A plug-in hybrid car with no place to plug it in?
October 26, 2020 6:52 PM   Subscribe

The time has come to replace my beloved 2001 Prius. I'm determined to get something with the same or better gas mileage (>40 mpg) and am looking at plug-in hybrids, with short range electric capacity and hybrid motor, like the Subaru Crosstrek PHEV. My major complication is that I have no place to plug in a car. I live in a multi-unit building with no garage or driveway, on a city street with difficult parking. Can I make this work?

My plug in options would be public parking lots and garages. There's a parking garage a block from my house and I could pay to park there overnight and charge it, but I don't want to pay to park there everyday (and can't get a monthly permit). There's a Whole Foods parking lot with chargers and a couple of other charging options, none within walking distance. I could maybe piece together a few options. I can certainly drive it just on the hybrid motor with no electric charge, but that's kind of defeating the purpose of the plug-in part. Most of my driving is within the 17 mile electric range of the Crosstrek, so I'm a good use case for PHEV, if I can sort out the plug part.

Have you done this? Any other city dwellers with electric or PHEV cars? How do you make it work? How annoying and complicated is it? Or should I just get the newest Prius instead and get on with life?
posted by gingerbeer to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I had a PHEV with no ability to charge at home, and don't particularly recommend it.

In my case, I live a couple blocks away from a public library that (pre-COVID) had free chargers. Still, most of the time I ended up driving the car as a pure hybrid, having not charged it beforehand, and PHEVs make rather mediocre hybrids. The extra weight of the larger battery is very noticeable both in worsened handling/braking/acceleration and in reduced fuel economy when run as a regular hybrid.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:00 PM on October 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: That's a tough one. Really, the convenience of an electric car is that you just plug it in at your house and never have to go to a station. There are a growing number of public stations available, but they aren't as convenient as at your house. And most of them are not free. Their electric fees are much higher than what you pay at home.

In your situation, a plug-in just doesn't make sense or justify the extra cost or the extra battery weight you are hauling around. The new Prius is rated 58 miles per gallon in the city. You would be using less than a gallon of gas a day. That would be my choice.
posted by JackFlash at 8:03 PM on October 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

A friend of mine was able to charge at work--is there any chance that would be possible for you (maybe post-pandemic, depending on your office situation)?
posted by pinochiette at 8:22 PM on October 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been meaning to ask my new apartment neighbor how they deal with their full EV Chevy Volt. I can't see how it's practical if you don't have a place to plug-in at home and aren't working somewhere that has charging available. I don't think I would buy one without a house to park and plug (as much as I would like to have one).
posted by zengargoyle at 9:49 PM on October 26, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers and input so far. I don't drive to work, nor does work provide charging, or even parking. In the Before Times, I took the bus to work, but I'm likely WFH for ever and ever as best I can predict.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:16 PM on October 26, 2020

I lived in a place where every winter my neighbors would drape extension cords from the windows of their homes over the branches of trees down to their cars in the street below to plug in their block heaters. They were at least able to park their cars in front of their homes, though. Not sure this would be an option where you live, but throwing it out there just in case.
posted by Avalow at 10:23 PM on October 26, 2020

Would something like EVMatch work for you?
posted by Toddles at 10:29 PM on October 26, 2020

Best answer: I wonder if a full electric might actually be more workable for you? A 200/+ mile range would get you a lot of 17 mile trips so parking overnight in the paid garage once every couple weeks seems more feasible than trying to charge a smaller battery every day.

Just a thought. As another garageless city dweller hoping to go electric one day, I'm very interested in the answers here.
posted by gueneverey at 4:22 AM on October 27, 2020

Plugins get slightly worse mpg than regular hybrids due to the extra weight they carry around when driven in hybrid mode. They are also more expensive, although tax incentives may make up the difference that is very location and your taxes specific.

You should be able to find the pure hybrid mpg, in addition to plug in mpg and pure electric info.

Some plugin hybrids have ancillary reasons to buy them. Example, id really like a rav4 prime since its got beefier electric motors that combined with gas put out 300hp and its the second fastest toyota for sale, even though i cant charge at home.

If there arent any ancillary reasons to buy, or tax reasons, you may be looking at spending more money for worse performance for your use case.

Plugins will get better in the future, so if you cant take advantage now, revisit the idea in a couple years when you can? Your situation and the charging situation may change.
posted by TheAdamist at 6:21 AM on October 27, 2020

To answer Avalow's question, no, you cannot use a regular house extension cord to charge a hybrid. They have special plugs that a) dont connect to a regulator outlet and b) that run on a different amperage anyway.

