Research Alternative Fuel Vehicles

There are plenty of alternatives to cars and trucks powered by gas and diesel engines. Read on to learn about the technologies at work in electric and hybrid vehicles, and where to find them.

March 2016

There’s more concern today than ever about the environment—and more people are looking into used alternative fuel vehicles, including used electric cars and used hybrid cars, as alternatives to used cars and trucks powered by gasoline or diesel engines. Many people see the benefits of driving one of these eco-friendly cars, and it looks like they’re here to stay.

We’ve gathered some information about used alternative fuel vehicles, including some of the best hybrid cars, to help you understand how the technology works and so you can make an informed decision when it’s time to shop!

What is an electric car?

Electric cars (EVs) have been around at least as long as gas- and diesel-powered cars, with the first electric horseless carriages appearing in the US well over a hundred years ago. Despite the passage of time, the technological principles at work are largely the same today. 

Environmentally friendly

Electric vehicle operation is environmentally friendly—and this is the biggest attraction for EV buyers. There are no tailpipe emissions, and they run on domestically-produced electricity. While much of our nation’s electric grid is powered by coal-burning power plants, electricity from other means (hydroelectric, solar, wind, and nuclear) creates no pollutants.

The technology

Outwardly, EVs look like any other car on the road, only they’re almost completely silent—no tailpipe or engine sounds. There’s the Nissan Leaf, for example, and the Chevrolet Spark EV. Both cars are all-electric, and both look like they could be hiding gasoline engines under their hoods. Hidden under these cars’ bodywork, usually in the frame, is a set of large batteries that provide stored energy for powering one or more electric motors. These motors operate relatively very efficiently: around 60 percent of electrical energy from the power grid is converted to power at the wheels (in gas-powered vehicles, only about 20-25 percent of gasoline’s stored energy turns the wheels; the rest is lost as heat and noise). These motors can be very torque-y, and they provide impressively smooth acceleration.

EV driving range

These days, the best electric cars can cover anywhere from 40 to 100 miles before they must be re-tethered to a charging source. Some of the most expensive EVs can go up to 200 miles on a charge. Of course, driving habits dictate maximum daily range. Recharging happens either at your home, at your work or at one of more than 12,000 charging stations around the country. Depending on your hookup, your modern EV can be ready to roll on a full charge after being plugged in overnight. Several equipment charging options are available for EV owners. A "Level 2 Fast Charger" device can cut the standard time in half but requires an electrician for home installation.

The costs of ownership

More and more companies are rolling out all-electric models, whose motors require less costly maintenance than internal combustion engines. And, electricity is less expensive than gasoline on a cost per mile basis. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’, it costs about half as much to drive an electric vehicle as it does to drive a similar used car that runs on gas. In addition, some EVs offer new owners state and federal tax benefits, which could make driving an EV even less expensive. Keep in mind, though, that all other maintenance and repair needs such as tires, brakes, and suspension items are required to keep an electric vehicle operating safely.

The pros and cons of driving an all-electric car:

The Pros

  • Operation doesn’t pollute the atmosphere
  • Shh…EVs are quiet!
  • Plug in at home overnight to recharge
  • Electric motors are relatively torquey (read: quick acceleration!)
  • Lower operating costs than gas- or diesel-powered vehicles
  • Possible state and federal tax incentives for new EV owners

The Cons

  • Battery technology, while advancing, still limits overall range
  • Recharging can be a lengthy process, depending on your connection
  • Replacing battery packs can be expensive
  • The U.S. electric grid is largely powered by not-so-environmentally friendly coal
  • Some states are beginning to charge an EV tax, since their owners don’t pay existing gas taxes at the pump

EV models

What is a hybrid car?

Used hybrid cars and trucks use newer technology for better efficiency on the roadways. These are electrically-powered vehicles that have the added benefit of an onboard gas or diesel engine. They burn significantly less fuel – roughly 30-60 percent less – than conventional gas-powered vehicles. In some models, the fuel-burning motor is there to boost overall range; it kicks in when it’s needed to provide extra power on hills and inclines. In other models, a small gas engine charges the car’s electric motor. If you’re looking to get great gas mileage, hybrids are a great way to get the most out of what you pay for at the gas pump.

The technology

Like you’ll find with EVs, drivers of hybrids have a hand in keeping their used cars’ batteries topped off. That’s because a driver’s coasting and applying the brakes lets the electric motors work in reverse to “reload” the battery pack.

Hybrids’ driving range

Hybrids can travel further than EVs, thanks to their onboard gasoline engines which either recharge the batteries and/or can be relied on to propel the vehicle when batteries run low. Of course, when you’re driving a hybrid and looking to improve your gas mileage, you’re still reliant on refills at the gas station. And just like with EVs, regular maintenance and repair are required for safe vehicle operation.

The pros and cons of driving a hybrid 

The Pros

  • Economical
  • Good performance
  • Better range than EVs

The Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavier than EVs 

Hybrid models

*Source: fueleconomy.gov


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