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How does a Hybrid car work?

Electrified vehicles are the latest development in automotive technology. From all-electric cars to plug-in hybrids, this innovation enables zero-emissions travel for increasingly long distances, bringing both environmental and financial benefits to drivers.

As with any emerging technology, it can be confusing to understand what’s on the market and what model would suit your lifestyle. To help get to the bottom of these hybrid and electric car mysteries - and to debunk a few common misconceptions around them - we've put together this handy guide.

Whether it's performance, range or price you're worried about, our myth buster is here to put your mind at ease.

Myth 1: Hybrid cars only charge their electric batteries when they’re plugged in 

Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are a later addition to the electrified vehicle family, but even these cars don’t solely rely on being plugged into an external power source to charge the electric battery.

All types of hybrid cars (parallel, range extender and plug-ins) are capable of charging the electric battery on the go to extend range.

All-electric cars do require plugging into an external source in to charge, as the batteries they employ are significantly larger. However, this also means they can drive much further than any hybrid car can on electricity alone.

 How does a hybrid car work? 

A hybrid car possesses both a traditional internal combustion engine and an electric battery. These power sources are used in isolation and simultaneously to drive the car; how they are used depends on the hybrid model.

  • Parallel hybrids can use each power source individually, or both together, to drive. The electric motor usually powers the car when pulling away and at low speeds before the traditional engine steps in.
  • Plug-in hybrids have a larger battery than parallel hybrids, which is why they can also charge via an external source. This means they can go further than parallel hybrids on purely electric power.
  • Range extender hybrids only use the electric motor to drive the car. The internal combustion engine is used to recharge the electric motor during driving, which allows a greater distance to be covered before charging or filling up is required.

All hybrids rely on their petrol or diesel engine once their electric battery is drained – either to continue driving or to recharge the battery – meaning concerns around range anxiety are eliminated. Hybrids may also be categorised as "mild" or "strong", depending on their range capacity using only electricity.

Hybrid models may make use of both their internal combustion engines and regenerative braking to charge their electric batteries in transit. This is done by harnessing the energy generated by the traditional internal combustion engine when in use, and by capturing the energy released when the driver applies the brakes.

Some systems switch automatically between power sources to gain the best fuel efficiency for the current driving conditions; others allow the driver to manually select this.

Myth 2: Hybrids and electrics can’t go as far as cars with traditional engines 

In parallel and plug-in hybrids, the petrol engine powers forward motion if the electric battery is drained. In other hybrids, it takes over at higher speeds for the most efficient fuel usage. Tank sizes are similar to those in some cars with traditional engines – so not only can these cars drive just as far, their total distance capacity can be even greater thanks to better fuel economy and the electric battery recharging on-the-go.

The technology behind electrified cars is constantly advancing to enable increased distances before charging is required. The Ford Mustang Mach-E all-electric is capable of 370 miles of range on a single charge, comparable to some small petrol/diesel-powered cars.

How do you charge a hybrid car?

Hybrid cars can charge either on the go with regenerative braking and/or an internal combustion engine, or by being plugged into an external power source. This is usually the driver’s home via a Wallbox for electrified vehicles to charge overnight, just like a mobile phone or laptop. Some parallel hybrid models can’t be charged externally, but plug-ins and many range extenders can be.

But as hybrids and electrics grow in popularity with UK drivers, charging points across cities and at motorway service stations are becoming increasingly available for top-up charging throughout the day. Today, charge points can be found at some company buildings, office car parks and even at street parking locations.

Myth 3: Hybrids and electrics are more expensive 

When considering buying a hybrid or electric car, it’s important to consider the overall cost of the vehicle – not just the OTR (on the road) price. While some models may attract a slightly higher purchase price than a petrol or diesel equivalent, there are many affordable cars available. The UK government also offers a grant of up to £3,500 against the purchase of new qualifying hybrid and electric cars.

Purchase costs are also typically offset by lower running costs, such as significant fuel savings, reduced road tax, and even congestion charge exemptions (for some types of electrified vehicle). With electricity being far cheaper than petrol and diesel, any driving that relies on this power source is completed at a lower cost than driving a car with a traditional engine.

You can learn about the cost of an electric car in more detail here here.

Myth 4: They’re only for urban driving/city dwellers 

The variety of high-performing electrified vehicles available today ensures there’s a solution for every lifestyle.

It’s true that urban drivers find excellent benefits in parallel hybrid models – using electric power from standing and at low speeds can virtually eliminate emissions during the stop-start journeys of high-traffic metropoles.

However, other hybrid models are excellently suited to suburban and rural needs, particularly if your day-to-day driving mostly consists of short trips (like school runs and errands). Plug-in hybrids such as the Ford Kuga drive up to 35 miles with zero emissions, but the internal combustion engine takes over once the electric battery is exhausted. The all-electric Mustang Mach-E’s 370-mile distance per charge makes it worth considering for any road user. Many range extender models can drive up to 95 miles on electric power alone when fully charged, before the internal combustion engine is required to continue – and all types of hybrid provide the option to cover far greater distances on the occasions that you need to.

If the majority of your driving consists of high speeds on motorways and A-roads, a petrol or diesel engine may be more cost-efficient. Of course, environmental issues are a growing consideration for people the world over, so a hybrid model could be a good step if you’d like to live a greener lifestyle

Finally, are hybrid cars worth it?

Today’s hybrid and electric cars are a superb option if you’re looking for outstanding performance and impressive fuel economy while reducing your CO2 emissions. The variety of models available includes family cars, SUVs, sports models and sleek executive drives, all with the sophisticated systems and enjoyable driving experience that you’d expect from any new car.

Explore our new hybrid and electric models, or search for a nearby used car.