Electric Versus Gasoline: Know the Difference

By Jed Lehman •  Updated: 11/23/21 •  12 min read

As the automotive world continues to evolve the way that vehicles are designed changes. While the market used to be dominated by gasoline-powered vehicles, hybrid and electric cars are becoming more prominent. Understanding the differences between gasoline-powered vehicles and electric vehicles can teach you about your automotive needs moving forwards. 

In this guide, we’re going to take you through everything you need to know about electric cars, gasoline cars, and the subtypes within both groups. Read on to learn more about both types.

Gasoline Engines 

Gasoline engines are the most common engines you’ll find. While the electric market continues to grow, there are millions of petrol-powered cars on the streets and in production. Many manufacturers began their businesses with petrol cars, with some of the most popular brands being Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota, and General Motors.

Petrol engines operate with internal combustion and use a spark for ignition. There are several types of petrol engines and some petrol engines run on different fuel types than others. We’re going to take you through everything you need to know.

What Is an Internal Combustion Engine?

combustion engine

Internal combustion engines combine air and fuel (gasoline, oil, diesel) to create hot gases that drive pistons or other components. For automotive purposes, combustion engines drive pistons up and down to generate physical force that’s converted to rotational energy. That energy is sent through the drivetrain and powers all four wheels (or more) of vehicles.

Internal combustion engines have been around for over a century and have been because they’re reliable and easy to produce. Made from simple materials like iron and aluminum, producing gasoline engines is simple and the internal combustion engine continues to evolve.

Types of Gasoline Engines 

There are several types of gasoline engines. Each type has benefits and drawbacks, so we’ll take you through a brief breakdown of each type.

V Engine 

The V engine is one of the most common designs for internal combustion engines used for automotive purposes. The V engine allows car manufacturers to create more power in a small area, which is why many muscle cars have V8 engines. For these reasons, the V engine design is also popular in luxury vehicles.

Flat Engine 

The flat engine is an engine that’s turned on its side. Instead of the pistons facing upwards, they’re moving sideways. The pistons and cylinders are facing opposite directions and the design is popular in high-performance or luxury vehicles like those produced by Bentley.

W Engine 

The W engine is similar to the V engine but it uses the shape of a W instead. These engines build upon the large amounts of power that V engines make in a small area, which makes the pistons tightly compact and efficient. Still, the W engine is not used often in modern vehicles and its design is reserved for high-end brands because of the cost and maintenance.

Rotary Engine 

Rotary engines, also known as Wankel engines, don’t use pistons. These engines use rotors in their place, which are typically triangular. The rotors work the same way that pistons do but the design makes it easier for the engine to be more compact. Rotary engines are commonly found in vehicles produced by Mazda, like the Mazda RX-7. Still, not many rotary engines are in production today –even when fans call for their return.


The in-line is as the name suggests. The cylinders and pistons are in a straight line under the hood. In-line engines are commonly used in 6 cylinder vehicles and 4 cylinder vehicles because they take up more space. Some rare cars even have in-line 5s, which is 5 cylinders in a straight line. The in-line design is popular today and can be seen in many European and Japanese vehicles.

Straight-Twin Engine 

Straight-twin engines are commonly used in BMWs and other German cars like Mercedes. The design shares elements from the v engine and the in-line engine. Straight-twin engines are parallel in the engine bay.

It’s important to note that these types of engines are the common types of internal combustion engines. In the past, there have been other designs that have seen limited success, which is why we haven’t listed them here for you.

Common Fuel Types 

fuel pumps

Gasoline cars run on several types of fuel. The fuel a car runs on is important because it determines how much the fuel will cost and how rich the air to fuel ratio will be. For these reasons, it’s important to make sure gasoline cars are running on the right fuel.


E85 is a type of fuel that’s high in ethanol and gasoline. While all gasoline mixes have ethanol in them, E85 typically has half or more than half of the mixture consisting of ethanol. This makes the vehicles cheaper to fuel because ethanol is cheaper. That said, E85 should only be used in vehicles that have flex-fuel capabilities. When used in other vehicles it can cause damage to the entire engine.


There are several types of gasoline. Gasoline varies based on its fuel grade, which is determined by its octane level. For example, 87 is regular-grade gasoline with an octane rating of 87. There are also higher octane level options like 89, 91, 93, and more. Before filling up at the pump you should always read your vehicle’s owner’s manual to determine which fuel grade is appropriate.


Diesel fuel is more fuel-efficient than gasoline and E85, which means vehicles can run longer on diesel fuel. For this reason, many large trucks are equipped with turbo-diesel engines to save on fuel costs. The drawback is that diesel can be more expensive and harder to find. Unfortunately, diesel engines also create nitrous oxide, which creates smog.

Advantages of Gasoline Engines 

There’s a reason that gasoline engines have been around for over a century and continue to see extensive use. Gasoline engines have several advantages when it comes to power, construction, and fuel.

The advantages of gasoline engines include:

Even if electric vehicles are gaining ground and market share, gasoline engines will be around for a while because of these advantages.

Disadvantages of Gasoline Engines 

Gasoline engines are useful but they’re not perfect. There are many reasons that the world is shifting towards electric vehicles, so we’re going to take you through a few.

The disadvantages of gasoline engines include:

Electric vehicles are becoming more popular because gasoline engines have several flaws that are a net negative for the driver and society.

