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What Is a Hybrid Car, and How Do They Work_

What is a hybrid?

A hybrid vehicle has both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor for propulsion, but only gasoline is used as fuel. Hybrids have small, high-voltage batteries to power their electric motors, but you don’t need a plugin, which is not possible.

It has no external electric source; electricity for the motor is scavenged under braking in a process known as regenerative braking—regen for short. If you’re an F1 racing fan, you may have heard it called a Kinetic Energy Recovery System. The regen system does not replace the traditional brakes but instead works as a crucial alternative. Electrical energy stored via this process is saved in the battery for instant reuse the next time you accelerate. When you leave a stoplight, the saved energy is again going, and late the restart of the gasoline engine—in some places until you reach 25 mph. When you stop again, the cycle repeats. This makes a hybrid’s city fuel economy much higher than a non-hybrid’s, not to mention its own highway economy.

How regenerative does braking work?

Regen is an automatic outgrowth of how electric motors work. When you put electricity into an electric motor, it helps move the car. Once the car is moving, the same motor turns a generator that can transform the flow of electrons and harvest that motion to put electricity again into the battery. This is the reason hybrid electric motors are sometimes referred to as motor-generators.Typically, this process slows down the car, so regen is triggered and managed by a computer when you press the brake.

How small is a hybrid’s battery? 

One-pedal driving, a process by which lifting the throttle can swiftly regen, mainly appears on full EVs, not hybrids, because EVs have higher-capacity electrical systems and much bigger batteries. How small is a hybrid’s battery? They are usually no bigger than 1 kwh, which is just 1% to 2% the size of a full electric vehicle’s battery.

Still, hybrid regen can be bold enough for most schedules to slow down. A computer always analyzes how hard you press the brake pedal, so it will mix in the cultural brakes—the pads and rotors—during harder stops and in emergency situations. This regulatory focus is on increasing the collection of electricity for propulsion so that fuel economy pops up. Regen is a basic element that all hybrids share, but differences arise when it comes to the use of their gasoline engines.

Parallel Hybrids

This is the common type, as they are put to use selectively with the gasoline engine to drive the car. They can also indulge both at once. The electric motor gets the nod at slower speeds because that’s when its high initial torque and efficiency can make great use of the limited battery energy. After a late restart, the gasoline engine joins in and takes over as speed up climbs and fixes into a cruise. Some designs employ one motor sandwiched between the engine and a conventional transmission, while others use an arrangement of two electric motors that work simultaneously to act as a continuously variable transmission for the engine. 

Series Hybrids

This type is less common, but its popularity is increasing. These also use a primary drive motor that uses battery energy at low speeds and scavenges energy when slowing. Once speeds rise and that energy runs slow, the engine switches on to drive a second dedicated generator that turns gasoline power into electricity to keep the battery fed. This means their wheels have the capacity to drive at all speeds, so power delivery always feels smooth and seamless. The downside is that the capacity to convert gasoline into electricity represents an extra step that minimizes efficiency, but newer approaches make this less significant. Honda is the best recent champion of this type, which powers the trending iterations of the Civic, CR-V, and Accord hybrids.

Blurred Lines

Hybrid systems are unable to follow such definitions to the letter. Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive is primarily an organized parallel system, but its double motor design also allows short moments of series power generation when the engine’s most useful operating speed generates more power than the driver needs. Honda’s latest series hybrid system can catch the engine and drive the wheels directly in particular conditions when the computer decides that’s more useful. 

How Hybrids Benefit You

The ultimate benefit of any hybrid is to capture and reuse braking energy, which otherwise would be lost as heat and wear in the brakes. The ones that interest many people use this energy to save fuel and maximize MPG by using an electric motor to delay the start of the gas engine, but sports-minded hybrids deploy the harvested energy to boost overall power and speed.

Fuel-saving hybrids are a wonderful choice for those who want to save money. After all, high MPG and low carbon emissions are facts. A hybrid, on the other hand, is a purely gasoline-fueled vehicle that does not have a leash or special fueling needs.

Practically, a hybrid’s strong focus on regenerative braking means that their brake pads and rotors will last longer than in normal cars. They also don’t have a segregated starter motor due to the electric motor handles. And a hybrid’s small battery doesn’t cover much space.

Other Types of Hybrids

Mild hybrids, known as belt-alternator-starters, have modest 48-volt batteries that can’t produce any useful propulsion. These systems are topped up by regeneration, and they combine the starter and alternator into one unit that can start the engine “in gear” to ease the operation of their start-stop systems.

Fuel-cell hybrids are series hybrids, complete with an electric motor, regenerative braking, and a small high-voltage battery. But they don’t have a gasoline engine. Rather, they have a fuel cell, a device that converts hydrogen gas into electricity, with water being the only byproduct. Fuel-cell hybrids run on electricity all the time and are as quiet as EVs. Their hydrogen tanks can be filled in 5 minutes like normal cars, but station availability is limited.


Plug-in hybrids are normal, regular hybrids with large batteries designed to offer them full-speed operation on electricity alone for 20 to 50 miles. All the issues with charging an EV battery come to a head here, but they’re because a plug-in hybrid’s battery is about a quarter the size of an EV’s. That makes it simpler to plug in at home, and those that can tackle this will have a part-time EV with no leash: a weekday EV commuter, but with full gasoline capability for large trips. And they’re still efficient when running on gasoline because they retain the benefits of regular hybrids. Cons include a higher purchase cost because of the bigger battery, a greater likelihood that the larger battery will intrude on cargo space, and a possibly smaller gas tank.

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