What Is A Hybrid Car? And Should I Buy One?

Hybrid is a word with a lot of scary associations – usually to do with mutants – so it’s good to pin down what it actually means.

It just means a combination of two different elements of car technology and engine technology. A hybrid is a vehicle that combines petrol or diesel power with electric power.

What is a hybrid car?

Hybrids generally use less fuel than cars just powered by one fuel source and they emit much lower amounts of CO2 emissions too. You’ll also be able to benefit from lower road tax rates as well.

One of the main things that puts people off buying full-electric vehicles is the fact that they can’t travel very far on one charge – usually around 60 to 300 miles. You’ll then have to charge the battery if you want to go any further. A hybrid vehicle is a good compromise, letting you travel the distances you’re used to with conventional fuel types without completely abandoning the cleanness and efficiency of electricpower.

How do hybrid cars work?

There are basically three integral aspects of a hybrid car: the internal combustion engine, the electric motor and the battery.

Science shows us that different types of vehicle propulsion work best at different speeds. Electric power works better when pulling away and petrol/diesel works better when momentum has been gathered for instance.

Switching between propulsion types when they’re working at their most efficient speeds will translate into better energy efficiency, as well as better fuel economy overall. This is why hybrids are good for your wallet, as well as good for the environment.

The three types of hybrids

Hybrids are categorised in three different ways, depending on the way that they work.

Parallel hybrids

Parallel hybrids let you power your car in three different ways:

  • Electric motor power only
  • Petrol or diesel engine only
  • Electric motor and petrol or diesel engine together

These are one of the most popular types of hybrid car and they provide a beefier, more powerful performance than you’d necessarily expect from a car using electric power, letting you travel much longer distances.  They’re also a lot more versatile than the other types of hybrids, giving you more choice over how and when you use the additional power.

Usefully, regenerative braking uses energy created by braking to charge the car’s battery whilst you’re driving too.

Series hybrids

In a series hybrid, the electric motor propels the car forward on its own, supported by the petrol or diesel engine which charges the electric battery pack. On longer journeys, the conventional engine will kick in and power the car instead.

Series hybrids are better for situations where you’re more likely to be stuck in stop-start traffic – like in city traffic jams.

Mild hybrids

The key difference with a mild hybrid is the fact that the electric motor involved is not strong enough to independently propel the car forward. That’s probably why it’s called mild. Instead, the electric motor will just assist the conventional engine when it needs to. The electric motor will kick in when more power is required by the conventional engine.

Mild hybrids are cheaper to buy than other types of hybrid. Their main benefit is the fact that they can provide extra power to the engine, rather than a boost in energy efficiency.

Plug-in hybrids (PHEV)

Plug-in hybrids (or PHEV as they're abbreviated to) are attempt at solving one of the main issues with electric cars – their relatively short range. With a plug-in hybrid you can directly charge the battery, massively boosting the distance that you can travel before the conventional engine kicks in.

Pros of hybrids

  • Hybrids are more environmentally friendly than conventional cars.
  • You can benefit from lower tax thanks to the lower emissions count.
  • With a hybrid, you’ll be less dependent on conventional fuels.

Cons of hybrids

  • Hybrids are likely to be more expensive to buy or lease and to run.
  • Electric-powered vehicles offer lower levels of power compared to other types of conventional power.
  • Hybrids can be more expensive to repair – it might be tricky to convince your local mechanic to fix it.