What is a hybrid car and how does it work

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27 Aug 2019 by smartleasing

Toyota launched the Prius in 1997 as the spearhead of its hybrid revolution and now, depending on where you live, offers a range of different hybrid vehicles. Locally we get the Prius, Camry, Corolla and RAV4 hybrids.

A hybrid is a vehicle that draws off two or more power sources. In the context of this article, a hybrid refers to a vehicle with a petrol engine (internal combustion) and an electric motor with a supporting battery pack.

The most common type of hybrid is the full hybrid which sees a petrol engine provide 99% of the drive in 99% of situations, with the electric motor and its low-capacity battery pack able to power the car for only a kilometre or two of travel; this is good for stop-start traffic or slipping away from home quietly in the morning. The difference here is that one or the other engine type can be used independently of the other.

Off the back of this type is the plug-in hybrid which offers a larger capacity battery pack allowing for a greater electric-only driving range. In this situation, the petrol motor can act as a generator to keep the electric batteries topped up, or the vehicle can be driven on pure petrol power alone. As the name suggests, you can also plug-in this type of hybrid to charge the battery pack.

Next is a parallel hybrid which sees an electric motor act as supplementary grunt for the petrol motor. Neither one work in isolation; in this situation, the electric motor is generally only small and is intended to allow a smaller fuel engine to be used to reduce fuel consumption.

And then there’s the series hybrid which sees an electric motor do all the work while a petrol engine acts purely as a generator to keep the battery topped up.

Finally, there’s the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, which is better known as a PHEV. This arrangement allows the vehicle to be plugged in and the battery charged via an outlet. A PHEV can be driven as one or the other, meaning, you can drive it as a conventional internal combustion-engine vehicle, as an electric-only vehicle, relying on the battery pack, or as an electric vehicle with the petrol engine and regenerative braking keeping the battery topped up.

How do you charge the batteries?

Depending on the type of hybrid you have will determine how they’re recharged. With a PHEV, you can plug-in your vehicle and recharge the batteries via an outlet which can take several hours. And, depending on the time of day or night you’re charging your vehicle will mean that ‘topping up’ can cost as low as 25 cents. That said, a PHEV often allows you to use your petrol engine as a generator to combine with regenerative braking and feed electricity back to the batteries.

Then there’s a hybrid like that of the new Toyota Camry which has a very short electric-only range and no ability, not on Australia-delivered cars anyway, to recharge the batteries via a plug. It means the batteries rely on either the petrol motor to act as a generator or via regenerative braking to feed electricity back into the batteries.

What’s regenerative braking?

Regenerative braking sees energy from the brakes captured and converted into electricity used to recharge the batteries. This method works every time you place your foot on the brakes or lift off the accelerator; it’s capturing energy that would otherwise be lost as either heat or noise (from the brakes).

How long does a hybrid’s battery last?

Carmakers offering hybrid cars generally state a lifespan of up to 11 years if it’s been properly maintained, with no limit on mileage.


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