Have you ever wondered how hybrid cars actually work? I had this same question as I interacted with the three hybrid vehicles at a local car show. One of the biggest questions I had was exactly how does the hybrid recharge. So I decided to dig into this to find out how each of these hybrid cars worked and what the differences are, in particular with regards to charging.
The charging method for a hybrid electric car depends on the type of hybrid, although each type includes regenerative braking as a method to recharge. Each hybrid electric car charges itself a little differently. Full hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and extended range electric, all use an onboard generator to recharge. The differences are in the way they are oriented with the gas engine and electric motor.
By definition, a hybrid is a combination of gasoline engine and an electric motor that powers the vehicle. This is a pretty broad definition which is one of the reasons that there are different types of hybrids, one for each configuration. They range from having the gas engine and electric motor connected in series, or in parallel.
I put together the similar hybrids in groups to help identify how they are configured and to show how they work.
How Does A Hybrid Car Work
Starting with the mild hybrid it is closer to a standard gasoline vehicle then it is to an electric vehicle.
The mild hybrid has a smaller electric motor setup in parallel with the gas engine. This allows the gas engine to be shut off when the vehicle is slowing down and even when it comes to a stop. The electric motor is not powerful enough to drive the vehicle on its own, the engine is restarted to drive. The electric motor on the mild hybrid purpose is to provide additional power to the engine and to allow accessories driven from the engine to be maintained with the engine shut off.
The electric motor in a mild hybrid replaces both the starter motor and the alternator since the electric motor is also used as a generator. Looking under the hood of a mild hybrid you might not even notice this difference if you didn’t know what to look for.
These are some of the classic hybrids that most people are aware of, like the Toyota Prius. These full hybrids are complex since the engine and electric motors can be in series, parallel, or a both at any time. When in parallel it acts just like the mild hybrids but can change to run in series using the electric motor to drive the vehicle and use the engine to run the generator without a connection to the vehicle wheels.
One of the differences between a full hybrid and a plug-in hybrid is the ability to recharge the hybrid with an external source, which is only available with a plug-in hybrid.
Another difference is the size of the batteries. Since a plug-in hybrid can be recharged like a battery electric vehicle, the battery pack size is increased to take advantage of this ability.
Extended Range Hybrid
This configuration has the motor and engine in series only, so the electric motor is always driving the vehicle and the engine is only used to run the generator when needed. This keeps the engine running at optimal speeds to generate power to the batteries.
As well as the plug-in hybrid, the extended range hybrid is a plug-in hybrid. You could say that the extended range hybrid is a step closer to being a battery electric vehicle from the plug-in hybrid.
Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle
In a fuel cell electric car all the electricity is generated as it is needed on an on-demand basis, although there is no generator in the common sense which would include a drive motor. The fuel cell creates electricity through a chemical process that uses hydrogen on one side of a separator and oxygen on the other.
This might not seem important when talking about recharging a hybrid electric car, but the majority of fuel cell cars include a small battery pack. This battery pack has a few purposes in a fuel cell car. The first purpose of the battery pack is to allow for overcharging when the fuel cell is generating electricity. The second purpose is to allow for power stability since the demand from the electric car can change quickly, and can happen faster than the fuel cell can account, for an instance. As a result, the battery pack is a final resort for power to drive home if you drive the fuel cell to the end of the hydrogen tank.
Do Hybrid Cars Have Regenerative Braking?
Yes, just like full battery electric cars, all hybrid vehicle types have regenerative braking systems. It is one of the easiest ways for an electric car of any kind to recover some electricity during coasting, downhill, or braking.
This is sometimes forgotten as a method of recharging a hybrid vehicle since the driver and passengers for that matter may not even notice that the regenerative braking system.
Can You Charge A Hybrid Car At Home?
It depends on the hybrid type you are talking about. There are only a few types of hybrid electric cars that have a plug-in socket that allows for charging. Naturally, the plug-in hybrid has this ability, but the extended range electric vehicle also has a charging socket.
This allows for charging at home when it is convenient for you. Although some people with battery electric cars frown upon this, both of these plug-in hybrids can be charged at a public charging station.
The reason that drivers of battery electric cars dislike hybrids charging in public is that this is their main source of driving power, while it is a secondary source for these hybrids.