If you are planning to shop for a hybrid car, then you might be wondering what the difference is between a normal hybrid car and a plug-in hybrid car. The differences between the two types are somewhat minimal, which might make you wonder if buying a plug-in hybrid is even worth it in the first place.

A plug-in hybrid is the best of both worlds

By now, you’re probably familiar with electric vehicles (EVs) and you are likely very familiar with a standard hybrid, but you might not be too familiar with how a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is set up. In short, a plug-in hybrid splits the difference between what a hybrid and an EV are in the sense that the car runs on a gasoline engine paired to an electric motor, however, you can also drive the car solely on electric power as well. The main drawback is the electric range on most PHEVs is around 20 to 30 miles, which likely why they aren’t more popular among consumers.

However, this short electric range can actually be an advantage if your daily commute is only 20 to 30 miles round trip as you can use the benefits of the PHEV’s electric range, but you will also have the option to go a farther distance when the electric range runs out. Another advantage of buying a PHEV is that there are federal tax incentives when you buy one and you can also drive in the carpool lane, which is a great advantage if you happen to live in California.

Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid charging at a charge station
Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid | Ford

When is it not worth it to buy a plug-in hybrid?

Before you buy a plug-in hybrid, there are a few things that you need to consider as it’s not always a good idea. For starters, if your daily commute is longer than 20 miles, or whatever the all-electric range is for your specific plug-in hybrid, then you be negating the benefits of having a PHEV. In that case, you’re better off just going with a standard hybrid car because you would barely be using the all-electric part of the equation.

But even if your daily commute is shorter than 20 to 30 miles and you can use the all-electric range, then it would be most beneficial if you have the means to charge the car at home overnight. If you don’t have a charger at home, or at least at your work, then you will be tasked with charging it in public charge ports, which would again offset the benefits of your car having the plug-in capability.

Workers prepare a Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid at the 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show on September 12, 2017
The Toyota Prius | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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Plug-in EVs are worth it under the right circumstances

Ultimately, if you’re able to make round-trip commutes or at least run errands within the confines of the all-electric range of any PHEV and can charge it easily, then it’s worth it to spend the extra money.

For example, the Toyota Prius Prime is able to get up to 25 miles of all-electric range and then an EPA-estimated 54 mpg (combined) when the range is exhausted. On the other hand, the non-PHEV Prius is able to achieve that same type of mileage but doesn’t have the plug-in capability. So if your usual commute is more than 25 miles round trip, then you might as well save some money upfront and buy the regular Prius.

While the plug-in capability might actually save you some money, considering you’ll be driving on all-electric power for some of your commutes, you at least won’t have to deal with plugging in a regular Prius.