How do Hybrid Cars Work?

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Hybrid blocksThe term hybrid is one of the hottest buzz words to enter the English lexicon. In our global economy and an ever-growing awareness of the limitations of our resources, people everywhere are concerned about how we can maintain our lifestyles into the future. There is a plethora of curiosity, enthusiasm and confusion surrounding this term as we face high gas prices and a bleak forecast for our natural environment. Our lifestyles are being threatened, and so people all over the world look to the hybrid car as a potential solution, allowing us to continue speeding across our lands and living our lives of convenience. With all these concerns riding on the success of new technology, it is no wonder that people want to know, in simple terms, how do hybrid cars work.

How do hybrid cars work?

This article will explain how hybrid came about and how the different hybrid vehicles work. The basic components of a hybrid car and how these components work together to achieve high performance and fuel efficiency will also be discussed.

What does hybrid mean?

The simplest definition of hybrid is that it is anything that combines two or more different elements to produce a given outcome. In the case of motorized vehicles, a hybrid car is one that utilizes two kinds of propelling energy to produce a vehicle that is competitive with the conventional cars already on the market.

Why are car companies making hybrid cars?

Being able to compete with, and maintain the demands of the market is a key element in the development of hybrid vehicles. Consumers have made their demands clear to the automotive industry: 1) use less natural gas; and 2) maintain the speed and performance we have come to expect from a conventional car. The industry responded with the initiation of hybrid technology.

Hybrid cars use two different motors

Prius hybrid engineIn simple terms, hybrid vehicles are made with two different motors: a petroleum-based combustion motor, and an electric motor. How these two motors work together varies, depending on how much power is produced from which motor. What is most fascinating about this combination of two different sources of energy is that engineers have devised a way for one source of energy to actually feed off the other; the electric power is recharged by the gasoline engine even while driving.

How Hybrid Cars work – the details

Before the specific mechanics of how each of the various types of hybrid cars work, let’s take a look at a simple description of how any vehicle is powered.

Gas vs. electric vs. hybrid powered cars

In order to move, a vehicle needs a transmission. It is the transmission that makes the connection between power and movement; the transmission is what actually turns the wheels.

In a gas-powered car, the energy source is petroleum. Stored in a fuel tank, the petroleum fuels the engine; the engine powers the transmission, and the transmission then turns the wheels.

In an electrically-powered car, the energy source is electricity stored in a battery. The electric energy is sent from the batteries to the motor and on to the transmission, which, of course, turns the wheels.

The main problem with traditional gas-powered cars is that petroleum is a finite resource, one that causes great concern as it pollutes the air and damages other natural resources. As we worry about its availability, the price of gas goes up and consumers buy less, thereby causing havoc on the global economy. The main problem with electric vehicles is low performance compared to conventional cars. Because of the excess of weight of the battery and the electric motor plus the generator and the gasoline engine, the amount of energy required to propel such a heavy vehicle results in more energy use and less efficiency. The electric cars are not able to meet the demands of the market. Consumers are simply not willing to forfeit speed and efficiency for less use of petroleum.

A hybrid car works by utilizing the best of both systems. The auto industry estimates that most drivers only use the maximum horsepower in their vehicle 1% of the time. During the other 99% of driving, energy is wasted in carrying around the extra weight and friction of a larger engine. In a hybrid vehicle, the motor is much smaller (10-20 horsepower). This smaller design provides enough power for the car to run in town and at a cruising highway speed. For extra acceleration then, or for climbing an incline, the gasoline engine kicks in the additional power to compensate. A hybrid vehicle has the combustion motor to meet this need when it arises while the electric motor works to generate the vehicle at lower speeds and when moving in reverse.

Three types of hybrid vehicles

There are three primary types of hybrid vehicles, the parallel hybrid, the mild hybrid and the plug-in hybrid. We compare these types of hybrid vehicles in our article on hybrid vehicle comparisons.

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31 Comments on "How do Hybrid Cars Work?"

