What is a hybrid car and is it right for you?

Making environmentally conscious choices is an admirable goal, but sometimes it’s not so easy. Starbucks made headlines for ditching plastic straws in favor of “adult sippy cups,” but will new lids actually cut down on plastic? Is it enough? Far more complex is the question of transportation and which vehicle one should buy.

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An early option touted as eco-friendly is the hybrid car. Manufacturers have jumped on the hybrid bandwagon in droves since then. So what is a hybrid car, exactly? And is it the right car for you?

Most simply, a hybrid car uses more than one form of power to keep its wheels rolling. Where a traditional car uses petrol or diesel and an electric car uses electricity, your typical hybrid car uses both.

What is a hybrid car? The nuts and bolts

what is a hybrid car - mercedes c-class

To say that a hybrid car uses gas and electricity doesn’t tell you too much.

Hybrid cars contain a conventional engine, an electric motor, and a battery. The most common type of hybrid car is parallel hybrid car, popularized by the Toyota Prius.

Parallel hybrids use their electric motors to power the car when moving at lower speeds (up to 15mph in the case of the Prius). As the car accelerates, it switches to the petrol engine.

When decelerating or using brakes, the regenerative braking system produces electricity, which is stored in the battery.

Range extender hybrid cars work more like electric cars, never relying on their conventional engines to actually propel the vehicle forward. Instead, the gas engine only functions to recharge the battery, which in turn powers the car when in motion.

And lastly, plug-in hybrids are somewhere between a hybrid and a fully electric car. As the name suggests, they plug in for their primary charge, but also charge while in motion. Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Volvo have all started offering plug-in hybrids to their lineups.

Advantages of owning a hybrid car

what is a hybrid car - toyota yaris

The advantages or disadvantages of owning a hybrid car depend on a few factors. While electric cars seem like the most eco-friendly option, that isn’t necessarily the case if you live somewhere that generates most of its power through coal, for example. Suddenly your electric car is quite literally a coal-powered car, which doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it.

Electricity obviously doesn’t just appear out of thin air. How it’s generated where you plug in your electric car will determine how environmentally friendly your car is.

I live in Toronto, Canada, where about half of our electricity comes from nuclear power. The rest comes from a mix of hydro, coal, wind, and natural gas. That’s what would power an electric car here. Food for thought.

You may also have limited access to charging stations. Some larger cities have started installing charging ports in many easily accessible areas, but if you live in a rural area and have to drive long distances without access to chargers, fully electric is a no-go.

Then again, hybrid cars aren’t really ideal for long-distance driving either. You’d just be using the gas engine. They’re ideal for anyone doing a fair bit of city driving — making the most of the electric engine at low speeds with many stops — while still needing to move long distances at solid speeds from time to time.

Buying a hybrid may also get you some tax break, depending on where you live, which is certainly worth looking into before you commit.

What is a hybrid car? Wrap up

Hybrid cars aren’t overly complex — not that you’d ever catch me trying anything under the hood — but they require some thought.

How far will you be driving? What kind of access do you have to the right kinds of outlets? How is your power generated? What kinds of tax breaks will you get?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you may decide a hybrid car is exactly what you need.

Do you drive a hybrid or electric car? How do you like it? What are the pros and cons? Let us know in the comments!

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