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What Is a Hybrid Car?

Even though they are becoming increasingly common sights on Irish roads these days, many people still ask themselves, 'what is a hybrid car?' If that's a question you have put to yourself and would like a full explanation, then you are in the right place. To put it as simply as possible, a hybrid car makes use of an electric motor as well as a combustion engine to provide automotive power. This means the wheels will turn – at least, in part – from the car's battery pack.


The electrical motor that is used should not be confused car's starter motor, however. This is a small electric motor that is used to help cars start up without the need for an old-fashioned crank handle. In hybrid cars, the electric motor will assist or take over from the combustion engine to provide mobility.


Please note that a hybrid car can cover quite a few different types of vehicle models. To be classed as a car, it will have to be a four-wheeler since trikes and mobility scooters don't count. Equally, hybrid cars shouldn't be confused with all-electric models. Both of these technologies make use of electric power but in different ways. Put simply, all-electric cars don't have a combustion engine or a fuel tank but rely solely on batteries and an electric motor. Hybrids have both. There are two main types, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and so-called mild hybrids (MHEVs). Let's deal with each in turn.

What Are Plug-In Hybrid Electric Cars?

Despite the fact that all-electric cars and hybrids both make use of battery packs and electrical automotive technologies, they constitute different types of electric vehicle. With hybrid cars, the basic choice is to opt for one that you will plug into the mains electric supply to charge or one that will trickle charge its battery when the vehicle is moving around. Different car manufacturers use slightly different terms for their hybrid models, but the basic thing to take on board is that there are two technologies to know about.

The first type of hybrid car is a plug-in, or PHEV. This type of car will use a standard combustion engine with a fuel tank and can drive around without any electrical power whatsoever. When driving without electrical power, the only compromise – when compared to a non-hybrid model – might be that the car has a smaller-than-usual tank and will be weighed down a bit more by its battery pack. However, when the car is operating in electric mode, it will make use of its second engine, one that takes power from the car's batteries. Plug-in hybrids can be charged when not in use, just like all-electrics. The main difference is that they have a smaller range than all-electrics. About 30 miles or so is typical. This is because they don't have large battery packs. That's why they have a second power system to take over when the electrical power runs out.

Although the limited electrical range of plug-in hybrid cars might be viewed as a limiting factor, owners will soon realise that driving a PHEV – as opposed to an all-electric car – will mean being able to charge up their vehicle much more rapidly. Some PHEVs blend the electrical power with the car's fossil fuel-powered one to get the best out of each. Others use the remaining battery power first before starting the combustion engine up. Usually, different driving modes alter how this works, but these depend on the particular model concerned.

What Are Mild Hybrid Electric Cars?

Mild Hybrid Electric Cars

When it comes to mild-hybrid technology, a MHEV car will not have a charging point or be able to be recharged from the mains electrical supply. Instead, the car's battery pack will charge when the car is in regeneration mode. This occurs when the car is making more energy than it currently needs. Driving downhill usually results in a mild hybrid car's battery charging, for example. Regenerative braking systems are also used to help recharge the battery. Either way, electric power is deployed, when needed, to supplement the energy the engine is making from its tank. Therefore, hybrid electric cars merely reduce the amount of fuel that is consumed, reducing carbon emissions and making each journey that bit cheaper.

Mild hybrid cars do not offer as much electric power as plug-in hybrids. The energy storage capacity in their battery packs will be smaller for one thing. In addition, the amount of energy they can capture from regeneration will necessarily be less than that which they could obtain by plugging them in. However, you do not need to take charging cables around with you when you drive using a MHEV car because you will never plug it in. Equally, this approach to hybrid car technology is more convenient for people without drives who only have on-street parking.


Simply put, they won't need to trail power cables over the pavement to charge their car and cause a potential hazard to neighbours.

How Do Hybrid Electric Cars Work?

As previously mentioned, a battery pack – an interconnected series of batteries spread out within the body of the car – supplies power to a motor. The main difference with a car's electric motor, as opposed to a petrol-powered one, is that it will generate rotary motion from the interaction that occurs between a magnetic field and a winding current. This means no linear motion is required from pistons from which rotary motion is then derived. In theory, this makes electric motors more efficient. The rotary motion they make from the battery power is more easily transferred to the wheels of the car. Drivers often notice greater torque when pulling away in a hybrid car that is only using electrical power for this very reason.


In most hybrid cars, the software onboard will regulate the flow of battery energy to maximise performance or range depending on the driving mode that has been selected by the driver so that the use of fossil fuels is minimised. Some hybrid car models will even give motorists a display of the proportion of electric power that is being consumed at any moment on the road.

What Are the Benefits of Owning a Hybrid Car?

There are numerous benefits of hybrid car ownership, including:

  • Cutting down on fossil fuel consumption.

  • Quieter motoring with less rumble and engine noise when in electric mode.

  • Some tax breaks are available in the EU for certain classes of hybrid cars. In Ireland, various incentive schemes have been set up by the government in the past.

  • The local environment will not be so polluted because fewer particulates will be emitted.

  • Some charging stations are free to use in certain locations to encourage more take-up of plug-in hybrid cars.

  • Individual carbon footprints can be greatly reduced with a hybrid car, especially with plug-ins if they are recharged from a sustainable source of electrical production such as, for example, solar panels.

  • Some motorists report they simply prefer the driving experience when behind the wheel of a hybrid car.

Are There Any Downsides With Hybrid Car Ownership?

On the face of it, there are so many positives to hybrid car ownership that there should be very little to think about when it comes to purchasing one. However, like most things to do with car ownership, there are some considerations to bear in mind. Firstly, despite the clear and obvious benefits to the environment that electrically powered vehicles offer, they make use of some heavy metals. Some of these need to be extracted with some destruction to the local environment, where they are mined with a considerable carbon cost. However, once they have been extracted and put into car motors and battery packs, they will continue to offer a sustainable source of energy, unlike fossil fuels, of course.

In addition, PHEVs need time to power up. If you think that spending a few minutes refuelling your car at the pump is too long, then a plug-in car may not be for you after all. Unless you know you can charge your car when you are at the office or know you will rarely need it to drive longer journeys than the car's maximum range, this can be a problem worth weighing up. Of course, that's one of the reasons why MHEV technology is so popular, because it means making use of electrical power without the need to ever plug your car in and charge it. Finally, there is not yet a great deal of publicly available charging infrastructure to allow plug-in car owners to break their journey up and recharge on longer trips. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that this situation is changing throughout Europe, but it will take time until fast electric car charging points become the norm and fuel pumps are the exception at filling stations.


DoneDeal hosts the widest selection of cars for sale in Ireland, with 78,000 on sale today. Check out DoneDeal’s range of hybrid cars from all of Ireland’s trusted car dealerships:



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