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Anonymous
Anonymous

Great article – I’ve been trying to find a no frills explanation of the different parts of a hybrid car and how they work. One thing I still don’t understand is why on earth GM canned their EV-1 (California leased electric car) when it may have saved them from the pile of debt they’re in today?

Anonymous
Anonymous
The author pointed out some interesting facts and aspects of hybrid vehicles which I had not thought about before. This includes the fact that these cars are now being demanded by the public and for a number of different reasons. I suppose I had not bothered to stop and think about this, despite hearing much about hybrid cars in the news. Of course, almost everyone these days is concerned with the price of gas. As the gas price increases, more and more people are looking for ways to cut back. I suppose that thinking about a new type of car… Read more »
Kathy Faust
Kathy Faust
First off, I feel like an idiot because for some reason I thought the term “hybrid” meant something completely different. On the positive side, it is always cool to have a slice of ignorance cleared up. So, thanks for sharing the definition of hybrid. My ignorance has been lessened. Now for the guilt. Sometimes I feel guilty because I am not trying to get a hybrid car. I have toyed with the idea, but then I thought I would just wait for an all electric one to come out on the market. I really don’t want to perpetuate the use… Read more »
Kathy Faust
Kathy Faust
I am so glad you wrote this. There are too many people out there who are misinformed about hybrid cars. They are talking about electric cars, but calling them hybrid and they do not even seem to realize there is a difference. Some people do not even realize that neither hybrid nor electric cars are actually anything new. They were created quite a while ago. I would love to have either a hybrid or electric car. I do not like being dependent on anything, even if it is gasoline. What makes it worse is not just that I am dependent… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous
Today it seems that many people are interested in not only buying hybrid cars, but also finding out more information about how they work and why they are beneficial. Obviously, a hybrid car is one which has a combination of different power sources. This includes both a gas powered engine as well as a battery or electric powered motor. What I found interesting about this article was that most car owners only use the maximum horsepower 1 percent of the time. Yet, as I spent time thinking about this number, it made more and more sense. Sure, the maximum horsepower.… Read more »
Kathy Faust
Kathy Faust
Thank you so much for clearing this up about hybrid cars. A friend of mine and myself had a bet going about this very topic. There are some very ill-informed people out there when it comes to technology and eco-friendly cars. They base everything they know on some rumor they heard or some other such crap. It’s best not to make any kind of decision or judgement until you educate yourself on the details of the matter. That of course applies to a lot more areas than just the details of hybrid cars. I have been thinking about getting a… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you are undoubtedly aware of the presence of hybrid vehicles. These are cars which have elements of both a gas powered (traditional) vehicle and the newer electric vehicles. They actually have two motors. To me, they are really an amazing piece of engineering and technology. The author of this piece points out that the auto industry estimates people only use the maximum amount of horsepower their vehicle can deliver about 1 percent of the time. A hybrid vehicle takes direct advantage of this fact by using whichever… Read more »
Kathy Faust
Kathy Faust
When hybrid cars first became popular, I toyed with the idea of getting one. I still think about it now and then, but then I keep thinking of the way prices drop when things are not new anymore. I also want to see if hybrid cars last as long as traditional cars do and I can only see that by waiting and paying attention. Also, I think I just would rather make the leap to an all electric car if I was going to go buy a new car that is not gasoline powered. I’m leery about buying a hybrid… Read more »
Kathy Faust
Kathy Faust
There has been such a trend of “hybrid” this and “hybrid” that, that it is almost impossible to not jump on the hybrid train. This isn’t a complaint. It’s just a fact about the way things are today. And I am all for the hybrid cars. I am not so much for hybrid living things, like plants and other things that people seem to think it is alright to mess with. But they hybrid car is not a living thing and it is better for the planet than a pure gas or diesel powered motor is. My only problem with… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous
Hybrid vehicles are certainly more fuel efficient than the traditional gas powered car. Yet many people are still confused (or at least interested in learning more) about some of the differences between traditional gas powered vehicles and their hybrid car. This article makes a number of good observations about these differences and how hybrids actually work. For starters, the basic flow of the power is different. The energy source is either gas or the electric motor. This energy source is what starts the engine and the engine then powers the transmission. It is the transmission which actually distributes the energy… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous
Okay. I’ll admit it, those commercials where people are telling you that they only buy gas once a month, have really gotten me thinking about hybrid cars. I mean, my car is really good on gas for the most part, it’s a little Toyota, which I love, but to only buy gas once a month? Gosh that’ll get anybody second guessing. The only issue is that I refuse to buy any car other than a Toyota, Honda or Mazda. My family has had many different cars throughout the years, and the cars that were the most reliable were those brands.… Read more »
Kathy Faust
Kathy Faust
I like the idea of a hybrid. However, I had never considered the finer details of how a hybrid works. I knew that the car used two sources of power, but it never occurred to me that it would use two different motors, even though it seems logical now. It also helps explain why hybrids have had trouble competing with faster cars. The need to house two engines has probably made it harder for companies to focus on power. I have considered a hybrid for quite some time, especially since the Chevy Volt hit the market. I love the idea… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous
My friend bought a hybrid car a couple of years ago and I have had the great opportunity to watch the car in action over a long period of time. To date, the car has worked marvelously and it has saved my friend a great deal of money in a pretty short amount of time. What I have found interesting is that the car actually has a display monitor on the dash board that shows when it is operating on electric power and when it is operating on gasoline power. It also displays just what kind of fuel efficiency is… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous
Hybrid cars are making more of an appearance on the roads this days, and I must say that I am glad to see it. I remember when the first hybrids were coming out and they seemed all radical and futuristic to everyone. Now there are many different car companies out there making hybrids, and their fuel efficiency is making them a hit among money savvy consumers and green connoisseurs alike. That said, the number of options available on the market today is clearly much higher than ever before, and that plays a huge part in why people should understand what… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous
It seems that today many people are interested in hybrid vehicles and how they work. There is a fascination that surrounds these vehicles. Yet, it also seems that there is much misunderstanding about how they actually work. This article is very helpful and attempts to describe in basic terms how these vehicles work. It certainly helped to clarify a lot of my understanding. The author begins by pointing out that many people are looking to hybrid vehicles as a potential solution to some of our lifestyle problems. At least as far as our energy problems are concerned. The ability to… Read more »
justin
justin

