Techsplanations: Extended-range vehicle

If you're tired of shelling out cash at the gas pump, but aren't ready to go all-electric, there's an alternative that might be right for you. Extended-range vehicles can travel significant distances on an electric charge, but have a backup gas engine or generator to take you further when needed.

Let's face it, electric cars don't make sense for everyone. Maybe you need to travel long distances on a regular basis or perhaps your area doesn't yet feature an abundance of charging stations. While consumers can expect to see battery range, recharge times and charging infrastructure improve over the coming years, an extended-range vehicle might be a better choice for some green-conscious drivers in the meantime.

Many conventional hybrids boast their ability to run in "EV mode" at low speeds, for very short distances. Extended-range vehicles, however, can go much further and faster under all-electric operation than a traditional hybrid. The plug-in electric Chevy Volt, for instance, can go about 38 miles on a battery charge, whereas the plug-in hybrid Ford Fusion Energi can travel about 20 miles without engaging the gas engine.

Pure electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf can travel even further on battery power alone, but an extended-range vehicle doesn't require you to charge up in order to keep moving. Say you forget to plug in overnight or you need to travel well beyond your car's electric range: If there's gas in the tank of an extended-range vehicle, you can keep driving.

While extended-range vehicles offer the flexibility of both gas and electric operation, we're betting if you own one of these plug-ins, you're going to charge up as often as you can. You'll save some money at the pump and maybe a few trees along the way, but expect to pay a premium over the sticker price of a standard gas or hybrid car for the privilege.

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