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Eco Friendly Driving

Electrics, Hybrids and Gas-Sippers: Understanding Your Green Driving Options

Emily Guy Birken

Filling up the tank is noticeably more expensive than it used to be—and unfortunately, it’s likely that gas prices will continue to rise.

When the cost of driving is a serious pain in the wallet, Americans are likely to turn to more fuel-efficient vehicles to help them weather rising prices. According to Statista’s 2020 Global Consumer Survey, 56% of American adults consider fuel efficiency an especially important characteristic of their next car purchase. That’s more than the 55% of respondents who cited safety as one of their top concerns and the 46% who listed a low price.

If you’re thinking about getting into the green driving revolution, determining what kind of fuel-efficient car will get the best bang for the buck can feel like a tall order. Here is everything you need to know about becoming a more fuel-efficient driver with a fatter wallet, even when gas prices are trending upward:

The History of Hybrids and Electrics

If you are not well-versed in car culture or green technology, you might not be fully aware of the differences between hybrid cars and fully electric cars.

The first electric vehicles were actually developed far earlier than you’d expect: in the 1830s. In fact, electric vehicles were the most popular driving choice throughout the 19th century. But with Henry Ford’s implementation of assembly line manufacturing in the early 20th century, cars with internal combustion engines became cheaper than their electric counterparts, crowding them out of the market.

In the modern era, where there is a well-established infrastructure of both gas stations and interstate highways, bringing the electric car back to the average consumer had one major obstacle: the distance you can drive an electric vehicle on a single charge.

The electric-only vehicles manufactured between 2011 and 2016 could generally only handle approximately 100 miles of driving before needing to be recharged. However, car manufacturers are working steadily to improve their electric cars’ battery life. Currently, the average electric car can handle about 250 miles between charges and several manufacturers offer electric vehicles with ranges above 300 miles, including the forthcoming electric Chevrolet Silverado, which promises a 400 mile range, the Tesla luxury Model S sedan, with a range of 405 miles and the Lucid Air, with an official EPA range of 520 miles.

Manufacturers are increasing the mileage offered by electric vehicle batteries. But the lack of a recharging infrastructure plus the shortened driving range meant that auto manufacturers felt the need to create hybrid vehicles. Toyota led the way in 1997 with the Prius.

Hybrid vehicles offer the best of both worlds: the fuel-efficiency of an electric vehicle with the range of an internal combustion engine.

Understanding the Types of Hybrids

The original hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) uses the electric motor when cruising easily, but when the driver needs a boost (i.e., trying to get up to speed to merge), the gasoline engine kicks in. HEVs do not need to be plugged in to recharge the electric motor, as it captures the excess energy used when braking and stores that energy in the battery. This system is known as regenerative braking. Ultimately, HEVs are gas-powered, but with an electric motor on board to make them more efficient.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) can be quite different from HEVs, because the electric motor is the main power source, rather than the gas engine. PHEVs will use the electric motor until the battery level gets to a predetermined low level of charge, at which point the gas engine will kick in to supply power to the electric motor. In many of these vehicles, the gas engine works as a generator for the electric motor. This is why PHEVs need to be plugged in to charge their batteries—to avoid using the gas engine as a generator.

Both types of hybrids will cost you less at the gas pump, but your fuel efficiency will vary depending on how you drive. According to Consumer Reports, “[PHEVs] tend to be less efficient on long trips (and less efficient than their regular hybrid [HEV] counterparts because of their extra weight) where the vast majority of miles are driven on gas power.”

Electric Charging Stations

Both fully electric vehicles and PHEVs will need to have regular plug-in time at electric charging stations. Even though you could probably name three or four gas stations within a couple of miles of your house, finding electric charging stations can be a bit more difficult.

