you’ll be using the petrol or diesel engine more than you might like.

If you want to buy British, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Vauxhall have made a big push into the hybrid market. The Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 is the company’s first PHEV SUV so ideal for a family vehicle. Range is still lower than you might like, but for running around town with the kids, its ideal.

Should I get petrol/diesel, hybrid or electric?

Opting for a PHEV has become a lot easier thanks to the development of the technology and the expansion of the charging network. Choosing a plug-in car can be a way to save money, get behind the wheel of an excellent motor, and lower your carbon footprint. But you also need to be honest with yourself.

Are you spending a large amount of your time driving long distances on motorways, either for work or for family commitments? Do you have the time to plan each journey and potentially spend time waiting at charging stations? Then you may find a petrol/diesel engine could be better suited for you.

Are you only driving around town and short distances? Do you rarely travel further than a hundred miles? Then you may not even have to go for a PHEV, and go for a fully-electric vehicle. Providing you know the range and can plan your journeys, then you can completely eliminate the need for petrol or diesel.

But in all these cases, a PHEV can be the best option. You have the petrol/diesel option for when you need it, and the electric motor to save you money when driving in and around town. As long as you can install the charging station at your home, then you should seriously consider opting for the PHEV.

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