How Do Hybrid Cars Work?

Hybrid cars are fast gaining mainstream appeal in the automotive sector, with many enthusiasts accepting their technology. A mention of the term hybrid, you picture models such as the Toyota Prius, one of the most popular cars under this category. How do hybrid cars work? It is a question many people have in a bid to understand this powertrain.

If you have the same concern, you are in the right place as we will take a comprehensive look at hybrid car technology. It will help answer your queries and see why it is an excellent concept to have on the road.

What Is A Hybrid Car?

A hybrid car uses two or more power sources. Most cars use one power source, where you find petrol, diesel, or electric engines. However, in the case of hybrid engines, you have more power sources. In most cases, you will find one power source is electricity coming from its batteries. The electric power source will complement the combustion engine. Do hybrid cars use gas? Yes, they use gas and other power sources to move the vehicle.

The hybrid notion banks on the fact that different motors have a certain degree of efficiency at different speeds. For instance, the electric engine is ideal for providing torque, while the combustion engine can maintain top speeds.

Hybrid Cars

History of Hybrid Cars

Hybrid technology seems to be a new concept due to the much attention it has lately. The contrary is true as it has been in existence for over a century. There were several trials of this engine technology in the late 1800s, with the first hybrid car debuting in 1899. It relied on a gasoline engine, which powered an electric motor. The electric motor transmitted its power to the vehicle’s front wheels. The car was quite popular at this time, though the popularity dipped over the years.

After a long period of dormancy, there was a regenerated interest in the 1960s. It came after research showed that the concept would help reduce pollution. Another contributing factor was fuel efficiency. While there were minimal developments in hybrid engines in the preceding years, there was a rebirth at the dawn of the new century. In the 2000s, many vehicle manufacturers adopted the technology, and presently, there are many hybrid cars and trucks on the road. The future seems bright for hybrid vehicles, as many car manufacturers have several hybrid concept vehicles, and many are in mass production.

Types of Hybrid Vehicles

With the understanding of hybrid engines, we can now look at the different types of hybrid vehicles. There are four types of hybrid cars, classified on the nature or degree of hybridization and their drivetrains. Highlighted below are the types of hybrid vehicles.

Conventional Hybrid Cars

Conventional hybrid vehicles work sacrificially. In this case, the electric motor takes charge of the powertrain when driving at low speeds or cruising. When you drive fast, the powertrain shifts to the gasoline engine. The sacrificial idea comes to play when you have to compromise on fuel economy for high speeds. On the other hand, if you want to use less fuel, you switch to the electrical motor, though the vehicle will be slow. Conventional hybrid cars do not have a plug-in slot. The battery pack gets its charge courtesy of regenerative braking and power from the gas engine.

Mild Hybrids

In mild hybrid vehicles, the electric motor and the combustion engine work together. The electric motor is small, and it helps boost the power of the engine. Unlike the conventional variety, in mild hybrid vehicles, the two engines cannot work independently. The good thing about this powertrain is that it helps fuel economy, where the combustion engine does not need a lot of gas to move. Similar to the conventional hybrid, its battery pack gets its charge from the gas engine and regenerative braking courtesy of a belt alternator starter.

Full Hybrid Vehicles

The full hybrid cars are like the conventional hybrid type, with minor differences. It has an electric motor and a gasoline engine. In this hybrid automotive, the electric motor has more power compared to mild and conventional hybrid engines. Full hybrid vehicles run on two powertrains; parallel or series.

In the parallel powertrain, power comes in three ways. It can come from the combustion engine, an electrical engine, or a combination of the two. On the flip side, the series powertrain derives its power from the electric engine. The combustion engine powers the electric engine. There are the series-parallel hybrids that feature both powertrains. A car computer unit will pick the most suitable powertrain depending on the driving conditions. The electric motor’s engine gets its boost from the gasoline engine and through regenerative braking.

Plug-In Hybrids

A thing that you notice from the previously highlighted types of hybrid vehicles is that they rely on engine power and braking energy to charge the batteries. In the case of plug-in hybrids, you can rely on power from the engine and brakes or plug it into an external charger. It is the same charger that boosts most fully electric vehicles. The result is that on a full charge, the cars can go for a longer distance on the electric engine. On a full charge, you may cover around 30 miles on the electric motor.