However, many drivers can charge their vehicles overnight at home using either AC Level 1 or AC Level 2 charging equipment, both of which can be used on a power outlet on a dedicated branch circuit. That means you can safely charge your car at home in the garage, or even outside in the rain with an outdoor outlet, with a 120 volt AC plug for AC Level 1 or with a 240 volt AC plug for AC Level 2. AC Level 1 will allow you to replenish up to five miles of driving range per hour of charging, while AC Level 2 offers up to 20 miles of driving range per charging hour.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the cost to charge a depleted electric car or PHEV battery at home to full 200-mile range will be around $9, assuming a cost of $0.13 per kilowatt hour. That works out to a little over $0.04 per mile.

It’s also possible to recharge your electric or hybrid vehicle on the go. The Alternative Fuels Data Center maps out the more than 50,000 public charging stations in the United States and Canada so that you can know where to stop for a battery top-up.

Uncle Sam Wants You…to Drive More Efficiently

The sticker price on many of the electric and hybrid vehicles may be shocking, but the IRS (as well as some state governments) offers tax benefits for car buyers who opt for an electric vehicle.

Specifically, the IRS provides a credit for qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles purchased after December 31, 2009. The basic credit is equal to $2,500. If your vehicle has a battery with a capacity of at least 5 kilowatt hours, your credit is worth an added $417. And, for every kilowatt hour above five kilowatt hours, it is worth an additional $417. All told, the credit could equal as much as $7,500.

Since this is a credit, your purchase of a qualifying electric vehicle will provide you with a dollar-for-dollar reduction of the amount of income tax you owe. For example, if you purchase a 2022 Mazda MX-30, you will see your tax bill reduced by $7,500. If you owe less than $7,500 and qualify for this credit, then you will owe nothing—but note that you will also not see a refund of the difference.

In order to qualify for this credit, you must purchase the car new—the credit is not available for used-car buyers or for leased cars. In addition, the credit phases out after the manufacturer has sold at least 200,000 qualifying vehicles in the United States.

Some states also offer incentives for purchasing fuel-efficient cars or installing charging stations.

Don’t Forget Other Efficient Options

The discussion about greening your commute is often so focused on newer technologies (or old-technology-that-is-new-again, in the case of electric vehicles), that we can forget that there are other great options to consider:

1. Diesels

Though diesel engines have long gotten a bad environmental rap, modern diesels have lower carbon emissions than gasoline engines and they are more fuel-efficient. You’ll be able to get farther on a tank of diesel than you can on a tank of gas. Though diesel prices fluctuate, it tends to cost about the same as gas. Add in the fact that you can fuel up your diesel at most gas stations. This can be a good option for anyone who is wary of the limited range of electrics and plug-in hybrids.

One caveat: diesel cars are a vanishing breed in the United States. It is not possible to buy a new car with a diesel engine, although there are still some diesel trucks and SUVs being manufactured. If you are interested in a diesel-powered car, you’ll have to purchase one used.

2. Hypermiling

Even if you can’t afford to buy a new car, you can improve the efficiency of your current ride through hypermiling. Hypermilers work to improve their fuel efficiency, no matter what type of vehicle they drive. In particular, hypermiling starts with calculating your mileage, so that you can know what you need to improve.

From there, you will need to take a long, hard look at your driving behavior. For instance, aggressive driving leads to “hurry up and wait” behavior while going through traffic lights in the city, as well as rapid speed changes on the highway. Maintaining a calm driving attitude allows you to leave enough room between cars, which reduces your braking and your fuel usage.

Hypermiling is ultimately about being a mindful driver who anticipates reactions. If you can anticipate a stop and take your foot off the gas before having to hit the brake, or slowly accelerate after a stop rather than stomping on the gas, your fuel costs will decrease and your daily drive will be less stressful.

3. Take Care of Your Car

Keeping your tires properly inflated and taking care of regular maintenance are important aspects of improving your fuel economy. An engine that is in optimum condition will use fuel most efficiently. It’s also a good idea to keep your car clean, as heavy items in your trunk can reduce your miles per gallon Taking an afternoon to clean out your car can be a quick way to improve efficiency.

4. Drive Less

This may seem obvious but driving less often is probably going to do more to reduce your oil consumption than buying a more fuel-efficient car ever could. In 2020 and 2021, Americans learned how much cheaper our transportation costs could be with more people working from home.

