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What is a Hybrid Vehicle and Do You Need One?

Most cars use an internal combustion engine for propulsion, but a hybrid vehicle uses two power sources working together. More specifically, they use both gas and electric power to not only power the wheels of the car, but take care of other functions like starting, steering, and more. The result is much better fuel economy than a traditional gas-powered car with little compromise.

Hybrids used to be mostly limited to compact cars. However, today you can get SUVs, sports cars, minivans, and even pickup trucks that use a hybrid powertrain to improve efficiency. Sometimes, a hybrid system can also enhance performance.

Let’s take a closer look at what a hybrid vehicle is, how it works, and whether it’s right for you.

What is a Hybrid Vehicle?

A hybrid vehicle combines two power sources: a gas engine and an electric motor. There are a few different types of hybrids, which we’ll get into shortly. All hybrids have an electric motor assisting in either powering the wheels or powering accessories. This is done to take some of the workload off the gas engine.

How Do Hybrids Work?

How a hybrid works depends on which type of hybrid we’re talking about. We’ll start with the conventional full hybrid.

A full hybrid receives power from a gas engine and an electric motor, but it doesn’t plug into the wall. The popular Toyota Prius is a good example of a full hybrid. It can run on just the gas engine, just the electric motor, or a combination of the two. It has a built-in generator capable of charging its battery pack via regenerative braking or the gas engine.

At low speeds, cruising, idling, or reversing, the car can run on just the electric motor. In mixed driving, full hybrids switch between the power sources, resulting in improved fuel economy compared to a regular gas-powered car.

A plug-in hybrid is a bit different. Plug-in hybrid cars have larger lithium-ion battery packs onboard that you charge up by plugging the car into the wall. Plug-in hybrid models like the Honda Clarity or Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid have varying all-electric ranges. For example, the Honda Clarity can go up to 47 miles on electricity alone before the gas engine kicks in. When the battery is drained, it works like a conventional full hybrid.

A mild hybrid like the Ram 1500 with the eTorque system uses a small electric motor to take care of accessories and functions like starting the engine. The electric motor doesn’t do much — if anything at all — to help propel the vehicle in a mild hybrid, but it takes some of the strain off of the gas engine. The result is slightly improved fuel economy, but it’s less efficient than a full hybrid.

Type of Hybrids

  • Full hybrid — Also known as a conventional hybrid, a full hybrid car like the Toyota Prius uses a gas engine assisted by an electric motor to achieve excellent fuel economy
  • Mild hybrid — A mild hybrid has a small electric motor that typically doesn’t help with propulsion but takes some of the work away from the gas engine to make it more efficient.
  • Plug-in hybrid — A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a hybrid with a larger onboard battery pack that can propel the car on electricity alone. When the battery is drained, it works like a full-hybrid.


You don’t need to worry about charging a full hybrid or a mild hybrid, but a plug-in hybrid needs to be plugged into a power source if you want to take full advantage of its hybrid engineering. You can plug it into a regular wall outlet, a dedicated charging station in your garage, or a public charging station.

Hybrid vehicles use some clever tricks to charge their batteries while driving. For example, regenerative braking captures the energy created using the brakes and routes that energy back into the battery. It’s a small thing that adds up over time.

Benefits of a Hybrid Vehicle

The most significant benefit of a hybrid vehicle is fuel economy. For example, the Toyota Corolla Hybrid has a combined fuel economy rating of 52 mpg, making it 57% more efficient than the non-hybrid Corolla sedan with the base engine. According to EPA estimates, that results in fuel savings of $550 per year. An efficient plug-in hybrid has even lower annual fuel costs.

Another benefit of hybrid cars is a reduced carbon footprint. Simply put, a car that burns less gas is better for the environment. This is especially true if you have a plug-in hybrid and live in an area that gets a lot of energy from renewable resources like solar and wind.

This might come as a surprise, but another benefit of hybrids is improved performance. These performance enhancements specifically apply to plug-in hybrids with plentiful electric torque. Plug-in hybrid models ranging from the Toyota RAV4 Prime to the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring and many others have more power and more torque than their non-hybrid counterparts on top of being more efficient.

Hybrid vs. EV

A hybrid car uses a combination of gas and electric power, while a pure electric vehicle (EV) solely uses a battery-powered powertrain with no gas engine. However, a plug-in hybrid is often considered as both since it has a gas engine and can drive significant distances with electric power alone.

Is a Hybrid Right for You?

A full hybrid or a mild hybrid can be driven by just about anyone since you can fuel them up at any gas station. It’s an excellent option for environmentally conscious drivers or anyone looking to save a few bucks on gas.

A plug-in hybrid really only makes sense if you have somewhere to regularly plug in to charge the battery. A plug-in hybrid is best if your car is parked in a garage with a power outlet or charging station every night. If not, then a full hybrid or mild hybrid would be more practical.

Related Electric Car Articles:


Are Hybrids Expensive?

Hybrid vehicles range from affordable compact cars to expensive luxury cars. Generally speaking, a hybrid doesn’t cost much more than a similar non-hybrid car.

Do Hybrid Cars Use Gas?

Yes, a hybrid car uses a gas engine assisted by an electric motor.

Do You Charge Hybrid Cars?

The kind of hybrid that plugs into the wall is called a plug-in hybrid. A conventional hybrid like the Toyota Prius does not need to be plugged in.

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