Electric Cars vs. Gas Cars: 8 Key Differences And Their Impact On The Environment

Electric cars vs. Petrol cars

There was no shortage of sniggering, of rolled eyes accompanying each whiff of dismissal at the mention of the electric car. It was a no-brainer, a tree-hugging fantasy. In the world of electric cars vs. gas cars, there could be only one winner. Surely?

But that was way back when.

The early adopters seem a little less foolish now. The recipients of government green-deals and charging station rollouts they positioned themselves at the frontier of mass transit future. The crawl towards their point of view was as tricky as it was predictable, but when the realization hit, it hit hard.

The zeitgeist broke through to mainstream talking points. The electric cars vs. gas cars debate was over. Where one polluted, the other inspired. Where one belonged in the past the other, strode forward with relentless optimism, the proud owner of a much brighter future.

What is an Electric Car?

Man owning electric cars rode on it

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Technically, all cars are electric cars. In the early days of motoring, a hand crank was used to kick the engine into gear but early on engineers realized that a high voltage spark would do just as well.

Vehicles, as recipients of a flat battery warning well know, have been reliant on electric power ever since. Still, such reliance restricts itself to the inner working of the automobile itself. In terms of propulsion, the old fashioned cars of our youth still needed to guzzle down some of that go-juice: gas, or if you want to sound a little more European, petroleum.

Lightning Fast

Electric car when charging

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The electric car is different.

Sure, electricity powers all of the internal mechanism from stereo to dashboard just as it does in the more traditional gas-driven vehicles. But in an electric car, the batteries are non-subsidiary; indeed, they are integral.

All of which is excellent news for environmentalists looking for a knockout blow in the electric cars vs. gas cars debate. Because freed from the shackles of fossils fumes, the electric vehicle shines as a true zero-emission paragon of future prosperity.

The Electric Cars vs. Gas Cars Debate

Of course, there are layers of complexity to contend with here. No two electric cars on the market are the same. Hybrid vehicles, for example, offer a lot of the benefits of their all-electric brethren but the inclusion of a motor muddies the water somewhat. This engine does, of course, require gasoline, meaning that while a hybrid car is unquestionably much better for the environment, it falls short of the zero-emission goal.

It might be helpful then to take a look at the various kinds of electric cars on the market today.

Types of electric cars

There are three main types of electric vehicles. These are Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs), Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), and Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs). Only the last type can be considered a fully electric vehicle, but all offer at least some of the benefits of electric cars.

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs)

HEVs differ from traditional gas cars in that they combine gas power with electricity. When the driver begins to brake, the electric-powered engine kicks in cutting the amount of gas used while sitting at stoplights or going through slow-moving traffic.

HEVs tend to use the electric motor for starting and cruising at low speeds. The gas engine only kicks in when the vehicle capacity rises, or speed passes a certain threshold. Honda and Toyota are well-known for making vehicles that fall under this category.

Plug-In hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)​​​​

The second category of electric cars is PHEVs. Similar to regular HEVs, PHEVs also have both a gas-powered engine and an electric engine. However, unlike the HEVs, PHEVs rely more heavily on the electric motor. The P in PHEV stands for “plug-in,” which is precisely what you do to ‘fuel up’ a PHEV engine.

The vehicle relies solely on the electric engine until the battery runs down. Once low, the gas engine takes over, recharging the battery as it does so. PHEVs such as the Toyota Prius have proven very popular in recent years. For short journeys, such vehicles are effectively zero-emission, making them an attractive choice for the environmentally conscious, light driver.

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs)

BEVs are the third and final kind of electric-powered cars. BEVs do not come equipped with a gas-powered engine and as a consequence, rely entirely on battery power. BEVs use an external charging port to charge the battery. Therein lies a significant downside since a lack of access to a charging station remains one of the major sticking points in the whole electric cars vs. gas cars debate.

Still, BEVs can travel a surprising distance with ranges over 300 miles on some models. This, when coupled with the ability to self-charge via regenerative braking, means that light users only need to re-charge once a week or so. And with over 61,000 charging stations across the U.S. alone, chances are a quick top-up isn’t as far away as you think it might be.

The growing popularity of cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, is a testament to just how far the electric car has come in the eyes of the general population.

The Differences Between Electric Cars and Gas Cars

Differences between electric cars and gas cars

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There are so many benefits to driving electric cars vs. gas cars, and tens of thousands of Americans have already begun to pick up on some of them. But just how much of a difference do they make? Are they better for your health, for your sense of well being, and, dare we ask, for your wallet?

1. Cost of fuel

One of the most immediate differences you’ll realize when switching to an electric vehicle is how much money you’re going to save on gas. It is, after all, one of the primary reason for switching cars to an electric vehicle. Studies have shown that people who own gas-operated vehicles spend about $1,100 a year on gas per vehicle. While the exact price depends on how many miles per gallon your car gets this is still a tremendous amount of money you could be keeping in your wallet.

People who own a hybrid or electric-capable vehicle spent an average of less than half of what gas-operated cars use. The average hybrid owner spends around $470 on gas and charging annually. This price goes down with how infrequently your vehicle switch between gas and electric.

