Hybrid electric cars, or simple hybrid cars, have been gaining popularity in the automotive industry for the past couple of years. They offer a “best of both worlds” solution between the traditional gas-powered car and the futuristic electric cars. As car manufacturers start to race towards a future of only fully-electric cars and the government pledging to end the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035, hybrid cars offer a nice transition point to help consumers make the switch more smoothly.
The automotive industry and the world of car maintenance is being shaped by the future of hybrids and electrics, so we think it is important to truly understand what a hybrid car is and how it works. Today we will be going over everything you should know about hybrid cars.
What is a Hybrid?
A hybrid car combines the features of both a traditional gas-powered car and a fully-electric car to power it. You still need to fuel up a hybrid with gasoline like a standard car, however the primary source of power for a hybrid comes from an electric motor – the gas-powered engine is only used when the electric power is nearly depleted. Because of this, you won’t have to fuel up as often as with a regular gas-powered car and will be able to drive significantly longer on a single tank of gasoline. Between October and December of 2021, hybrid cars accounted for 7.5% of all light-duty vehicles sold in the U.S.
How Do Hybrid Cars Work?
There are two kinds of hybrid cars: basic hybrid electric and plug-in hybrids.
In a basic hybrid electric car, the battery is never plugged in to be charged. Instead, the car’s battery is charged as you drive by the engine and through a process known as regenerative braking. During the typical process of braking, energy is wasted as hydraulic fluid pushes on the brake pads to apply pressure to the wheels, generating heat. In a basic hybrid electric car with regenerative braking, the electric motor that powers the car will stop supplying motor power to the vehicle when you hit the brakes and will start collecting some of the expanded energy from the brake system. This collected energy can then be reused by the electric motor to power the vehicle.
Plug-in hybrids may or may not have a regenerative braking system. Instead, the battery is charged by plugging a charger in through the charging port, which is typically located on the front of the vehicle. Electric power is stored in the battery until it is drawn by the electric motor to power the vehicle. In addition to the charging port, plug-in hybrids will still have the traditional fuel tank and fuel inlet in the back of the vehicle.
The battery used in both types of hybrids is called the traction battery pack. It is much larger and more powerful than the typical car battery you would find in a gas-powered car. The traction battery pack is made of lithium ion and provides power to the electric traction motor, which acts as the hybrid’s primary “engine”.
Key Components of Hybrid Cars
The engine inside of a hybrid is powered by the process of internal combustion, just like in a standard gas-powered car. Gasoline gets injected into the engine through the intake manifold and mixes with filtered air. This air-fuel mixture gets ignited by the engine’s spark plugs and combusts to create torque.
Traction Battery Pack
The traction battery pack stores electric power to be used by the electric traction motor. It is recharged by the engine through regenerative braking or through a plug-in charger.
Electric Traction Motor
The electric traction motor is the main motor that drives the car’s wheels. It draws electric power from the traction battery pack and powers the vehicle when the engine is not being used.
The DC converter converts the high-voltage DC power from the traction battery pack to low-voltage DC power that recharges the auxiliary battery.
Similar to the battery of gas-powered cars, the auxiliary battery starts the car and powers the car’s accessories. It runs on low-voltage DC power received from the DC converter.
The thermal system keeps the engine, electric traction motor, and other electronic components cool and at the optimal operating temperature.
Benefits of Hybrid Cars
The primary benefit of owning a hybrid car is that since the car is mainly powered by the electric motor, you will have much better fuel economy than a gas-powered vehicle. The most fuel-efficient gas-powered cars today can average 36 miles-per-gallon (mpg) whereas today’s hybrids range between 48-60 mpg. This is especially useful as the price of gasoline continues to rise.
Hybrid cars are also more eco-friendly and release less emissions. You seldom have to worry about passing your emissions test when you drive a hybrid since the majority of the engine power comes from electricity, not gas. Environmentally conscious consumers are increasingly turning to hybrids to help reduce their carbon footprint and keep the air in their communities clean.
Lastly, the addition of the electric motor in hybrid cars means that the gas engine can be much smaller than in gas-powered cars. Smaller engines cost less to produce (and purchase), offer better fuel economy, allow more space under the hood for other components and computers, and require less maintenance. Since smaller engines have less components, there are less parts of the engine that can break or wear out, meaning you’ll be in the repair shop less often.
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