Most people have heard of a Prius, and there are plenty of other hybrid vehicles out on the market today. Still, even though there are so many hybrid options, many people don’t know much about hybrids or how they work. They just know they are supposed to be better for the environment, can sometimes qualify for special tax breaks and other incentives, and they get better gas mileage.
Since vague ideas about hybrids probably won't be reason enough for you to consider picking up a shiny new Prius, it’s a good idea to learn more to see if those ideas hold water. Having more information will make it considerably easier to head over to the dealership to see about the hybrid that’s right for you. On the other hand, a little knowledge may serve to steer you away.
How a Hybrid Works
To get the best fuel efficiency, a hybrid vehicle relies on two different power sources, a battery-powered engine and a combustion one. The battery-powered engine handles low-speed acceleration and around-town driving conditions, and the internal combustion engine handles highway traveling. Together, these two engines perform much more efficiently, reducing fuel costs and emissions.
Different Hybrid Types
While the dual engine concept of the hybrid is straightforward, the execution of it is not. There are many variations based on the basic idea.
Slight Hybrid – This type of hybrid vehicle relies on a tiny electric battery and engine to handle just minor start and stop driving. This boosts efficiency slightly while only minimally increasing the cost of the vehicle.
Minor Hybrid – This hybrid vehicle uses the gasoline engine almost exclusively, but will rely on the electric engine to boost acceleration and to handle other minor tasks.
Heavy Hybrid – Vehicles like the Prius rely heavily on hybrid technology. They are known as pure hybrids and make use of both the gas and electric systems interchangeably as described above to make the vehicle as efficient as possible. Since the battery-powered component of the car is more utilized than in the slight or minor hybrid, it is more complex and expensive.
Extreme Hybrid – These vehicles rely heavily on the battery-powered engine and can be driven without use of the combustion engine at all. These predominately electric vehicles will come with a small gas tank and combustion engine for longer trips or if the battery charge runs out.
The Pros for Going Hybrid
- Gas savings over time
- Environmentally friendly
- Potentially higher resale
The Cons Against Going Hybrid
- Higher upfront cost
- Typically less interior space
- More difficult maintenance, including replacing the battery
- Less ground clearance
As with shopping for any car, it is important to find one that fits your needs. For many people, hybrids simply don’t pay off over time because they don’t drive enough but, for others, helping the environment is reason enough to spend the extra money for a hybrid car.