Electric Engines 

electric car

Electric engines are recent innovations that have surprised the automotive market. Due to recent innovations from brands like Tesla, Toyota, and Ford, electric cars have become as efficient and reliable as petrol cars, if not more efficient. Today, most automakers have an electric car for sale that varies in range, power, and price.

What is an Electric Engine? 

An electrical engine is different from an internal combustion engine for a few reasons. First and foremost, electric engines convert electrical energy into mechanical energy instead of converting chemical energy into mechanical energy. Electric vehicles use large battery backs to power the motor and need to be charged instead of fueled. The result is a cleaner engine that doesn’t need fuel, fuel injection, or other liquid components.

Another benefit to electric engines is the lack of pollution. These vehicles don’t produce carbon dioxide or smog, so they’re cleaner to operate than petrol or diesel-powered engines. Most electric vehicles generate power from the battery and send the force through the electric traction motor that’s connected to the wheels. The motor then turns the wheels and propels the car forward. These engines don’t require gears and generate large amounts of torque.

Types of Electric Motors 

Like petrol vehicles, electric motors come in many shapes and sizes based on the needs of the vehicle. Still, each type of electric motor is designed to perform similar tasks, so we’re going to give you a brief breakdown of each type.

DC Series Motor

The DC series motors are the first electric motors to see production. While they’re not used in modern vehicles, they’re used on railways and other applications. These Motors date back to the 1900s and provide high levels of starting torque. DC series motors can also handle drastic changes in load. The drawback to these motors is that they’re unreliable.

Brushless DC Series Motors 

Brushless DC Series Motors (BLDC) are similar to DC series motors but they lack the commutator and brush arrangement. BLDC motors feature permanent magnets and offer greater reliability than DC series electric motors. These motors have high levels of efficiency (up to 98%) and high levels of starting torque. For these reasons, BLDC motors are commonly found in automotive applications –most commonly for electric motorcycles.

Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor 

The permanent magnet synchronous motor has high power density and high efficiency. Like the BLDC motor, these Motors have magnets on the rotors. The primary difference between the motors is that the PMSM has a sinusoidal back EMF instead of the trapezoidal back featured on BLDC motors. These motors are commonly used in high-power vehicles.

Three Phase AC Induction Motors 

Commonly used in vehicles like the Tesla Model S, the three-phase AC induction motor is a unique electric motor that doesn’t start with high levels of torque. To alter this issue, automotive manufacturers have to use control techniques to make sure the torque is present when the vehicle is started. These Motors can be designed with high efficiency –up to 95%.

Advantages of Electric Motors

Electric motors are gaining more market cap because of the benefits they feature for society and drivers. While technology lagged behind internal combustion engines in the past, electric motors have caught up and even surpassed gasoline engines in some cases.

Here are the advantages of electric motors:

These advantages display how electric motors have come a long way and continue to help people and society.

Disadvantages of Electric Motors 

Electric motors have progressed a lot over the last several years. Still, they’re not perfect and do have some disadvantages compared to internal combustion engines.

The disadvantages of electric motors include:

Electric motors have mostly caught up to internal combustion engines but there are still parts that need to be improved.

Other Engine Types 

hybrid engine

Gasoline engines and electric engines are the most common engine types you’ll find. In some cases, you’ll even find combinations between the two engine types. That said, there are also other types of engines you can find.


One of the most popular types of engine, the hybrid engine is a combination of electric and gasoline engines. Hybrid engines use components found in electric cars and gasoline cars to create power, save fuel, and even increase power in some cases. In most hybrid vehicles, the internal combustion engine is used to charge the battery. These vehicles can’t be plugged in to be charged, which is what classifies them as a hybrid vehicles.

Hydrogen Cell (Fuel Cells)

Hydrogen cells are used to power vehicles. While it’s one of the least-used fuel types, hydrogen cells are innovative designs that could become more popular in the future. In fact, several manufacturers like Toyota have paid for extensive research for hydrogen cell cars and some states (primarily California) have hydrogen cell stations. In these vehicles, the fuel cell consists of a small box that’s filled with hydrogen and oxygen to create a chemical reaction. Hydrogen-powered vehicles can be filled with hydrogen to be charged in minutes instead of the hours it takes to charge traditional electric vehicles.

Diesel Engines

Diesel engines are unique compared to other internal combustion engines because of how combustion occurs. Instead of requiring a spark like in petrol cars, the fuel combusts spontaneously when introduced to the hot air within the cylinders. While complex, these engines have been around for about as long as petrol engines but their uses differ. Diesel engines are commonly found in heavy equipment because of their torque and fuel efficiency.

These types of engines and motors share similarities with electric and gasoline-powered cars but have enough notable differences to separate them.

Wrapping Up

Electric and gasoline vehicles share many similarities. While they’re powered by different sources, they both serve the same purpose; to deliver power to the drivetrain and all four wheels of the vehicle. That said, choosing between the two options depends on what you need out of a vehicle and how much you’re willing to spend.

Questions? Contact us here.

Jed Lehman

Jed Lehman is a born gearhead who has been working on cars since he could crawl. He inherited his love for auto from his grandfather who owned a maintenance shop in Carlsbad, California. Jed is the driver behind Gearshift, and started this site to provide straightforward, helpful automobile information. From maintenance tips to product reviews, you can find it all here.