Driving

Gas vs. Hybrid vs. Electric Cars: A Complete Guide

Everything you need to know about how they work, initial costs, maintenance costs, insurance and fuel costs — along with the pros and cons.

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Gas prices and inflation have fluctuated wildly since 2020, and new sustainability laws dictating higher MPG rules are going into effect around the country.1 It’s no wonder, then, that nearly 60% of Americans have considered buying an eclectic or hybrid vehicle. Deciding whether to get a gas car vs. a hybrid car vs. an electric car can be complicated. Initial costs are wildly different, and so are the yearly maintenance, car insurance and fuel costs.

To help you make the best decision for your wallet, your family and planet Earth, The Zebra has put everything you need to know about the difference between gas, hybrid and electric vehicles in one place.

Types of cars

Before diving into the average ownership costs, understanding how gas, electric and hybrid cars work is crucial. The way they work impacts everything from their initial purchase price to their maintenance costs.

 How each type of car works

 

Gas cars

Most gasoline-powered cars use internal combustion engines.

When you turn the car on and press the accelerator, the fuel pump moves the fuel from your gas tank through a filter to remove any debris to prevent clogs in the rest of the engine. Once it’s filtered, a fuel injector pumps the gas into one of the engine’s cylinders (most modern cars have between two and twelve cylinders). Pistons in the cylinders work to ignite the gasoline, which creates mechanical energy to propel the wheels of the car.

Electric cars

In an electric car, power is added to the lithium-ion battery pack via charging, just like your cell phone battery is charged. Power is stored in the battery as direct current (DC) electricity, but an electric car engine runs on alternating current (AC) power. When you turn your car on, the inverter converts the stored energy to usable energy before sending it to the induction motor. The energy in the induction motor creates a rotating magnetic field within the motor. This rotation creates energy directed to the wheels, putting them in motion. 

Whenever the wheels move faster than the engine (which occurs when you take your foot off the accelerator or brake), the induction motor turns into a generator, sending DC electricity back to the battery pack, recharging it without plugging into a power source.

Hybrid cars

Hybrid cars, as you can guess from the name, use both electric and gasoline-powered engines. At any time, the gas engine may be working, or the electric engine, or they may work in tandem. Regardless, hybrids use regenerative braking to charge the car’s battery pack. In some cases, the gas engine may also charge the battery.

Gas, hybrid and electric car costs

Cost is one of the most significant factors in what car we purchase, especially as the average car price continues to rise. Experts recommend spending no more than 20% of your income on car-related expenses.

Type of car
Average initial cost
Gasoline $33,797
Hybrid $39,040 before tax incentives and rebates
Electric $66,997 before tax incentives and rebates

Initial costs

Gas cars have the lowest initial cost, while electric vehicles have the highest. However, state and federal governments offer rebates and tax incentives to make purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle less expensive.

Gas cars:

We looked at the MSRP for the 10 most common gasoline-powered cars in the United States and found that the average initial cost of a gasoline-powered vehicle is $33,797.2

Electric cars: 

The average price of a new electric car was $66,997 in June 2022.3 However, the federal government and most states offer tax incentives to encourage people to purchase an electric vehicle — but make sure you qualify before you make your purchase. With the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the federal Plug-In Vehicle Credit of up to $7,500 only applies to electric cars assembled in the United States.4

In addition to the car’s initial purchase price, you may also need to purchase charging equipment, which is not standard across all vehicles. Depending on the charging option you choose, you’ll also need to install an EVSE charging station in your garage, which costs an average of $1,200 to purchase and install.5 While not strictly necessary, a Level 2 EVSE charging station will charge your electric car’s battery faster. 

Hybrid cars:

The average initial purchase price of a hybrid is $39,040.3 However, if you purchase a plug-in hybrid model, you’ll also need to buy charging equipment and possibly install a charger in your home. 

Like electric vehicles, many hybrids qualify for tax incentives to lower the initial cost. The $7,500 plug-in tax credit may bring the cost of your plug-in hybrid nearly $2,000 lower than the average initial cost of a new gasoline-powered car.

