How Hybrid Cars Work
Many consumers aren't satisfied to know that hybrid cars achieve excellent fuel economy and reduced emmissions, but also are also curious about how they work. Three primary components are integrated to make a hybrid: an internal combustion gas engine, an electric motor and a high-powered battery. A process called regenerative braking is used to capture energy and charge the battery. This is energy that would normally be lost during coasting or decelerating. The battery which is continuously recharged through this process provides power to the electric motor. If necessary, power from the gasoline engine may also be diverted to charge the battery. These charging strategies create an electrical power system that never needs to be plugged in to charge from an external source.
Those are the basics of hybrid cars in general. We will divide hybrids into two categories to examine further how the three components work together. Each category of hybrids incorporates the three components in its own way.
Mild Hybrids -
In the mild hybrid configuration the electric motor is not able to function independently of the gas internal combustion engine. The vehicle is powered primarily by the gas engine, and the electric motor only provides supplemental power to assist when needed. The electric motor is capable of drawing energy from the battery or generating electricity to charge the battery, but it isn't capable of doing both at the same time. The Honda Civic and Insight are mild hybrid cars.
Full Hybrids -
Full hybrid cars integrate the three components in a way that allows the electric motor and the gas engine to operate independently of each other. For instance the electric motor is capable of operating on its own to provide light acceleration at low speeds. The gas engine then starts up and takes over at higher speeds. Both the electric motor and gas engine can operate in unison when more power is needed during hard acceleration, such as when climbing hills. Full hybrids are also able to draw energy from the battery and charge it at the same time. The Toyota Prius and Ford Escape are full hybrids.
Despite their differences, both types of hybrid cars achieve the goal of increased fuel economy and decreased emissions over standard gas or diesel powered vehicles.