Here are some guidelines to help narrow down the choices.
When to consider a hybridWith more than 40 hybrid cars on the market, there is a hybrid car that will suit literally everyone. Hybrid cars use a gasoline engine and an electric motor in tandem to power the vehicle to improve gas mileage. Hybrid cars are a good choice for people who want the typical range of traditional cars (about 300 miles per tank of gas). It's simply a matter of picking the body style, performance and features of the hybrids within your budget.
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When to consider a diesel
Clean diesel cars are another great option for those that need a 300+ mile range in between fill-ups. Many diesels are also more performance-oriented than their gasoline counterparts, without the compromise in reduced fuel economy that often comes with sporty cars that run on gasoline.
Today's clean diesel cars cost a bit more than their gasoline counterparts, but they typically get much better fuel economy, which can quickly make up for the initial price premium. Be sure to check the prices of diesel fuel in your area, however, since it is cheaper than premium gasoline on a national average, but can be more costly in certain parts of the country.
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When to consider a plug-in hybrid
Plug-in hybrids can run on electric power only and can be plugged in to recharge their batteries. Once electric power runs out (or in some cars, if you choose sooner), plug-in hybrids turn into regular hybrid cars, running on both the gasoline engine and the electric motor at the same time. While the electric-only mode provides a range of 14 to 38 miles (depending on the plug-in hybrid model), they provide the same range as a gasoline-only car overall, thanks to this hybrid mode.
Because electricity is cheaper per mile than gasoline or diesel, plug-in hybrids are great options for people who have short daily commutes -- allowing the car to operate on electric-only power -- and who also want a car that can work for longer road trips.
There's a federal tax credit (ranging from $2,500 to $7,500 depending on the model) for plug-in hybrids. Many states offer further incentives.
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When to consider an electric car
Electric cars are the most limiting in terms of driving range, but can provide the biggest benefits for certain types of drivers. Most electric cars have a range of 60 to 100 miles (with the exception of the Tesla Model S, which can travel up to 265 miles), so drivers need to be thoughtful about their driving distances and have a plan for recharging, usually at a more powerful Level 2 charger versus plugging into a standard wall outlet. Road trips are much more difficult to plan, and possibly out of the question, so if this is the only car in your household, you'll need to rent a car in order to travel a large distance.
Because electric motors have continuous torque, they can be very fun to drive, making them very appealing to the performance-oriented consumer. Electric cars cost more than their gasoline counterparts, but $7,500 in federal tax credits, plus credits from many states help to offset the initial cost. In addition, automakers are anxious to get electric cars into consumers' hands, so many offer cut-rate leases as low as $199 a month.
In addition, cost of ownership is much lower than gasoline cars. Electricity is cheaper than gasoline and electric cars have almost no maintenance, such as oil changes, making visits to the dealer less costly.
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