Key components of hybrid vehicles

The hybrid car system may seem to be quite complex, considering that it relies on two distinct powertrains. While it may be quite complicated in theory, practically, it is easy to grasp. To give you a hint of how the system works, here are the components of a hybrid car.

hybrid system

The Internal Combustion Engine

The spark-ignited combustion engine runs on petrol and is located on the hood, similar to the standard vehicles. There are diesel engine hybrids, mostly in Europe.

The Electric Unit

The electric unit comprises an electric generator and an electric traction motor. The generator brings in the power, while the motor creates the propulsion, which creates torque.

The Transmission System

The transmission system converts the rotational motion in the engine to linear motion in the wheels. It does so with the help of gears and transmission fluid.

The Power Control Unit

The power control unit has the DC/DC converter and the power electronics controller. The DC/DC converter converts the direct current level to another. On the other hand, the power electronics controller converts fixed voltage to the desired level. In short, the power control unit stabilizes the voltage, allowing for speed control.

Thermal System

The thermal system is in charge of thermal management, that is, creating a temperature balance. Balancing warm and cold air comes in handy in lowering emissions and fuel economy. It also helps extend the hybrid vehicle range.

Fuel Tank

The fuel tank stores gasoline for use in the engine. Gasoline helps in combustion after mixing with air, resulting in piston movement.

Traction Battery Pack

The traction battery pack sits near the fuel tank. It provides power to the hybrid car’s electric motor. There is also the auxiliary battery, located near the engine, which acts as a backup power source.

The exhaust system is in charge of relaying fumes away from the engine.

How Do Hybrid Cars Work?

At this moment, you already know what hybrid automotive technology means. But how does it work? Stick on as we focus on how this engine system works. The hybrid system works in a way to take advantage of the associated powertrains. For instance, if the car has an electric and gasoline engine, it will benefit from both of them. Let us look at the different areas of functionality of hybrid car technology to give you a clear picture of how they work.

how do hybrid cars work toyota

The Role of the Engines

The car engine’s role is to provide power to the wheels to bring about motion. In this situation, we have two engines, each of them perfect for different settings. As mentioned earlier, the electric motor is ideal for torque, that is bringing about rotation. The combustion engine maintains speed, more so when driving fast. The electrical motor gains its power from the batteries. The gasoline engine gets its energy from the fuel tank. The electric motor also acts like a generator, where it converts kinetic energy from braking to electric power, which will charge the battery pack.

While the gasoline engine is more powerful, there is a preference for the electric powertrain. The selection is due to their low pollution levels, air and sound, and fuel efficiency. When it comes to high-performance hybrid sports cars, the electrical drive maximizes performance rather than target fuel efficiency.

Regenerative Braking

One thing that improves the efficiency of the hybrid powertrain is its braking system. Regenerative braking ensures that the kinetic energy is not lost. An inverter converts kinetic to electric power, which will charge the batteries.

The Stop-Start System

The stop-start system also makes the hybrid engine efficient. It turns off the engine automatically when the car stops, for example, in traffic jams. It helps in fuel conservation. Starting is simple; by the press of a button, you are good to hit the road.

Additionally, there is engine management, which helps pick the right powertrain depending on the driving conditions. The system works together with the vehicle’s computer system.

Summarizing the functionality part, you can pick the powertrain you desire in conventional and full hybrid cars. For mild hybrids, the two engines work together.

Charging the Batteries

There are three ways to charge the batteries in hybrid powertrains. The ways are regenerative charging, power from the gasoline motor, and plug-in charging. Plug-in charging is for the plug-in hybrid models. The batteries are long-lasting, meaning they will last you for a decent time. In case of a battery problem, you should get a replacement promptly for a smooth driving experience.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hybrid Cars

It is prudent to look at the hybrid vehicle’s pros and cons if you are considering them as a choice. Looking at their growing popularity, you get a hint that these automobiles have many advantages. However, they also have their downsides, which you should know beforehand to know what you will be dealing with. Below are the advantages and disadvantages of hybrid cars that you have to know.

