Don't Treat Your Plug-In Hybrid Like an EV

Regular maintenance goes a long way, for both systems.

PHEV electric car charging.
Blue Planet Studio/

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are an excellent choice for buyers who want to spend less time at the gas pump and enjoy the efficiency of an EV without going all-in on the technology. That said, there are several things you’ll want to consider, and don’t treat it like a regular electric vehicle.

Whether you just bought a PHEV or are planning to get one, it’s important to remember that these vehicles don’t have the driving range of a fully electric car, and there’s still a gasoline-powered engine to worry about.

However, this hybrid technology makes them highly efficient, and some consider a PHEV the best of both worlds. Here’s what you should know about keeping it as fuel-efficient as possible with regular maintenance.

What is a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle?

EV vs gasoline
ALDECA studio/

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) have an entire gas-powered system, an electrical drivetrain, and a battery. It can use one or the other, or both. This system is much different than a “hybrid” vehicle.

With a regular hybrid, the car will typically use the EV aspect to help you accelerate but switch to gas-only as you drive around or combine the two for improved mileage. You can’t plug in a regular hybrid to recharge the battery. The car does it for you, but that also means its primary power source is still gasoline, even if they’re more efficient than a regular car.

On the flip side, as the name suggests, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle has a similar electric/gas hybrid setup, but you can plug it in to charge the battery. More importantly, a PHEV can run on electricity only during short distances, often around 60 miles or less.

Many car buyers consider a plug-in hybrid the perfect vehicle to travel short distances on electricity, like a work commute. You’ll never need to buy gas. Then, there’s still a gasoline engine for longer trips or when you forget to charge the battery.

Additionally, when you switch to the internal combustion engine (ICE) and run your car on gasoline, the momentum from driving around can recharge the electric bits with regenerative braking. Technically, you’ll never need the gas engine if you only drive short distances. However, it’s vital that you don’t drive it that way and continue to use the ICE engine occasionally.

Use the Gas Engine Frequently

Toyota RAV4 hybrid PHEV

We’re all familiar with maintenance on standard gasoline-powered cars, but those who buy a PHEV might forget about it, and that’s a mistake. A PHEV still has a regular engine with oil, gasoline, coolant, and other fluids.

And just like you should never let a regular gas car sit for long periods, you should use the gas engine on your plug-in hybrid electric vehicle at least once a week. Yes, even if it has enough electric range to cover 100% of your daily driving, run the gasoline engine on the occasional trip.

There are several reasons you’ll want to do this. For one, to ensure all the components stay fresh, lubricated, and in good working order. It’ll also help you use the gasoline, so it doesn’t sit for an extended period, then go bad.

It’s not a good idea to run an ICE engine with several months old gasoline. So, if you rarely use the gas engine in your PHEV, you may want to use a gasoline stabilizer to keep things fresh.

Another thing to keep in mind is the brakes. Hybrids and PHEVs have regenerative braking, where the electric motors spin in reverse to slow the vehicle down without using the brakes. The vehicle’s momentum creates energy, and your car converts that to battery power. However, this also means you’re not using the brakes as often, and you could face brake binding or other issues.

While your PHEV can run entirely on electricity for short trips, don’t forget about all the regular car maintenance because a PHEV still has all those same components.

Your PHEV Can Help

electric vehicle battery range on the dash.

Depending on the year, make, or model of your plug-in hybrid vehicle, it’ll likely remind you to start the gas engine frequently or even do it for you. For example, the Chevy Volt has a sealed and pressurized gas tank, which should help extend the life of gasoline. That said, if you don’t use the engine for 4-6 months, a stabilizer is still a good idea.

Most PHEVs have built-in fuel and engine maintenance modes to ensure everything runs appropriately or gets used often enough. Many PHEVs can track when the last time the engine ran and will initiate an “engine maintenance mode” to run the engine for 10-20 minutes while you drive. You can override this if you know the trip will be short. Either way, don’t forget to run the regular engine from time to time.

Similarly, your PHEV likely has a gas maintenance system that tracks when you use the fuel tank. If the system recognizes that you haven’t used that gas fast enough, it’ll remind you to switch to ICE driving or add additional fuel to the mix.

These essential systems will help keep your PHEV in optimal working condition and ensure the electric and gasoline motors are always ready.

Don’t Forget About EV Maintenance

electric vehicle charging graphic
Smile Fight/

And finally, we wanted to mention maintenance one more time. While it’s true that an electric vehicle requires less maintenance than a regular vehicle, there are still things to pay attention to.

Even though electric vehicles don’t have nearly as many moving parts doesn’t mean you won’t have to do anything. For example, you’ll still need to keep up with engine and cabin air filters, inverter coolant, brake pads and rotors, or the occasional tire rotation. You’ll want all the hybrid components, from the charging port to battery packs and inverter coolant checked every 5,000 to 7,000 miles, similar to regular oil changes.

You’ll also want to maintain the battery. Don’t forget about the battery if you’re going on a long road trip and plan on using your PHEV like a regular car with gasoline. It’s a bad idea to let the battery get too low, nor will you want to store it for long periods at 100% charge. Most manufacturers recommend keeping your PHEV battery between 20-80% for optimal health.

While you drive a PHEV with gasoline, the electric system can charge through regenerative braking. But don’t forget to keep the battery charged to an acceptable level. You never know when you’ll need it, plus it’s better for overall system health.

In closing, just because you can do all your PHEV driving on the battery doesn’t mean you should. Use both systems frequently, monitor your battery, gasoline, and oil levels, and practice good maintenance habits.

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