Maintenance costs

Maintenance costs refer to standard car maintenance to address regular wear and tear of the vehicle and keep it running smoothly. Gas cars have the highest maintenance costs because they have more moving parts than an electric engine.

Gas car maintenance
Description Frequency Estimated cost
Oil change

Every 7,500–15,000 miles for newer cars

Every 3,000 miles for older models

$35–$75 depending on the type of oil
Car battery Every 4–5 years $45–$250 depending on the car’s make and model
Brake pads Every 40,000 miles $150–$300 per axle
Spark plugs Every 30,000 miles $10 per spark plug

 

Maintenance for gas cars:

The major maintenance costs associated with a gasoline-powered car are for oil changes and replacement parts like batteries, brake pads and spark plugs. You’ll also need to abide by your vehicle's regular maintenance schedule for tune-ups to keep everything running smoothly.

The most frequent maintenance for a gasoline-powered car is an oil change, which can range in price from $35 to $75, depending on the type of oil you use.6 You can expect to do an oil change two or three times a year depending on how much you drive. This amounts to anywhere from $70 to $225 a year.

Every four or five years, you’ll need a new car battery, which can range in price from $45 to $250.7

Brake pads last about 40,000 miles, after which you’ll need to replace them, which can cost anywhere from $150 to $300 per axle, depending on your car.8 

Roughly every 30,000 miles, you’ll need to replace your spark plugs, which cost about $10 per spark plug.9 Each cylinder needs a spark plug, so for a V6 engine, you’ll need six spark plugs (about $60), and for a V8 engine you will need eight (about $80).

Maintenance tip: Changing the oil on time is the best way to keep your car running smoothly, so don’t ignore that oil light.

 

Maintenance for electric cars:

The highest maintenance cost will be the battery pack, which generally lasts about eight to ten years. Most manufacturers provide a warranty on the battery pack for the first eight years or 100,000 miles, so you wouldn’t be responsible for that payment before that point.10 The cost of the battery will depend on the model needed and current availability, but count on at least a four-figure cost.

You’ll also need to replace the brake pads as in any other car, but because of regenerative braking, you won’t need to replace them as frequently as a gasoline-powered car. 

Because there are fewer moving parts in an electric engine, there are fewer things to break or experience wear and tear, so you won’t need to do regular tune-ups like with a gasoline-powered car.

Maintenance tip: Avoid extreme temperatures whenever you can to extend your battery life. Park in the shade when it’s hot out, and opt for a covered garage in the winter.

 

Maintenance for hybrid cars:

Hybrids have both electric and internal combustion engines, meaning that they have all the maintenance costs of both types of cars. You’ll still need regular oil changes and replace parts like spark plugs, batteries and brake pads on roughly the same maintenance schedule.

However, because there are two engines in a hybrid, some of the parts are hard to get to when replacing them, which can lead to higher labor costs.

Maintenance tip: Stick to the preventative maintenance schedule provided by the manufacturer. Hybrids have more complicated inner workings than a gas or electric car, so they need to be properly maintained to avoid a larger repair later.

Insurance costs by vehicle type

The national average car insurance premium is $1,529, although that can vary widely based on your driving record, type of car and other factors.

Type of car
Average insurance cost
Gasoline $1,529
Hybrid $1,637
Electric $2,280

 

Because electric vehicles are more expensive to repair, insurance coverage for an electric vehicle is higher than that of a traditional gasoline-powered car, although the exact amount depends on the make and model. The national average insurance premium for an electric car in 2022 is $2,280 per year.11

Generally, a hybrid car costs 7% more to insure than a gasoline-powered car.12 This higher cost is due to a higher initial purchase price, expensive replacement parts and the fact that hybrids are driven more often in urban areas, where accidents are more likely.

Average fuel costs

Type of car
Average yearly fuel cost
Gasoline $2,425
Hybrid $1,137
Electric $998

 

The average cost of fuel in August 2022 was $4.09 per gallon. One tank of gas for a typical gasoline-powered car would cost $58 and last about 350 miles, which amounts to roughly $0.17 a mile. Since the average American driver drives 14,263 miles in a year, that would be a total yearly cost of $2,425.