Advantages of Hybrid Cars

A standout advantage of hybrid vehicles is their reduced emission levels. They are friendly to the environment compared to standard vehicles. Electrical motors do not have exhaust emissions and lowered pollutants threshold when coupled with gasoline drivers. They also produce minimal noise as they run. The cars are economical when it comes to fuel consumption, meaning you do not have to spend a lot on refueling costs. Still, on costs, the maintenance is quite affordable and not so demanding.

The vehicles have the advantage of range, as the batteries recharge on their own. As such, you do not have to worry about the batteries going low suddenly, leaving you stranded. With many people shifting away from fossil fuels, hybrid cars have excellent resale value. Additionally, the torque boost from the electrical engine can improve acceleration to roughly 20%.


Hybrid vehicles’ major downside is that they might be less potent than those that use combustion engines. The good thing is that there is more powerful models courtesy of tech improvements. Generally, maintenance is not a problem, but maintaining some components can be pretty challenging. For example, the batteries are quite expensive, the same as other spare parts. Improper disposal of the batteries can lead to pollution of the environment.

The vehicles are pricey to purchase. The good thing is that it will weigh up with low fuel consumption. Despite having low emissions, hybrid cars do not match up to pure electric vehicles as they still have exhaust fumes. There is also the issue of minimal plug-in stations to recharge the plug-in hybrid cars.


Is It Worth Buying A Hybrid Car?

Yes, it is worth getting a hybrid car. It may be relatively expensive to buy, but you will benefit from reduced pollution, fuel economy, easy maintenance, and high acceleration pick-up. The vehicles also have a great resale value. If you are into environmental conservation causes, having a hybrid car is a great starting point.

Can Hybrid Cars Run On Gas Only?

Conventional hybrid cars can run on gas only, but for a short distance. Generally, hybrid cars should have power output from both the electric and gasoline engine. However, there are some situations, like when the batteries wear, where the vehicle will solely run on gas.

What Are The Problems With Hybrid Cars?

Despite their many advantages, you have to be keen on hybrid car problems. They include expensive parts, especially the battery. While the battery will serve you for a long time, replacing it is costly. Buying a hybrid car is also expensive. Though it has slight cons, hybrid car pros outweigh them.

Are Hybrid Cars Good For Long-Distance Driving?

Hybrid electrical cars are great for city driving, where you can balance the two powertrains. For long-distance driving, hybrids can work well, but it needs keenness, where you have the correct charge and fuel levels for a smooth drive without any inconveniences.

What Happens If A Hybrid Car Runs Out Of Gas?

Most hybrid cars need both the electric motor and gasoline engine to move. Some vehicles won’t move if there is no fuel in the tank. Others will move but at a slower rate. Conventional and full-hybrid cars can drive with no fuel, but the vehicle will be slow, with an average speed of 16mph.

What Happens When A Hybrid Car Runs Out Of Battery?

If you have a dead battery, starting the car can be challenging. You should know that the hybrid’s battery lasts for a long time, so when it wears out, you need a replacement. Most of the time, the battery will retain its charge as it gets its power from the engine and regenerative braking. Some models will move for a short run at low speeds. You can use this speed to get to the nearest filling station for a refill.

Final Word

Hybrid automotive technology is here with us, and we can see how great it is. Low emissions and fuel economy are some of the pros you get from the best hybrid cars. With such a car, you have two powertrains, and you can pick the most preferable depending on your preference and the driving state. Go through this piece and have a proper grasp of how a hybrid car works.


Hi there, I am R. Hasan Tito, a mechanic, and owner of this website. My friend and I created this website to share our knowledge, expertise, and experience with our fellow mechanics' community and car users. I am a specialist and certified automotive mechanic (Both Heavy Commercial and Private Cars). I worked as a Mechanic and Mechanic Supervisor for over fifteen years at Global Rebound Automotive companies - Toyota, TATA, BMW, Nissan, TVs, and Others. Now, I enjoy my new role of leading a team of automotive experts (in their respective fields) and publish new content on a regular basis on my website and social media.

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