Owning a BEV does, of course, eliminate your gas bill, but operational costs accrue from charging and running the vehicle. Although you don’t pay at a traditional gas station, it does cost money to charge your car. Whether that’s at a charging station or added on to your home’s electric bill, it hardly seems to matter.

The savings, however, are not insignificant. How much you save depends on various factors such as how far you travel and what kind of car you are using for comparison. Still, by some metrics, the savings rack up to $860 a year.

2. Maintenance

Think about how much money you have spent over your lifetime in car maintenance fees. Actually, scratch that. If your bill is anything like the typical American’s, you probably don’t want to think about it.

The good news is that electric car maintenance is a lot cheaper.

The reason for this is relatively easy to understand. The older methods of propulsion require a significant number of moving parts, and in engineering, that usually equals points of failure. Oil changes, fans belts, pumps and the combination of corrosive fuel and metal is a recipe for disaster,

In contrast, electric cars are, in many ways, much simpler beasts; which is not to say that they are immune to maintenance problems. Tires don’t care how you power them across the tarmac; they’ll wear out regardless. And you can still find yourself needing to replace the car battery, which isn’t an easy or inexpensive feat. But since electric cars generally come with a full battery warrant, this is less of a problem than you might expect.

That said, the cost of a replacement battery is not cheap, so it’s essential to plan accordingly, especially if you use the car often and for long distances.

3. Rebates of electric vehicles

Another way electric car ownership differs from gas car ownership is the rebates and incentives available at the national and state level. While the initial cost of an electric car is generally more expensive than a gas car, government rebates help. Indeed, this option to mitigate the final price is one of the more compelling reasons to invest in such technology today.

So before buying an electric vehicle, it’s essential to know what offers are available to you. Researching state or local government websites for incentives is highly recommended. Still, no matter how generous schemes might be, the fact remains that the purchase of an electric car represents a significant investment. It should be noted, however, that the ongoing nature of cost-saving benefits is not insignificant. In the long run, you may very well find yourself ahead of the game.

4. Fewer emissions

Often considered the final nail in the coffin of the electric cars vs. gas cars debate is the pure nature of the environmental credentials on offer. As with most things, though, things are not quite as simple as you might think.

Sure, electric cars produce no direct emissions, but that does not mean that there is no associated environmental impact. Well to wheel emissions must be factored into any analysis of a carbon footprint.

Well-to-wheel emissions are pollutants emitted when using electricity to power the car. The amount of well-to-wheel emissions you produce depends on where you live. Does a coal-burning station power your supply? Are you on a 100 percent green tariff? Such nuances make a huge difference.

Indeed, the argument that BEVs are in fact, dirtier than their gas-powered cousins is a common refrain in the gas car vs. electric car debate.

But while it is true that the environmental impact of making an electric car is higher than that of a gas-powered one the math doesn’t end there. The fact remains that electric vehicles do not pour poison out of their rear ends. Indeed, taken across a span of years, electric cars produce only half the amount of well-to-wheel emissions than gas-powered cars. The jury then is out. The electric car’s eco-credentials are secure.

5. The use of renewable materials and energy

In addition to producing less pollution with fewer emissions, electric vehicles supplement their environmental credibility via the use of recycled materials and renewable energy. For those looking at how to take their eco-friendliness to the next level, consider charging with renewable energy sources. Better yet, purchasing a solar panel takes your green accreditation to the next level.

Many electric cars strive towards a 100 percent renewable material benchmark. If you’re looking to maximize your green initiative, check out the Ford Focus Electric or the Nissan Leaf, both of which are made entirely out of recycled and green materials.

6. Public health benefits

Environmental conscientiousness notwithstanding, electric cars also offer positive benefits for your health and the health of those around you. Gas vehicles produce a ton of harmful exhaust that is toxic to our lungs when breathed in excess. These dangerous pollutants reduce our air quality, which can lead to asthma, problems of the eyes and nose, and respiratory conditions.

Because electric vehicles don’t contribute as much to air pollution, there will be less exhaust in the air, leading to better air quality for everyone. And that has to be a win-win.

7. Safety

You probably didn’t realize that in addition to all the other differences that separate electric vehicles from gas vehicles, security would be one of them. Not only do electric cars make the earth happier and keep people breathing better, but they also keep you safer while driving. Electric vehicles have a much lower center of gravity than gas cars, and for that reason, they tend to stay upright during collisions.

There is also growing evidence that electric cars are less likely to result in a car fire than gas cars. While the batteries at the heart of an electric vehicle are certainly flammable, there is still a lower associated risk.

8. Energy Security

When it comes to gasoline, America and other western countries rely heavily on the imports of foreign countries for oil. Because electric vehicles are powered entirely with electricity, dependence on international oil ceases to be of particular concern.

The Future

The entire electric cars vs. gas car debate becomes meaningless in the wake of the looming climate emergency. Sure, it’s nice to save money, and yes, some of these cars are popular products in their own right.

But keeping your eyes on the prize is essential. The goal here is to reduce the carbon footprint. The aim is to contribute to a healthier living environment and a sustainable future. So by all means, weigh the benefits for yourself in your own life. But also consider the needs of those around you and of a future free from environmental ruin.


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