How do hybrid cars work?

Hybrid cars have combustion engines like gas cars and will switch between the combustion engine and the additional electric motor based on the driving speed and conditions. At lower speeds, a hybrid vehicle typically runs on its electric battery. The hybrid's internal computer system tells the vehicle to switch to gas when you accelerate.

While hybrid cars are all made on the same concept of combining gas and electricity, they can differ in how they work. There are full, mild, and plug-in hybrids:

  • Full hybrids can run on one or both of their motors (gas and electric) simultaneously, with the electric motor or battery recharging via the gas engine.
  • Mild hybrids have an electric motor/battery that assists the gas engine but can't power the vehicle on its own.
  • Plug-in hybrids have both a gasoline engine and electric motor, like full hybrids, except the onboard battery can be recharged externally at a charging station. Learn more about plug-in hybrid cars.

Hybrid cars pros and cons

Hybrid car pros

The hybrid car appeal centers on fuel efficiency. Since a hybrid car can run on a battery some of the time, you won't need to fill up as often or worry about gas prices as you would with a typical gas car. Over the long haul, the savings can be significant. And by using less fuel, you're also reducing carbon emissions.

Hybrid car cons

The main barrier to buying a hybrid car is the cost. The price difference between hybrid cars and regular cars can be significant. Maintenance can be more expensive, too, due to the advanced technology onboard. Hybrid cars may not generate the same power as equivalent gas-powered cars too, which may be a disadvantange for those who primarily drive on highways.

Cost of hybrid cars vs. gas cars

The price of a hybrid car will likely run thousands of dollars more than a comparable gas car. Remember, you'll continually save on gas for as long as you own the vehicle. You may also benefit from federal and state tax incentives for hybrid vehicles. Connecticut, for example, offers up to a $5,000 rebate for purchasing or leasing an electric or hybrid vehicle up to specified price points.

Should I buy a hybrid car?

If the initial price of a hybrid car doesn't give you sticker shock, purchasing the vehicle can be rewarding in many ways. If you're a little hesitant, it can be helpful to factor in your anticipated fuel and tax savings to get an idea of how long you'd need to own and use the vehicle to break even on the purchase price. Factor in potential fluctuations in gas prices on both the high and low ends.

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