How Does the Hybrid Car Work?

by Edwin Thomas
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The Basics

A hybrid car works is found in that it has two cooperative drive systems. All hybrid electric cars have an internal combustion engine, just as a conventional car does, but they also have a large battery pack and electric motor. However, there are three versions of this kind of hybrid technology, and in each the two sources of power cooperate differently.

Regenerative Braking

Most hybrids have regenerative braking. This is a mechanism that converts part of the energy from slowing and stopping the vehicle into electricity, which is sent to the battery.

Parallel Hybrids

Also known as a petroleum fuel engine assistance hybrid, these cars rely mainly on their internal combustion engine, with the electric motor being capable of only low speeds. These cars will use the electric motor when idling and then use it to accelerate up to about 20 or 25 mph. At that point, the gasoline-powered engine will automatically start and combine with the electric motor to provide power. The gasoline engine is also the main source of power for charging the battery. This sort of hybrid therefore uses its battery power for idling and neighborhood driving, and the gasoline engine is only employed for higher speed driving. Toyota developed this technology, and all Toyota hybrids use it. The same technology has also been licensed out to Nissan and Ford, among others.

Electric Engine Assistance

Honda was the first car company to develop and market these types of hybrids. They use a low power internal combustion engine to achieve maximum fuel efficiency. To get the extra power for things like passing or climbing hills, the car uses its electric motor to support the gasoline engine. Therefore, it relies on the gasoline engine while idling and for neighborhood driving. The gasoline engine is also the main source of power for charging the battery.

Mild Hybrids

The "mild hybrid" is not really a hybrid at all, because it does not use the dual sources of power. Instead, these cars have a super-sized starter. The car automatically switches the engine off when idling, coasting or braking and then uses its over-sized starter to quickly and quietly restart the engine when it is needed. All Minis sold in Europe use this technology, as do the Saturn Vue and Aurora Greenlines.

Plug-In Hybrids

The two major types of hybrids are either mostly or half reliant on their gasoline engine. The plug-in electric hybrid is an attempt to minimize the use of the gasoline engine and circumvent the limits of an all-electric car at the same time. These cars rely entirely on the battery for power during the first several dozen miles of driving, just as in an all-electric car. The gasoline engine is a back-up. When the battery is exhausted, the gasoline engine on board can then be started and used to either recharge the battery or drive the car to a recharging station.

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