Hybrid and Electric Car Maintenance: Everything You Need to Know

April 27th, 2015 by

These days, electric and hybrid cars are parked in more home garages than ever before. Increasingly popular, affordable, and reliable, some confusion still surrounds them, specifically concerning the differences between them.

What is an electric versus a hybrid car? How does either one measure up to a regular, gasoline-powered vehicle?

If you purchase an electric or hybrid vehicle, what will it cost to maintain it?

A careful consideration of your driving needs will help you determine which car is the best choice for you, regarding overall performance and affordability.

The good news is that is an abundance of purchasing options, and the experts at your Chevy Service Center are willing and able to help you explore each one before you make a decision.

Let’s Start with the Basics

Before you can decide which car is best for you: regular, hybrid, or electric, it’s important to understand how each one works and compare how they measure up against each other. Maintenance costs are comparable between them, but the differences are worth noting and exploring.

What is a hybrid car?

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Unlike a traditional car, powered by an internal combustion engine, a hybrid car is powered by a hybrid propulsion system.

There are two types of hybrid propulsion systems. The first combines the traditional internal combustion engine with an electric motor; the second features an electric motor with a battery and fuel cells to store energy.

In order to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions, a hybrid propulsion system alternates between both options, depending on the drive.

What hybrid cars have that regular cars do not, is regenerative braking. When you brake, a hybrid car harvests and stores energy, which cuts down on the number of times you need to charge your vehicle.

Additionally, most hybrid cars are lighter than regular cars because they are made with lighter materials and are equipped with smaller engines.

How is a hybrid car different from an electric car?

Rather than two propulsion systems, an electric or “plug-in” car, is powered purely by an electric motor and collection of batteries.

How is maintenance different between a regular and hybrid car?

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Hybrid cars require a similar amount of maintenance typical of a regular car.

There are three major differences, due to the dual-propulsion system.

Since the hybrid car can switch to electric power when necessary for better fuel economy, the engine gets a rest and does not suffer as much wear and tear as a regular engine. This means fewer engine repairs and a reduced likelihood of engine breakdown or failure.

Connected to this benefit is the decreased need for oil changes. Hybrid vehicles still need routine oil changes, however not nearly as often as a regular car.

Instead of the recommended oil change every 3,000-6,000 miles for a regular car, a hybrid car needs an oil change every 5,000-10,000 miles, depending on how often it is driven.

Given the hybrid car’s regenerative braking capability, the brake pads do not have to withstand as much wear and tear as those on a regular car. Less heat and friction keeps the brake pads in better shape longer.

The regenerative braking feature is especially key to those drivers who commute during peak rush hour, during which stop-and-go traffic breaks down the pads even further.

In general, hybrid vehicles do not require additional or specialized maintenance, compared to a regular car.

Similar to regular cars, most hybrid cars come with warranties on the propulsion system, which protect you for about eight years or 80,000 miles in most states, and 10 years or 150,000 miles in the eleven states which followed California’s emission legislation in 2009 and 2010. Those states include: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

For a variety of reasons, including: personal financial realities, greater leasing options offered at dealerships, and overall better made cars, thanks to innovations in the automotive industry, the record high for owning and keeping a car was reported in 2012 as six years. Given those numbers, these warranties are quite impressive and should cover your maintenance needs.

You will have to replace the battery at some point, which may or may not fall within your warranty agreement. Certain hybrid models boast greater battery reliability compared to others.

At this point, the Toyota Prius is leading the charge as the most reliable hybrid car on the market.

Check out the 2013 Consumer Reports Annual Autos Survey, comparing battery replacement rates for Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius, between 2002-2010.

How do electric cars compare?

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Although electric cars tend to cost more upfront, they are more affordable to maintain than regular, gasoline-powered cars.  Upfront expenses associated with electric car purchases include the car itself, the home charging station, and the cost of electricity.

The MSRP for electric cars range between 23,000-35,000, depending on the make and model year. For example, a 2015 Chevrolet Spark is priced at $27,645, while a 2015 Nissan Leaf is $29,010, and the 2015 Chevy Volt, one of the best-selling plug-in cars in the United States for the past four years, starts at $34,345.

The majority of electric vehicles come with an electric cord that can easily plug into a standard 120-volt outlet, no different than any other household appliance. However, 120-volt charging times can take upwards of twenty hours to fully charge the car.

A cost-effective solution is to have an electrician convert the 120-volt outlet to an outlet able to accommodate a 240-volt plug, which cuts charge times down to about six hours.

In addition to speedier charges, the 240-volt system only loses 20-25% of energy while charging, due to wire resistance. Compared to the 30-35% total energy loss of the 120-volt chargers, you’ll be ahead of the game and will enjoy reduced electricity costs.

If you purchase an electric car, you will have to call in the expertise of an electrician to install the charging station, and make any necessary modifications to your outlets. Both the charging station and cost of labor are an estimated $2,000. However, tax credits, similar to the $7,500 tax credit for purchasing an electric vehicle, offset these set up costs by 30%.

It’s a good idea to check with your state and local agencies as well because they sometimes offer additional breaks and incentives.

Electric Car Maintenance

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Similar to the hybrid car, electric cars do not require much in the way of regular maintenance.

Oil changes are a non-issue and regenerative braking extends the life of the brake pads.

Also, an electric car is more simply designed and does not have as many mechanical moving parts as a regular car.

Since an electric car does not release tailpipe emissions and does not have a gearbox like a regular car, you will never have to replace a clutch or exhaust system.

In fact, the Institute of Automobile Economics, based on research from the University of Economics and the Environment in Nuertingen-Geislingen, Germany, found that electric vehicles have 35% lower maintenance costs when compared to gasoline and diesel-powered cars.

As hybrid and electric technologies continue to evolve, the costs of purchasing and maintaining hybrid and electric vehicles will likely decrease. Innovation tends to support affordability, a consumer-driven concern for all vehicle purchases. Now is a great time to stop by your Chevy Service Center to discuss your options and maybe take a few test drives.