Driving less does not necessarily mean switching to an all-remote working schedule. Even working from home once a week can make a big difference on your fuel consumption. In addition, saving all of your errands for once a week and mapping out the most efficient route from home to the dry cleaner to the library to the grocery will save you money and time.

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Whether you’re in the market for a new, high-tech vehicle or you simply want to make visits to the pump less expensive while you nurse your car through its last few years, it’s always possible to reduce your dependence on gasoline. Driving green is good for the environment and it can make your wallet greener. It’s a win-win.

14 Responses to "Electrics, Hybrids and Gas-Sippers: Understanding Your Green Driving Options"
    • Gary Sorenson | May 13, 2022 at 10:37 pm

      I would love to hear comments on the environmental issues involved with the mining of lithium and the disposal issues of lithium batteries.

    • MELVIN O ELLIS | April 27, 2022 at 3:15 pm

      Hello everyone, I have a comment about the EV’s. I recently brought a new Kia EV6 and I must say it has so far been worth the money I’ve spent on it. The last time I filled up my Tahoe it was 90 dollars and I have charged my EV6 for 4 months and have not spent 90 dollars yet. If you run daily errands around your town this car is right for you, I usually charge every 8 to 10 days near the 5% battery life remaining. I’ve found my EV6 get better mileage when the AC is not on, so usually in the cooler part of the day I do not use it and mileage is as rated (ECO mode). But, if you like power this car has it too, the Sport mode is as powerful as any gasoline sports car on the road, but will shorten battery life. I love this car and I still believe its worth the risk.

      • Extra Mile Staff | April 28, 2022 at 8:54 am

        Thank you for sharing your personal experiences, Melvin! We appreciate the comment.

    • Allan David Mac Donald | April 26, 2022 at 5:18 pm

      That is why I bought a hybrid Toyota last July.
      I read some insurance companies give discounts for veterans. Do I receive all the discounts available?

    • Tom Redinger | April 24, 2022 at 12:47 pm

      Over my experience of 8 months with a Prius Prime plug-in bought used, EPA, and even Consumer Reports, significantly UNDERSTATE the available energy savings of at least the Prius Prime. (Mine is a 2018 Advanced.) On an 1100-mile trip to visit my daughter I got 66 miles per gallon driving at listed highway speeds. (1100 miles took 16.626 gallons of gas with no external charging.) At home, I have been able to do virtually all my local driving on battery power recharged from a 110 outlet in my garage. After over 3000 miles of EV only driving I am also averaging between 5 and 6 miles per kWh–significantly better than the EPA estimated 4 miles per kWh. This vehicle has been a great choice for me and has far exceeded expectations.

      • Extra Mile Staff | April 25, 2022 at 7:13 am

        Thank you for sharing your personal experience with a Prius, Tom!

    • Marjorie Dragon | April 23, 2022 at 4:31 pm

      I have extremely low miles on my automobile, I also have automatic lights as I noticed on your tv add you get a credit for. I’m interested in renters Ins. On my belongings I’m in a secure building with onsite Management. I’m already a long time customer of yours.

    • Marilyn Gillo | April 23, 2022 at 12:10 pm

      My car goes out maybe, maybe once a week. About 5 to 10 miles. I requested they look at this so that my insurance would be lower. It is a 2006 vehicle bought Nov 2005. Has 60025 miles on it.

    • Robert M. Johnson | April 23, 2022 at 11:40 am

      You forgot to mention that EVs get charged a mileage fee to replace the gas tax that fuel drivers pay.

      • MELVIN O ELLIS | April 27, 2022 at 3:23 pm

        Georgia does not have a mileage tax, but an Alternative Fuel Tax ($231.00 a year) when I renew my EV6 tags. Georgia penalizes it EV owners for owning an electric vehicle, this law went into effect this year.

    • Bill Brown | April 23, 2022 at 10:15 am

      I purchased a new Nissan Leaf that netted me a large tax refund from federal and state this year! WOW!

      • Extra Mile Staff | April 25, 2022 at 8:30 am

        That’s great!

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