The Chevy Volt, an electric car that GM says will go 40 miles on an electric charge, is on display at the Washington Auto Show, on Jan. 26, 2010.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

How Long do Plug-in Hybrids Take to Charge?

If you buy a plug-in hybrid vehicle, how long will it take you to recharge the batteries? Will recharging the plug-in be the equivalent of a quick trip to the gas station for a refill or more of an overnight wait?

Probably closer to the latter. A couple of pages back we mentioned that the Chevy Volt will come with two different chargers, a 120-volt portable charger that runs off a typical household electric outlet and a 240-volt charger that will be hardwired into your home's electrical system. The 240-volt charger provides the fastest charge. General Motors estimates that a full recharge with the 240-volt charger will take about three hours. The 120-volt charger will take six hours for a full charge if set at 12 volts and eight hours if set at 8 volts. How will you know when the charging is complete? An indicator on the dashboard will tell you when the battery is at full charge, so you can be sure you have a full 40 miles (64.4 kilometers) worth of power in your car before you head off to work in the morning. The Hymotion plug-in modification for the Prius is similarly designed for an overnight charge.

This sounds pretty slow to those of us accustomed to taking five or 10 minutes at the gas pump, but the Volt is intended primarily for day-to-day commuting and errand running, where a midday recharge isn't likely to be necessary. Most people using the vehicle for these purposes will be able to stay within the daily 40-mile (64.4-kilometer) range, occasionally falling back on the extended range made available by the internal combustion engine. The Volt can then be charged overnight, while the owners are asleep and inexpensive off-peak electric rates apply.

Speaking of inexpensive off-peak rates, how much will recharging a plug-in hybrid's battery pack cost? Probably less than you think. We'll talk about that on the next page.