I bought a Prius C2 a couple years ago. It's less expensive than the regular Prius, but gets around 43 MPG in town. On long highway drives I've gotten over 55. I just did a long trip with sticky, resistant winter tires and still managed to get 48 on the highway. I know they say highway driving should be less MPG bc you're using the gas engine mostly but that has not been my experience, and I dont think my car is an outlier.

They arent as cheap.as those $5k all electrics, but can certainly be had for far less that you might expect if you get a 4 or 5year old car (which will still be under warranty, all the components have 7 year warranties and the battery has 10)
posted by ananci at 7:42 AM on October 27, 2020

I have yet to see an electric car or plug in hybrid that doesn't have a way (usually with an adapter) to charge, very slowly, from a regular 15 amp socket/extension cord. Even Teslas can do it.

That's not terribly helpful if your only option is street parking where it isn't likely you'll be able to park in front of your house.

If that's your situation, pick an ICE or regular hybrid, whichever you get better mileage from. Do note that if most of your driving is on relatively uncongested highways, hybrids aren't really any better than an equivalent sized ICE. The advantage of a hybrid is all in the regenerative braking. Otherwise you're just hauling around useless battery weight.

Everyone who can go electric should, but it's perfectly OK if you are in a situation where you can't. It doesn't make you a bad person or mean that you don't care about climate change. That honor goes to the people who can go electric but refuse for various irrational reasons like the one road trip a year they wish they could take but only ever have that one time a decade ago.
posted by wierdo at 8:15 AM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: > I wonder if a full electric might actually be more workable for you? A 200/+ mile range would get you a lot of 17 mile trips so parking overnight in the paid garage once every couple weeks seems more feasible than trying to charge a smaller battery every day.

That's a really interesting point, and is making me re-think full electric. The one other household in my pandemic pod has an electric car and a fast charger, and I'd be able to charge there as well.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:53 AM on October 27, 2020

If you are planning to use a public charging station, especially if there are only a few slots, think about what you would do if the slots are unavailable because more and more people are buying electric cars. It's not clear to me if the infrastructure will get built out as fast as the usage rises. I have noticed that the 10 charger public charging lot nearest my home is surprisingly full - sometimes I even see someone waiting for a an open slot (or I used before the pandemic when I was out more) whereas two years ago there is was rarely more than half used any time I went by. Similarly my husband used to charge his car at work until it reached the point that you had to either get there early or keep a sharp eye for when a space opened up.
posted by metahawk at 12:03 PM on October 27, 2020

We’ve been talking about getting an electric here eventually also and we have the same limitation where we can charge at a parking lot but not at our house. The 250 mile range of the Niro or Kona would for us be two weeks of our longest errand every day. That would allow for a twice a month park and charge trip to the garage down the street. With a 17 mile radius, that would be a week of trips between charges for you. That’s more a worse case scenario not accounting for opportunistic charging while running an errand, etc.

Also a bonus for the full electric option: sitting in Bay Area traffic uses little power. And you’re eligible for the orange CAV HOV sticker that’s good until 2024.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:10 PM on October 27, 2020

One thing to research--and I don't know if I'm talking out of my arse here--is the discharge rate of a battery which isn't being used. Like if you charge your phone, turn it off, and turn it on in a year, odds are it may have a flat battery just through "static" discharge.

It might be very slow (which would be good), but if it's 10% per week (or whatever), you'd want to factor that into buying fully electric and expecting 200 miles between charges, but only really getting, say, 170.
posted by maxwelton at 3:58 PM on October 27, 2020

Best answer: "Public charging is nice if you can find it, but don’t buy an EV expecting to rely on it. I’m sure there are people who buy EVs and manage to get by on public charging, because everyone’s needs, expectations and environments are different, but at this point in time, our position remains that if you can’t charge at home, there’s no point to buying a plug-in." -- Should I Buy an Electric Car or Plug-In Hybrid? from cars.com, April 2019

While the article is 18 months old, it's still accurate from what I can see. Go read it all.
posted by pmurray63 at 6:36 PM on October 27, 2020

Best answer: I have a plug in hybrid. A Ford C-Max. At first I'd charge it while shopping etc, but it quickly became not worth the bother. Now I almost exclusively charge at home at night. Also, it claims a 19 mile range but I almost never get that. Often it's more like 10. Based on my experience, I would not recommend you get a plug in. A regular hybrid is probably still the way to go.
posted by latkes at 7:27 PM on October 27, 2020

Plenty of ICE engine cars get over 40mpg highway now. Certainly many non-plug-in hybrids do too. Unless you’re driving way more than average mileage, the fuel savings of adding PHEV efficiency Is offset by the inconvenience and cost in your situation.

I’d skip it.
posted by spitbull at 8:16 AM on October 28, 2020

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