What hybrid Car? - What is a hybrid car?

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  • What are hybrid cars?
  • How do they work?
  • What kinds are there?
Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Quite simply, a hybrid car is one that uses more than one means of propulsion. At the moment, that means combining a conventional petrol or diesel internal combustion engine with an electric motor.

The chief advantages of a hybrid are that it uses less fuel and emits less CO2 than most conventional non-hybrid vehicles.

On top of that, owners also get extra benefits in the shape of lower rates of road- and company car tax, as well as possibly avoiding congestion charges.

How they work
Current hybrids are powered by either a petrol or diesel engine and an electric motor.

Different manufacturers have come up with different ways of merging the two powertrains into one.

In the Toyota Prius, arguably the best known hybrids, each of the power sources can drive the car separately or they can work together.

At low speeds, the engine is turned off and the car is driven only by the electric motor; then, when maximum acceleration is needed, both work together. At stages between, any excess power generated by the engine is used to recharge the batteries that power the electric motor.

The Honda Insight - another well-known name in hybrid cars - is slightly different. Here, a relatively small conventional engine uses an electric motor to give it extra help when required. Although the car does incorporate a stop-start system, it can never be driven by only the electric motor.

The Vauxhall Ampera and Chevrolet Volt work slightly differently. In these two cars drive always comes from the electric motor, the petrol engine is just there to act as a generator to charge the battery pack when it starts running out.

Plug-in hybrids
Then, there are the so-called ‘plug-in hybrids’, which – as the name implies – can be plugged into an electric outlet to recharge their batteries, as well as being charged on the move.

Effectively, they are a halfway house between conventional hybrids and full electric vehicles. Although they have a conventional engine, they also have larger batteries than regular hybrids and can drive longer distances on electric power alone.

Toyota produces a plug-in version of the Prius, while Volvo has a diesel-hybrid V60 and Mitsubishi's petrol-powered Outlander PHEV is set to arrive in the UK soon.

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