Which is better: solar or electric cars? You buy either one these days, so let’s take a look at the best choices on either side of the sustainable cars divide. Here are some top picks for solar cars and electric cars, and which one will be the right choice for you.

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How do solar cars work?

Difference Between describes solar cars as “electric vehicles powered completely or partially by direct solar energy… a happy union of solar power and electric vehicles,” due to the fact that electric batteries from EVs can also store solar power for later use. Solar cars use a variety of photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into usable electric energy.

Solar cell technology exhibits significant advantages over traditional fuel-based energy sources, such as free energy source, zero emission, no noise and versatility. One alternative is to construct solar-powered charging stations in parking lots to produce electric power that goes into the electric power grid, and EVs can be powered by solar and wind energy. The solar power industry is one of the fastest growing industries in America. However, the future of using solar energy to power transport vehicles may still be a little hazy because of the practical difficulties involved in converting ordinary cars into solar cars.

A silver car driving on a desert highway

The best solar cars on the market

You can read up on several of the latest solar cars to hit the market in our coverage of the Lightyear One solar EV. Many solar cars charge just like EVs at your house, but rely on solar charging on-the-go to extend range. If you drive a lot in the sun, this could be a good solution for helping you drive farther between charges. Some of the best solar cars on the market right now include the Lightyear One linked above, Hanergy’s four solar cars, Sono Motors solar car or soon a Prius that is solar powered (or the Nissan ice cream van, but maybe that’s not being mass produced).

The best electric cars on a budget

Electric cars now come in all price ranges. Here are some of the best electric cars that you could actually afford on a budget. What you’re looking for in an EV is about a 300-mile range, equivalent to how often you would have to fill a gas tank and the infrastructure to charge it. Tesla sells home chargers, as do other carmakers these days. Or, you can charge EVs on standard outlets, it just needs to plug in overnight versus 20 minutes to a couple hours on a supercharging station.

Also, if you live on a rough road, you’ll need to pick a large SUV or wait for Jeep’s plug-in EV to spare the suspension. This is because many EVs have super low to the ground suspension for improved aerodynamics. That doesn’t blend well with dirt roads.

A black vehicle in a room with other cars

Polestar 2 is an EV with an incredible 476 horsepower that only costs $40,000 to start after the tax credit. The Chevy Bolt EV takes the prize for most cost-effective for the money at $27,590, which makes it the cheapest mainstream EV on the road. The Nissan LEAF is still popular and comes with two battery pack options starting at just $28,425. Also consider the Hyundai Kona Electric, which comes in around $35,000 for 258 miles of range.

How to decide between a solar car and an electric car

The best way to choose between a solar car and a simple EV is whether you have the driving condition to charge on the go with your solar panels. Driving in Alaska would only work part of the year. Solar panels and the batteries that store their sun-harvested power are much more efficient than they were a decade ago, but solar cars are still somewhat limited by climate. You need to consider the same problem if your commute is during night-time hours. If you’re driving when the sun isn’t out and you can’t charge where you’re parked, solar won’t work for you.

On the other hand, electric cars might be a challenge for people who live far from cities where they work, at least for the cheaper models. If you really want an EV but have range anxiety, check out the models with longer range or hybrid charging options. You can still find hybrid electric-combustion engine cars out there, but we would suggest an EV that has a variety of charging options, such as a solar EV hybrid or an EV that has a dedicated charger at home and at work.

Images via Lightyear One, Polestar and Pexels