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How do Tax Credits for Hybrid and Electric Cars work?

Purchase certain types of hybrid or electric vehicles and you may be eligible for tax relief. That relief may come in the form of a rebate or a credit, the latter applied to your tax return. Federal and in some cases, state incentives were created to ease the cost of buying such vehicles, which typically cost more than conventional gas-powered vehicles due to costly propulsion systems and battery packs.

Federal Tax Incentives through 2010

The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 set in motion a tax credit for people who were interested in purchasing a hybrid electric vehicle. The law was in effect before the first plug-in hybrid models hit the market and were limited to 60,000 vehicles per manufacturer spanning multiple model years. Those incentives shrunk as certain sales milestones were reached, and then eliminated once a manufacturer sold 60,000 units of the eligible vehicles.

The credit amount varied and was based on how efficient or “green” a vehicle was rated. For example, a two-wheel drive 2006-2007 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid garnered a credit of only $250, while a model such as a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid provided the full $3,400 tax credit.

[Read: Electric Car Buying Guide]

Among the earliest hybrids that came with tax credits were the Toyota Prius, the Nissan Altima Hybrid, the Chrysler Aspen Hybrid and the Mercury Mariner Hybrid. The entire program ended as of December 31, 2010, and included only buyers of eligible new vehicles. It was also the last time that any traditional hybrid model was eligible for a federal tax credit.

Federal Tax Incentives from 2011 to Present

In anticipation of all-new plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles arriving on the market for the 2011 model year, the federal government rolled out a new incentive program that started on January 1, 2010. The new program expanded the tax credit for up to $7,500 per vehicle and provides the full tax credit to the first 200,000 eligible plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles sold per manufacturer.

The new program provides a $7,500 federal tax credit to pure electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf. Other models that qualify under the program include the Smart ForTwo EV, the Tesla Model S, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Ford Focus EV, Fiat 500e, BMW i3, Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV, and a handful of models that are no longer on the market.

[Watch: Top Five Benefits of an Electric Car]

The same program covers plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). Some models, such as the BMW i3 Sedan with a range extender, Chevrolet Volt, and the Cadillac ELR are eligible for the full $7,500 tax credit. Other models, including the Ford C-MAX Energi, BMW i8, the Toyota Prius Plug-in, Porsche 918 Spyder, and the Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid have tax credits ranging from $2,500 to $5,336, depending on the model.

State Tax Incentives: General Information

Early on, several states offered tax incentives to residents on top of the federal incentives. This means that consumers could reduce the cost of buying an eligible hybrid or electric vehicle further.

Some of the incentives involve policy changes that don’t cost the state money. For instance, in Virginia electric vehicle owners are allowed to drive in high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes with certain restrictions, including clean fuel plates installed on these cars. Among the most generous incentives include reduced registration fees, assistance with buying a fast charger, and a sales tax abatement.

The state of California offers taxpayers a rebate of up to $5,000 for the purchase or lease of a new plug-in hybrid, EV or zero-emission vehicle. The last category includes the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell and the Mercedes-Benz F-Cell hydrogen vehicles. Both models qualify for the full rebate. Battery electric cars, such as the Kia Soul EV, Volkswagen e-Golf, and the Ford Focus Electric are eligible for state rebates of up to $2,500.

[Read: Best Used Car Deals]

Other states have incentives too or are considering legislation. Your state’s DMV is the best source to determine what incentives apply where you live.

The Tax Angle

Throwing not a little confusion into the mix is how rebates and tax credits are treated. A rebate will give you money back, usually after the purchase has been completed. On the other hand, a tax credit is applied when you file your tax return. Even then, some consumers never realize the full benefit because they make too much money. Thus, the $7,500 tax credit you thought might be applied could very well come in much less than what you had anticipated.

To sum up, there are federal incentives in place on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and for pure electric vehicles. Some states also offer incentives. Your accountant can help you claim whatever tax credit you qualify for, including filing Form 8834 — Qualified Electric Vehicle Credit — that may reduce your overall tax burden.

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20 thoughts on “How do Tax Credits for Hybrid and Electric Cars work?”

  1. Nice overview of incentives to buy EVs Matt. I’m planning on making a detailed guide for people when the club opens up to membership.

  2. What do you mean by “some consumers never realize the full benefit because they make too much money”? Wouldn’t the problem be making too little money, or rather, owing too little tax, since the federal credit is not refundable?

    1. I think what it means, is that those who make so much don’t really see much of deduction. Yes, to use common folk it seems like a lot. However, to someone who makes a lot of money it seems like not much of deduction. Does that make sense? That’s how I took the statement.

  3. I’m in the same boat Steve is, namely the author seems to have the logic backward concerning the tax credit. Seems like making not enough income leads to not paying enough tax to realize the credit deduction on one’s yearly federal income tax. Perhaps we’re both missing something here?

  4. The author has no clue. The tax liability is what matters here. If your tax liability exceeded $7500, you would be eligible for the credit. So making a lot of money generally means you pay more taxes than someone with little income and you would be in a better position to qualify for the full $7500 tax credit.

    1. Author may have had in mind the Alternative Minimum Tax or AMT which is how the fat, bloated confiscatory reditributionist government screws you anyway even if you have a lot of legitimate deductions (expenses). VOTE TRUMP and JOIN YOUR LOCAL TEA (Taxed Enough Already) PARTY if you are tired of giving your money to a people who expect you to pay their way.

  5. I think the author may have been implying that the credit has an income cap and phases out once gross income hits a certain threshold.

  6. Back in the recent past when a Prius (regular hybrid) as well as other hybrids qualified for a tax credit, I had several other write-offs on an otherwise upper middle class 1040. I didn’t quite realize the tax credit, as my return hit the Alternate Minimum Tax computation. I don’t believe it was that I made too much money but had too many legitimate write-offs. How I understood it. I fully agree though if one doesn’t have income tax at least equal to or greater than the tax credit, you won’t realize the full value of it.

  7. This might be a stupid question but I can’t seem to find the right answer… Can you still get the tax credits back when you purchase a USED electric vehicle? I live in CA and from what I’ve read, the state refund is $2,500 plus $1,500 for low income. I’ve been told that the state and federal tax credits only apply to new vehicles and not USED ones. If anyone can point me in the right direction, I’d appreciate it!

  8. I was told in 2011 that the ford escape hybrid Limited’s were not covered under any kind of tax credit. is that true or not?

  9. I didn’t get me answer from reading this.
    So….I bought a 2016 Toyota Prius in July of 2016, do I get any tax credit? Also, in order to get it, what information would I have to take to my tax professional (H&R Block)

  10. I bought a 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (not plug in) and can’t find anything saying I can take a tax credit for it. Wondering if IRS will be publishing or has published something saying which vehicles qualify for the credit and which do not.

    1. No federal tax credit for pure hybrids – unless there is some new program. Hybrid vehicle credits ended several years ago. Needs to be a plug-in to qualify for a tax credit. Credit based on size of battery. You can check at fueleconomy.gov to be sure.

      1. Thanks Dan…I didn’t see my vehicle (2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid) on the fueleconomy.gov website so I guess my vehicle is not eligible for the tax credit:(-

  11. Is there a tax credit for a 2012 Lexus 200-H -non electric?

    Is there a tax credit for a 2013 Prius-non electric?

    We could not find the proper statute that would allow a tax credit for purchasing an original hybrid vehicle? in 2012 or 2013?

    Please reply,

    Need your help,

    David Daw

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