Alternative Fuel Vehicles: What are the Pros and Cons?

More hybrid, electric and natural gas vehicles are taking to roads. Can you tell the difference between them? Each has advantages and disadvantages, based on cost, fuel, maintenance and size. If you’re considering an alternative to the internal combustion engine, this chart may help you understand the pros and cons of hybrid, electric, and natural gas vehicles:

What is a hybrid car?

A vehicle that uses two or more distinct power sources to move – for instance, gasoline engines and electric motors.

Pros and Cons of Hybrid Cars

Pros of Hybrid Cars Cons of Hybrid Cars
  • Save on fuel. Fewer trips to the pump can save you a significant amount of money over time, especially if you have a long commute.
  • Tax breaks. Various income tax credit programs motivate drivers to buy hybrid cars. Other incentives may include vehicle registration savings, discounts on excise taxes and extra income tax rebates.
  • Higher gas mileage. Fuel efficiency results from a hybrid’s aerodynamics, lighter weight and smaller gas engine.
  • Typically higher resale value. Values generally increase as the cars become more popular and are in higher demand. Improved equipment and reliability adds to the value.
  • Higher purchase cost. While you may save on gas, the initial cost of a hybrid is generally higher than a traditional vehicle, due in part to its technology, fuel-saving benefits and its being marketed as an eco-status car.
  • Expensive maintenance. Generally more costly to repair because of complex dual compulsion systems. Not all repair shops have the proper equipment; services may have to be performed by the manufacturer – often more expensive as well.
  • Less power. Hybrids’ smaller internal combustion engines and lighter weight help maximize efficiency, but can reduce acceleration.
  • Safety. Hybrid batteries are high voltage, making the odds of electrocution higher in an accident. These cars are also extremely quiet, so pedestrians can’t always hear them.
  • Poor handling. Hybrids often have less support in the suspension and body, and use lighter-duty components, compared to more performance-focused cars.

What is an electric car?

A vehicle that uses one or more electric motors for propulsion.

Pros and Cons of Electric Cars

Pros of Electric Cars Cons of Electric Cars
  • Energy efficient. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric vehicles typically convert 59%-62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power the wheels, compared to conventional gas vehicles, which typically convert 17%-21% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels.
  • Easy maintenance. Electric motors have fewer moving parts than internal combustion engines, so they’re often easier to maintain. They also don’t require oil or air filter changes.
  • Eco-friendly. With no exhaust system, electric cars typically have zero emissions. Their rechargeable batteries are also almost 100% recyclable.
  • Safe to drive. Electrics undergo similar testing as gas-powered cars. In an accident, airbags will deploy and electricity is cut from the battery. Plus, the fluid batteries actually take impact better than a gas car.
  • Shorter driving distance. The average range on one battery charge is 50-100 miles – not ideal for those with a substantial commute.
  • Long recharge time. Several hours to recharge compared to simply filling up at the gas pump.
  • Anxiety. Due to limited range and shortage of recharging stations, you may be constantly concerned about running out of power.
  • Limited space. Electric cars often have room for only 2 occupants.
  • Expensive battery. The Chevrolet Volt has a 40-mile range and costs about $30,000, compared to the 250- to 300-mile range of cars made by Tesla Motors, which can sell for $50,000 to $100,000.

What is a natural gas car?

Vehicle that uses compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels.

Pros and Cons of Natural Gas Cars

Pros of Natural Gas Cars Cons of Natural Gas Cars
  • More fuel efficient. Currently, natural gas costs about half the price of gasoline. Because natural gas burns cleaner, you won’t need to change the oil as often.
  • Improve air quality. Natural gas cars produce fewer toxic and carcinogenic pollutants, and lower levels of some emissions.
  • Low maintenance costs. Engine lifespan is often increased due to the clean way natural gas burns and there being less wear and tear on the engine. Tune-ups and oil changes are also less frequent.
  • Tax incentives. In order to limit air pollution, tax incentives may be available to those who own natural gas vehicles.

 

  • Shorter driving range. Lower energy content results in a shorter driving range, compared to regular gas-powered vehicles.
  • Minimal cargo space. Trunk space is often taken up by the large gas-storage tanks.
  • Less performance. Natural gas provides less mileage than gasoline.
  • Reduced speed. These cars have less horse power, resulting in slower speeds.
  • Few fueling stations. There are few refueling stations – many operated by fleets and not open to the public. Also, the pumps are more difficult to operate and it takes longer to fill your car.

Whatever type of car you decide on, alternative fuel or internal combustion engine, make sure you have auto insurance coverage to help protect you and your car in case of an accident.