How Do Hybrid Cars Work?


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The world is gradually coming to the understanding that, yes, humans are affecting our planet’s climate, and not for the better. Luckily, we’ve made great strides in the past two decades in reducing our carbon footprint and the pollution we spew into the oceans and atmosphere. A key part of this shift is the introduction of hybrid cars.

Although they are better for the health of the planet than traditional gas-only vehicles, hybrids are essentially stopgap measures. They’re more efficient and less polluting than cars with gasoline engines, but they’re not as environmentally friendly as EVs—and even EVs still have issues. They blend the two propulsion systems to achieve their goals of reduced emissions and fuel consumption. 

And while hybrids like the Toyota Prius have been around for more than two decades, there’s still confusion about how they work, what types of hybrids are available, and their reliability, among other questions. Lucky for you, The Drive’s electrified editors are into saving the planet and ensuring our children have fresh air to breath long after we’re gone. 

Stick with us as we talk about hybrids!

A Hybrid Toyota RAV4


What Is a Hybrid?

A hybrid car is one that uses two types of energy sources, fuel, and electricity, to achieve the goals of more efficient propulsion or make cars faster compared to a traditional gasoline engine. 

How Do Hybrids Work?

The most common type of hybrid vehicle blends a gasoline-powered combustion engine with one or more electric motors and a battery storage pack to achieve better fuel economy or performance compared to a vehicle with only a combustion engine. 

This works by the battery supplying electrical energy to driven wheels or charging the battery itself with the gasoline engine, for example: 

  • A Prius or McLaren blend electrical energy with gas. One generates power for the battery, the Prius, while the other pushes the performance envelope, the McLaren. 
  • An Acura NSX uses only electrical energy to drive the front wheels, while the gas …

Hybrids also use regenerative braking to return small amounts of electricity to their batteries.

Sup, Prius Prime?


What Types of Hybrids Are There?

Just as there are multiple types of combustion engines, there are also multiple types of hybrid powertrains. Let’s break it down into more digestible terms.

Parallel Hybrid

The most common type of hybrid is a parallel hybrid, in which both the battery-fed electric motor and gas engine have direct connections to the drive wheels through a coupling mechanism such as a transmission. These hybrids have one, two, or three electric motors, depending on the vehicle’s make and model.

Series Hybrid

A series hybrid as an electric vehicle with a gas-powered generator attached. There’s no direct connection to the drive wheels from the gas engine as it purely recharges the battery while the electric motor(s) handles the propulsion. A perfect example is the cool BMW i3 with a range extender.

Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV)

A plug-in hybrid is essentially a parallel hybrid with a larger battery pack that requires charging from an external source, i.e. a plug. By storing more energy, a PHEV can drive using 100 percent electric propulsion, though the amount of pure-electric range is still limited to relatively short trips around town.

Mild Hybrid

On mild hybrids, the electric components are not capable of directly driving the wheels on their own. Instead, a small battery pack and electric motor act as assistants to help improve fuel economy, slightly increase performance with bursts of torque, regenerate energy, and power accessories. One of the most common jobs for an electric motor in a mild hybrid is to double as a starter and power the start-stop technology. More capable and efficient mild hybrids with 48-volt battery packs have recently proliferated throughout the industry.

Full Hybrid

A full hybrid car has electric components that can directly drive the wheels on their own, without the gas engine. Different types of full hybrids include parallel hybrids, series hybrids, and plug-in hybrids.

And if you’d like to know more about hybrid cars, how they work, and other forms of hybrids, you can check out The Drive’s guide to The Advantages and Disadvantages of a Hybrid Car. 

Yep, Porsche has hybrids too.


Yep, Porsche has hybrids too. 

Are Hybrids Reliable?

We’ve written at length about what makes a reliable car and that goes for hybrid cars, too. What it really amounts to is how you take care of your car, the preventative maintenance you perform, and how you drive. 

Advantages Vs. Disadvantages of Hybrids

Like everything, there are advantages and disadvantages to owning and driving a hybrid car. To better illustrate those, we worked up a whole other article on just the Advantages and Disadvantages of Hybrid Cars. 

Hybrid Terms You Should Know

Get schooled, yo. 


MPG, or miles per gallon,  is a measurement of how many miles a vehicle can travel on one gallon of gasoline fuel. MPGe, which is used to measure the “fuel economy” of hybrid and electric vehicles, stands for miles per gallon equivalent. 

According to the United States Department of Energy, 33.70kWh of electricity has 100 percent of the energy of one gallon of gasoline. Thus, if a vehicle is able to run for 100 miles on 33.70 kWh, it is rated at 100 MPGe. 

Regenerative Braking

Regenerative braking is the act of recovering energy through the car’s braking system. Typically, when a non-hybrid car brakes, kinetic energy is transformed into heat and released due to the friction between the brake pads and the brake. 

When the brake pedal is pressed on hybrid and electric vehicles, the electric motor turns into a generator, and the wheels transfer the energy from the drivetrain to the generator. The generator then turns the kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery. The generative energy torque from the generator slows the vehicle down.

There's even a Bentayga Hybrid!


There’s even a Bentayga Hybrid!

FAQs About Hybrid Cars

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q: What Happens When You Run Out of Electricity in a Hybrid?

A: You keep driving! That’s the beauty of a hybrid: When your EV juice runs out, you’ve still got a tank of gas as a backup!

Q: So Can You Recharge a Hybrid Battery?

A: If you’re talking about recharging your car every night, sure! If you’re talking about after it dies, nope!

Q: But Can You Still Drive a Hybrid Without the Battery?

A: Short answer? Maybe. If the hybrid battery fails, you may be able to drive it, but the experience won’t be similar to that of a straight gasoline-powered car. It’ll likely be jerky and could damage the other drivetrain components. And if it’s a system in which it acts as an alternator and starter as well, you may be calling a tow truck.

Q: Ok, Then How Often Does a Hybrid Battery Need to be Replaced?

A: Here’s where there’s some disagreement. Though hybrids have been around for almost 20 years, there’s still not enough data to figure out when things will fail. Most manufacturers say between 100,000-150,000 miles, but depending on your level of care and how you drive, it could be more or less. 

Q: Then Do Hybrid Cars Cost More to Maintain?

A: Not really. The only real extra cost in maintaining a hybrid is if the battery pack fails, and that’s pretty rare. 

Q: How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Hybrid Car Battery?

A: Cost will depend on the car, but the average cost is between $1,000-$8,000.

Find Your Next Car With Carvana

You know how satisfying it is to drop a coin into a vending machine, type in the respective alphanumeric code for a Reese’s, hear the whirring of the motor twisting the delicious chocolate-covered peanut butter cup out toward you, and finally falling into the bin for your to enjoy? Yeah, that’s how easy it is to now buy your next car thanks to Carvana.

Carvana has taken the vending machine process and applied it to car purchases, coin and vending machine included. They can also be delivered to your home, just like that Knives Out-like knit-sweater you won’t ever wear. With thousands of cars to choose from across all makes and models, Carvana’s selection is extensive and the company’s confident, even offering a 7-Day Risk-Free Return policy, it has your next car. 

That’s why The Drive’s partnered with Carvana to help you find your next ride! Are you ready to get your next car out of a vending machine?

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors!

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)

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