Electricity is cheaper than gasoline. The average cost per 1 kWh of electricity in the United States is $0.17.13 Assuming your electric vehicle has a 100 kWh battery, a full charge will cost $17. If your battery has the median travel range of 234 miles per charge, you will pay roughly $0.07 per mile traveled for electricity.14 For the average driver, that’s a yearly cost of about $998.

Hybrid vehicles have a much higher miles per gallon rating than gas cars. For example, the 2022 Honda Insight, a popular hybrid, has an estimated combined MPG of 52.15 That means one tank of gas should get the average driver about 728 miles, which would be $0.08 per mile. The average driver would spend $1,137 per year on gas. If they have a plug-in hybrid, the driver would also need to calculate for electricity.

 average-costs-by-vehicle-type

Gas, electric and hybrid car pros and cons

Each type of car has unique features, so it’s hard to say which one is the best. We’ve gathered all the pros and cons in one place so you can determine which type of car is right for you.

 

Pros and cons of gas cars

If you’re looking for a familiar car or one with a lower up-front cost or more speed, a gasoline-powered vehicle is probably the best for you based on its pros and cons.

Pros of gasoline-powered cars:

  • Lower up-front costs than a hybrid or electric car. Gasoline-powered cars are cheaper to purchase than hybrid or electric vehicles, and they don’t require additional initial expenses like an at-home charging station. 
  • More available models than hybrids and electric cars. Car manufacturers have had time to create a variety of tried-and-true models, so there are more options available than hybrid or electric cars. 
  • Higher top speeds than electric and hybrid cars. If you’re looking for top speed, there’s no comparison between gasoline-powered engines and electric and hybrid vehicles. 
  • Easier fill-ups than electric cars. Gas stations are everywhere along American roadways, so if you need a gas station, chances are there’s one at the next exit. Fill-ups take a few minutes and then you’re back on the road. 
  • Longer range than electric cars. Most gasoline-powered cars today can travel anywhere from 250 to 350 miles per tank, giving you a more extensive range of travel than electric cars.

Cons of gasoline-powered cars:

  • Least environmentally friendly option. While each new model is more fuel-efficient than the last, gasoline-powered cars still use fossil fuels, release emissions into the air through the tailpipe and contribute to toxic waste from used oil.
  • Higher regular maintenance costs than hybrid or electric vehicles. Because of all the moving parts involved in a gasoline-powered engine, there are more opportunities for things to break over time, requiring more maintenance that adds up.
  • At the mercy of fluctuating gas costs more than hybrid cars. As gas costs fluctuate, it becomes more difficult to plan for fuel costs reliably. Supply chain issues, bad weather, global strife and inflation all wreak havoc on gasoline prices, and when prices jump, you may encounter a rude surprise next time you need to fill up.
  • Not as convenient to power as an electric vehicle. Unless you store gasoline at home, which we don’t recommend due to safety concerns, you can’t fill up your gasoline-powered car at home. This means waking up early enough to get gas before work or stopping on your way home.

 

Pros and cons of electric cars

While an electric car may have a higher up-front cost, its low maintenance and environmental impact make it a great investment.

Pros of electric cars:

  • Lowest environmental impact of all three options. Electric cars have zero emissions, so they are the most environmentally friendly of the three car types. 
  • Lower day-to-day running costs than a gasoline or hybrid car. Electricity is much cheaper than gasoline, and the cost doesn’t fluctuate as much as gasoline does.
  • Quieter ride than hybrid or gasoline-powered vehicles. Because fewer moving parts are involved and you aren’t causing combustion in the engine, electric cars offer the quietest and smoothest ride of the three car options.
  • Lower maintenance costs than gasoline or hybrid cars. With an electric vehicle, there are no oil changes, no fuel fill-ups and no exhaust systems or fuel lines to maintain. 
  • Federal and state governments over tax credits to offset initial costs. To encourage the purchase of electric vehicles, the government provides a variety of tax credits to help offset the higher up-front price tag of electric vehicles.

