23 Nov 2023

Everything you need to know about hybrid vehicles

At a time when climate change is an increasingly important issue, we are all looking at how to make our carbon footprint smaller and how the vehicles we drive can play a major part in that. Hybrid vehicles have been around since 1997 and offer a more environmentally friendly option to traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

Everything you need to know about hybrid vehicles

As you might be able to guess from the name, a hybrid vehicle is powered by two different sources: an internal combustion engine and a battery with an electric motor. The key difference between a hybrid and electric vehicle is the presence of an engine, usually petrol but very occasionally diesel.

How hybrid technology works

Different types of hybrid vehicles work in different ways, but, in essence, the petrol engine fuels the vehicle on long journeys while the battery and electric motor power it on shorter trips.  Most hybrid vehicles also offer the option to use either system in isolation. Electricity comes from a high-voltage battery pack (not the vehicle’s standard battery), which is charged by capturing energy from deceleration, something that is typically lost to heat generated by brakes in conventional vehicles – this is known as the regenerative braking system. Hybrids also use the petrol engine to charge and maintain the battery.

Benefits of owning a hybrid vehicle

Depending on which of the two main types of hybrid vehicle you own, there are plenty of benefits. Fuel economy is improved, and emissions are cut drastically when driving on urban roads. Drivers of hybrid cars also benefit from significant taxation benefits in most countries.

Hybrid vehicles can also offer a smoother driving experience, even though the weight of the battery pack can sometimes make the vehicles heavier overall.

Types of hybrid vehicles

There are two main types of hybrid vehicles: self-charging and plug-in; the main differences relate to how the battery is charged.

Self-charging hybrids rely on regenerative braking battery power for short distances and low speeds and therefore can’t be plugged in.  Plug-in hybrids, also known as PHEVs, can be plugged in and charged from a socket as well as using the vehicle’s regenerative braking system.

Plug-in hybrids can be more expensive than self-charging models because of the charging technology required; however, the taxation benefits make them an attractive option, particularly for a fleet of company vehicles.

The latest variation of hybrid vehicle is called the mild hybrid which runs on a 48-volt electrical system and offers gentle, or mild, electrical assistance to the engine.  It’s not enough for the car to drive on its electric power alone but mild hybrids still provide the benefits of lowering fuel consumption and cutting CO2 emissions.

Hybrid vs Full Electric

Full electric vehicles, or EVs, get all their power from an on-board battery which must be kept charged; unlike a hybrid, there is no option to switch over to a fuel-powered engine for longer drives. How far you can go on each charge depends on several factors including speed, type of road and weather conditions. Charging times for EVs also vary depending on the type of charging point.

Full electric vehicles cost significantly less to run than conventional and hybrids; charging at home on off-peak power could cost as little as £3 for a full charge. They are also much more environmentally friendly and exempt from most vehicle taxation and congestion charging zones.