Nice page. A lot of great info here. Another alternative energy is to make your own energy. It is a great way to save money and cheap to build.

Anonymous
Anonymous
The Ford Fusion Hybrid. Ranked first in value and affordability, this midsize sedan comes in four doors or two doors and gets an average of 39 miles per gallon of gasoline. The hybridization is seamless, so that switching from battery power to gasoline and back requires no extra effort from you, and you probably will not even notice the transition. The gas mileage and SmartGauge offer you new ways to increase fuel efficiency, and if you like, the gauge will even talk to you. The interior is also impressive, with a futuristic looking paneling and refined handling and adjustments that… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous

It is a great time to buy a hybrid – if you have some money – of course. Check the prices of hybrid autos before you make a decision.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Great stuff! I was always interested in what all the hoolaboo was in regards to Hybrids. Do you also have an article on the other type of “new energy” vehicles (electric, hydrogen, fuel cell, etc.) out there? I would be interested in comparing them all.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hybrid Auto’s are very much environmentally friendly. Hybrid cars are also very popular these days. Also the government and the budget supports these type of cars.

These articles were really helpful to know more about the hybrid cars.

ken

I am a huge hybrid cars fan but most of them are a bit too expensive currently. To be frank I can’t afford one right now, but I am looking forward to the prices getting lower. Hopefully I am lucky enough to test one next week, I will be going to Raleigh and who knows, I might get the chance to rent a hybrid. It would be interesting to see how it drives compared to gas powered vehicles.