Cons of electric cars:

  • Lower range of travel than gasoline or hybrid vehicles. In 2011, electric cars had a median travel range of a measly 68 miles.14 After some much-needed innovation, the median travel range is up to 234 miles between charges, which can still make long-range travel difficult.
  • Charging an electric car isn’t as convenient as filling up on gas. It takes longer than a few minutes to charge an electric car. Plus, charging stations are few and far between.
  • Highest initial cost of the three car options. Electric cars carry the highest purchase price tag, and if you opt for an EVSE home charger, you’ll need to pay an electrician to install the appropriate equipment in your home.

 

Pros and cons of hybrid cars

If you’re trying to find a car that balances environmental friendliness with reasonable up-front costs, a hybrid car is a good choice.

Pros of hybrid cars:

  • More environmentally friendly than gasoline-powered cars. When your electric engine controls the car, you will use less fuel, limit harmful emissions from your vehicle and decrease your contribution of toxic waste. 
  • Quieter than a gasoline-powered car. As long as your electric engine controls the car, a hybrid is quieter than a gasoline-powered car. 
  • Longer life span on engine parts than gasoline-powered cars. You’ll use each engine less than if you only had one engine. As a result, you won’t put your internal combustion engine through as much wear and tear, making it last longer than that of a gasoline car.
  • Less “range anxiety” than electric cars. A hybrid can automatically or manually switch between energy sources, meaning your gasoline engine can take over if you run out of battery power on a long road trip. 
  • Tax incentives are available to offset slightly higher initial costs. If you purchase a plug-in hybrid, you may qualify for federal and state tax incentives to make the cost difference between a new hybrid and a new gasoline-powered car much smaller — and in some cases erase it completely.

Cons of hybrid cars:

  • Less environmentally friendly than an electric car. While a hybrid is more environmentally friendly than a gasoline-powered car, it isn’t as environmentally friendly as an electric car.
  • Maintenance can be more expensive than the other two options. While overall maintenance costs for the car’s life span are lower, hybrids have complex mechanicals that may be more expensive to fix than a gasoline or electric car. 
  • Lower top speeds than gasoline cars. If you’re looking for speed, a hybrid has a lower top speed than gasoline cars. They also lack sports-tuned suspension systems.
 which-is-best

Deciding which type of car is best for you

When determining whether you should purchase a gas, hybrid or electric car, consider the following factors.

1. Consider where — and how far — you’re driving

If you frequently travel long distances, an electric car may not be the best option since charging can be a hassle. Not only are charging stations hard to find in some areas, but it also takes longer than a gas fill-up and can add travel time to your trip. For longer distances, a hybrid or a gasoline-powered car might be a better choice to avoid range anxiety. 

Because charging stations are rare in rural areas, a gasoline or hybrid car is probably a better option. In the city, however, an electric vehicle is a great option since you can easily charge it at home. A hybrid might make the most sense if you drive in both urban and rural areas.

2. Determine the model you want

Since electric cars haven’t been in production as long as gasoline or hybrid cars, fewer models are available. If you want a specific type of car like a pickup truck or a sports car, you’ll probably be limited to gasoline for now. However, Dodge recently announced that their electric muscle car, the Charger Daytona SRT, will be available in 2024, and the Ford F-150 Lightning is currently in production, so options are expanding.

3. Plan when you need your new car

If your car dies and you need a new one to get to work tomorrow, a gasoline car is probably all you’ll be able to find on such short notice (and even then, don’t count on being able to get the model you want). 

Due to supply chain issues, increased demand and rising gasoline prices, hybrids have the lowest supply rates of the three types, making them difficult to find. Electric cars are also dealing with supply chain issues. Currently, Tesla’s Model Y has a four- to seven-month wait, and Ford’s new F-150 Lightning has a three-year wait, forcing Ford to stop taking reservations.16, 17

No matter which vehicle option you choose — whether it’s a gas, hybrid or electric car — it’s an investment that needs to be protected with insurance. Keep your yearly maintenance costs down by annually shopping for car insurance quotes so you have the best possible rates.

 

Methodology:

To determine the average cost of gasoline vehicles, The Zebra averaged the MSRP of the 10 most popular gasoline vehicles in America.

 Gas-vs-Hybrid-vs-Electric-Infographic
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