The most common type of hybrid car combines the following:
Although there are diesel-electric buses on the road -- and nuclear-electric <a href='http://science.howstuffworks.com/submarine.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">submarines</a> underwater -- most <a href='http://auto.howstuffworks.com/hybrid-car.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">hybrid cars</a> combine a gas engine with electric power. The two most common types of gasoline-electric hybrids are parallel and series hybrids.
In a parallel hybrid:
In a parallel hybrid, both the gas engine and the electric motor connect to the <a href='http://auto.howstuffworks.com/transmission.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">transmission</a> and can turn the wheels. Typically, the engine is smaller and more efficient than what you'd see in a gas-powered car.
In a series hybrid:
A series hybrid uses a gas engine to turn a generator. The generator can charge <a href='http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/battery.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">batteries</a> or move the wheels. Either way, the gas engine never directly powers the vehicle.
Small engines are more efficient than large engines because:
It may seem like a bigger <a href='http://auto.howstuffworks.com/engine.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">engine</a> can do more work, but smaller engines tend to be more efficient. They're lighter, so it takes less energy to move them. The same goes for their pistons -- they're lighter and take less force to move. Smaller cylinders also require less fuel.
The electric motor in a hybrid car can also act as:
The typical hybrid car's <a href='http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/motor.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">electric motor</a> is more advanced than an ordinary motor. For example, as you accelerate, the motor can pull energy from the batteries to make the car go faster. But when you slow down, it can act as a generator, recharging the batteries.
Regenerative braking involves:
Regenerative <a href='http://auto.howstuffworks.com/brake.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">braking</a> is one of the many tricks most hybrid cars use to get the most out of a tank of gas. The motor acts as a generator, using the energy from braking to recharge the batteries.
The Toyota Prius uses its gas engine to:
The Prius cuts down on emissions by using the <a href='http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/motor.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">electric motor</a> to get the car going and accelerate up to about 15 MPH. Then, the gas engine takes over and drives within a narrow band of speeds.
In a Prius, the power split device connects the:
The power split device in a Prius is a gearbox that connects the engine, generator and electric motor. It lets the car operate as a parallel or series hybrid, depending on the needs of the moment. On top of that, it acts as a <a href='http://auto.howstuffworks.com/cvt.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">continuously variable transmission</a>.
The benefits of a hybrid car include:
The two main benefits of a <a href='http://auto.howstuffworks.com/hybrid-car.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">hybrid car</a> -- cutting down on emissions and improving gas mileage -- are interwoven. Because you're using less fuel, you're putting out fewer emissions.
You should avoid abrupt stops in a hybrid car because:
When a hybrid car slows down, the engine does some of the work. It acts like a generator, recovering energy for the batteries. If you stop too suddenly, your <a href='http://auto.howstuffworks.com/brake.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">brakes</a> do most of the work, and your <a href='http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/battery.htm' style="font-weight: bold;">batteries</a> don't get the extra charge.
With the constantly fluctuating price of gasoline, more people are looking into hybrid cars. But it's a good idea to know what you're getting into before purchasing one. Take the hybrid car quiz and see how much you know about them.
About HowStuffWorks Play
How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!