What Is a Hybrid Car & How Do They Work?
These days, everyone seems to talk about how great hybrid cars are and how they’re phenomenal alternatives to traditional, gas-only vehicles. Even fans of electric cars like hybrid vehicles since they include many of the benefits of gas-powered cars while also being better for the environment overall.
People often praise the fuel economy of hybrid models like the Toyota Prius, Honda Jazz, BMW i8 plug-in hybrid, Lexus RX 400h, Porsche 918, Chevy Volt, Audi Q5, Ford Expedition hydraulic hybrid, and more. However, it’s easy to wonder how hybrid technology works, as well as what terms like parallel hybrid, hybrid powertrain, mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid car (PHEV), and more mean.
So, how exactly do hybrids work? Furthermore, what constitutes a hybrid car compared to a traditional, gas-powered car and an all-electric vehicle? Let’s answer each of these questions and more in an in-depth exploration of hybrid cars.
Hybrid Electric Cars Explained
In a nutshell, a hybrid electric car or hybrid vehicle is a vehicle powered by both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine (gas engine). A traditional, gas-powered vehicle only uses an internal combustion engine, funneling standard gas and oxygen into a compressed chamber and igniting the mixture to generate power.
In contrast, an electric vehicle only uses battery power to turn wheels and move a vehicle. A full hybrid electric car combines both electrical energy and gasoline as its power sources. But it’s also a little different from conventional cars that run on electricity since it doesn’t charge the electric battery via a charging station or plug.
Hybrid electric cars are more popular than ever due to their potential energy-saving benefits. Plus, many people who use hybrid electric cars don’t have to spend as much money on gas since the battery provides some of the power needed for movement.
How Do Hybrid Cars Work?
At the core of a hybrid electric vehicle is a regenerative braking system. Put simply, rather than charging an electric battery via a charging station, hybrid electric vehicles charge their batteries each time the driver brakes.
Some of that power is translated from the brakes and brought to the hybrid battery. Once brought to the battery, the electric side of the vehicle uses that extra power to:
- Generate additional propulsive force
- Power auxiliary electric loads, like the vehicle’s AC system or headlights
- Reduce engine idling whenever the vehicle stops
Notably, the electric system for a hybrid car isn’t responsible for most of the propulsion. However, it can complement the propulsive power of the internal combustion engine. As a result, many hybrid cars have smaller internal combustion engines compared to gas-powered vehicles. They include sedans, SUVs, and more.
Key Components of the Best Hybrid Cars
To better understand how hybrid cars work, let’s break down some of their major components and functions:
- The electric traction motor takes power from the traction battery pack. This motor is responsible for driving the electric car’s wheels
- The internal combustion engine is spark-ignited and helps to generate power to turn the wheels of the car
- The electric generator creates electricity when the rotating wheels brake. During the braking process, some of the electric power is transferred back to the traction battery pack, reducing fuel consumption
- The traction battery pack holds all electricity for use by the electric traction motor
- The auxiliary battery is a low-voltage battery that provides electricity to start the car before the traction battery engages, plus powers various vehicle accessories
- The DC/DC converter translates high voltage DC power from the traction battery pack into lower voltage DC power for running vehicle accessories
- The exhaust system channels any exhaust gas out from the engine through a tailpipe, such as combustion waste
- The fuel tank stores gasoline in the vehicle until needed by the internal combustion engine
- The power electronics converter manages electrical flow from the traction battery and ensures that it doesn’t produce too much torque or speed
Aside from these components, hybrid electric vehicles have many of the same parts as standard cars, such as transmissions, braking systems, and so on. In essence, the electric and internal combustion systems work in conjunction with one another, creating a more efficient vehicle as a result.
Benefits of Hybrid Electric Cars
The hype around this type of hybrid isn’t for nothing! There are lots of incentives to driving a hybrid vehicle, including:
- It’s more environmentally friendly due to better fuel economy (more MPG). You get significant fuel savings with a hybrid vehicle, so you produce fewer carbon emissions and do less damage to the environment
- You may see financial benefits on top of fuel efficiency. Many hybrid cars benefit from tax breaks and credits, so you could see lower annual tax bills by driving one of these cars
- It has a more efficient battery life compared to electric cars. Due to the regenerative braking system that stores kinetic energy, you don’t need to charge the electric battery as often
- The engine automatically shuts off when your vehicle idols and starts again when you press down on the accelerator. This makes hybrid vehicles even more efficient
- Some hybrid vehicles can be driven totally with electricity, particularly at low speeds. Generally, the internal combustion engine only kicks in when you start driving at higher speeds
- Great resale value. Since hybrid cars are pretty popular, you can oftentimes resell yours for a decent price even after putting a lot of miles on your vehicle
Are Hybrid Cars Right for Everyone?
That said, there are some potential downsides to keep in mind before purchasing a hybrid vehicle or renting one from a local lot:
- Hybrid cars don’t produce as much power compared to traditional, gas-powered vehicles. That’s because the gasoline engine is smaller than average compared to gas-only cars
- They can be pricy to buy upfront. Many hybrid cars cost a lot when you buy them new, though you may save more than you think after the tax breaks mentioned above!
- The handling isn’t the best. Since hybrid cars have gas-powered engines and light electric engines, that adds a lot of weight and can make moving a hybrid car a little trickier than you’re used to
- There are a lot of potential maintenance requirements. Since the car essentially runs on two engines, that’s twice the components you need to have checked by a mechanic at least a few times a year
- The battery will eventually degrade. Even though your battery will serve you well for several years, it’ll eventually lose its charge capacity. So you’ll need to replace it sooner or later, meaning you’ll need to pay even more in terms of maintenance costs over time
Even with these downsides, however, hybrid electric cars are still very popular compared to traditional or all-electric vehicles. All-electric vehicles are hindered by the fact that they need to be charged all the time. Gas-powered vehicles, meanwhile, are hindered by their gas consumption and the ever-increasing price of oil. For many, a hybrid electric vehicle represents the best of both worlds.
The rise of the hybrid vehicle is just beginning. That’s why affordable rental agencies like Advantage Rent-a-Car now offer hybrid and electric cars for drivers just like you. If you want to try a hybrid car without putting down a lot of cash, you can select one from our rental fleet and give it a spin.
Alternatively, you can rely on Advantage for all of your vehicle rental needs, whether you need to rent a car for a few days or a few months. Contact us today for more information and let us help you find the perfect car for your needs!
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