What does ‘hybrid car’ mean? Here’s how they work to lower emissions while you drive.

Electric and hybrid car sales are on the rise as the Biden administration proposes tougher greenhouse gas emissions for cars and trucks sold in the U.S. Nearly 98 thousand hybrid vehicles were sold in the U.S. In April 2023, which is up over 36% from last year, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Library reports.

Even more popular are plug-in vehicles – over 105 thousand were sold in April 2023, a number that includes both battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Here’s everything you need to know about the different types of hybrid cars.

What is a hybrid car?

Hybrid electric vehicles, also known as HEVs, use an internal combustion engine and electric motors to run. These cars are appropriately named because they are a cross between a gasoline car, which runs on a combustion engine, and an electric car, which uses a battery-operated electric motor.

There are three main types of HEVs:.

  • Mild hybrids: Also known as micro hybrids and are powered by a battery and electric motor that shuts off when the vehicle stops, like during traffic or at a red light. They cannot run on electricity alone.
  • Full hybrids: Have larger batteries and more powerful electric motors that can run fully on electricity for short distances or use a combination of power sources.
  • Plug-in hybrids: Can drive moderate distances using just electricity because they have larger battery packs that need to be charged.
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    PHEVs are often more expensive than mild or full hybrid vehicles, but they generally produce lower levels of emissions because they can run solely on electricity for longer. According to the DOE, current commercially available PHEVs have an electric range of 15 to 60 miles or more.

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    How do hybrid cars work?

    HEVs use an internal combustion engine and battery-powered electric motor to get the desired result of high fuel economy and low emissions. This is because the extra power from the electric motor allows for a smaller combustion engine.

    PHEVs mostly run on electricity, but they have an internal combustion engine that powers the vehicle when the battery is low or when electricity is being used heavily elsewhere in the car, like in heating or air conditioning.

    There are two main methods of designing hybrid vehicles. Parallel hybrids connect the engine and electric motor to the wheels through mechanical coupling, according to the DOE, while series hybrids use the electric motor exclusively to drive the wheels.

    Do hybrid cars need to be charged?

    Typically no – hybrid cars do not need to be charged. Plug-in hybrid vehicles can be charged with charging equipment but also use other methods outside of electric charging to keep the vehicle running.

    Other types of hybrid cars do not need to be charged at all and cannot be plugged in. The battery in a hybrid car is charged through both the internal combustion engine and a process called “regenerative braking,” when the vehicle’s electric motor acts as a generator and captures energy typically lost during braking.

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