Anonymous
Anonymous
The most apparent benefit of the hybrid vehicle is its fuel-efficient operation. Sure, you still have to make your visits to the gas station, but the advantage is that you will do so less often. Because of the hybrid vehicle’s electric motor, the energy your hybrid produces is much cleaner. In addition, your hybrid will automatically shut off the gasoline engine during stops or when your car is idling. That is why these cars are so quiet when you park or are at a stoplight! The electric motor kicks in and saves some fuel from being used. Therefore, if you… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous

Hybrid cars emit lower toxic emissions compared to conventional gasoline-powered cars due to less gasoline being burned. They are environmentally friendly, cause less pollution and release less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If you do not know, carbon dioxide is one of the primary reasons for rising global warming. For example, the Toyota Prius can reduce tailpipe emissions by up to 90% and the greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 50%.

Anonymous
Anonymous

I’m a big fan of the whole hybrid concept, but I still don’t completely grasp how they work. I remember back in the 70’s when cars were made of like 5 parts, and easy as *hit to work on. The hybrid cars appear to use all kinds of computer components that intimidate me. Still, I like that they produce lower emissions so count me in. I’ll just have to set aside some time to learn what the heck is under the hood.

Anonymous
Anonymous

The basic concept behind a hybrid is that the engine shuts down while the car is in motion – thereby enabling the battery to retain its charge. If we apply this model to other gas/ oil powered things, we could be saving so much energy!!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Although hybrid cars sound environmentally friendly, the fact that they use gasoline means they are still in the “treat” list. I think instead of focusing on hybrid cars, car manufacturing companies who really aim for a greener Earth should find a way to make electric cars more convenient and marketable.

Joseph Hamilton

TrueExoticCarRental.com

Anonymous
Anonymous
In this age of high gas prices and vehicle gridlock, a low-maintenance vehicle with high gas milage hybrids seem like the best of both worlds. Everyone’s heard of hybrid cars and I think a lot of people would be willing to try one out if they had the money, and if they knew which one was the best. When it comes to cars, I think it is scary to make a change. You have to wonder about your safety, gas efficiency and practicality of an entirely new machine. It’s almost like transitioning into driving a space ship for most people… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous
In this age of high gas prices and vehicle gridlock, a low-maintenance vehicle with high gas mileage hybrids seem like the best of both worlds. Everyone’s heard of hybrid cars and I think a lot of people would be willing to try one out if they had the money, and if they knew which one was the best. When it comes to cars, I think it is scary to make a change. You have to wonder about your safety, gas efficiency and practicality of an entirely new machine. It’s almost like transitioning into driving a space ship for most people… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous
In this age of high gas prices and vehicle gridlock, a low-maintenance vehicle with high gas mileage hybrids seems like the best of both worlds. Everyone’s heard of hybrid cars and I think a lot of people would be willing to try one out if they had the money, and if they knew which one was the best. When it comes to cars, I think it is scary to make a change. You have to wonder about your safety, gas efficiency and practicality of an entirely new machine. It’s almost like transitioning into driving a space ship for most people… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous
To examine how hybrid cars work and the variety of different models on the market, take a look at some of the more popular choices today: Lexus CT 200h. Who would have thought that for a base price of $29,100 you could own a 2012 Lexus? And furthermore, the 2012 Lexus CT 200h, whose hybrid engine averages a cool 42 miles per gallon? This luxury compact hatchback car is fun to drive and, unlike other hybrid cars on today’s market, does not stick out as such. The fuel economy is based on a four driving mode system, which allows different… Read more »
Anonymous
Anonymous
The reason I say this is because there are so many places online that discuss hybrid cars and I’m so completely lost. I’m just starting to learn about the environment, and wow, it really is overwhelming for me right now. I was interested in learning more about hybrid cars, but have just not understood exactly what was going on with them. Your articles lay things out so simply that I feel comfortable selecting the type of hybrid that I want to learn more about. Well, actually, there are two types of hybrids that I’m interested in, the parallel and the… Read more »
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