With fuel prices continuing to rise and no sign of relief on the horizon, fuel economy remains front and centre for most char shoppers. This is where hybrid vehicles dominate, as some offer fuel consumption rates as low as 4L/100 km combined

While the low fuel consumption sounds great, you may still wonder what is a hybrid car? Below, we'll outline what a hybrid car is, how a hybrid car works, and how to determine if a hybrid car is right for you. 

Hybrid Car Defined

The term "hybrid car" has a relatively broad meaning, but it boils down to any vehicle that combines a gasoline or diesel engine with an electric motor for propulsion. Generally, hybrid vehicles are designed to help improve fuel economy.

In other cases, like in the Porsche 918 Spyder and Ferrari LaFerrari, the hybrid systems are tuned for performance. 

Types of Hybrid Cars

There are three main types of hybrid cars -- also called hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) available today: mild hybrids, full hybrids, and plug-in hybrids. 

Mild Hybrids

Mild hybrids are the simplest of the bunch, as they permanently use a combination of the gasoline or diesel engine and relatively low-voltage -- generally 48 volts -- electric motors. They never run on one or the other solely. These are also known as parallel hybrids because the two propulsion units always work in parallel.

An example of a mild hybrid is the 2012 Buick Regal eAssist.

Full Hybrids

Full hybrids, which normally have 100- to 300-volt electrical systems, have become the norm in the HEV realm. Full hybrids come in two flavours: series-parallel hybrid and series hybrid. Both hybrid technologies are more advanced than mild hybrids. They can run on just the internal combustion engine (ICE) -- the diesel or gas engine -- alone or just by electric power at low speeds for a short period, but there's a distinct difference. 

Series-Parallel Hybrid

A series-parallel hybrid can run on any combination of the engine and electric motor -- it can even run a short distance at low speeds on the battery pack alone. However, they maintain some form of mechanical contact between the gas engine and the roadway. 

An example of a series-parallel hybrid is the Toyota Prius.

​​​​Series Hybrid 

A series hybrid has no mechanical connection between the engine and the roadway, as the engine acts purely as a generator for the electric motor. Plus, they have a higher-capacity battery pack than a parallel hybrid, giving them a useful EV range.

Series hybrids have a plug to charge the battery, hence being called plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) or simply plug-in hybrids. When fully charged, a series hybrid can handle all-electric driving at normal speeds for 40-80 km, depending on the battery pack size and the electrical system's efficiency. This is great for folks with a short commute and a charging station at their workplace. In this perfect situation, you could go weeks or even months without ever using gasoline in this perfect situation. 

Some examples of series hybrids include the Toyota Prius Prime, Chevrolet , and Toyota RAV4 Prime.

Another variant to the series hybrid is the range-extended electric vehicle. While they are informally referred to as EVs. These models use an electric motor for primary propulsion but have a gasoline engine range extender that acts as a generator for the electric motor. These vehicles generally have the longed EV range of all hybrids but have a shorter overall range because of the small generator and fuel tank. 

An example of a range-extended EV is the BMW i3. 

Choosing the Right Hybrid for You

Picking the right hybrid powertrain depends on your daily commute and driving style. If your budget allows for it, and you have access to suitable power for charging, a series hybrid -- PHEV -- is generally the best option for most shoppers. 

Not only do these vehicles offer an all-electric range that  can cover most morning commutes, but they also deliver parallel-hybrid-like fuel economy when the gasoline engine kicks in.

If you have an especially long commute, you can always opt for a range-extender model with a greater EV range. Bonus points if your workplace has a free EV charging station to top it off while working. 

If your budget doesn't allow for a series hybrid or you simply don't have access to a reliable power source -- living in an apartment complex often presents this issue -- then a parallel or series-parallel hybrid is likely the best option for you. 

As for mild hybrids; there's little benefit to these models. In fact, today, they're mostly forgotten stepping stones to the thrifty hybrids of today. There's minimal benefit to buying a mild hybrid in today's automotive market. While they may consume slightly less fuel than their gasoline-only counterpart, the gap between them and a parallel hybrid's fuel consumption is generally vast. 

When choosing a hybrid, ensure it has all the technology it needs to maximize its range. One key feature is regenerative braking. A regenerative braking system captures the inertial energy created through braking and coasting, converts it to electricity, and sends it to the hybrid battery. 

Other useful tech is an adaptive climate control system that senses how many people are in the vehicle and adjusts the heating and air conditioning to suit its occupants, so you can conserve energy when there are fewer people in the car. 

Alternatives to Hybrid Cars

A hybrid vehicle isn't for everyone, but a few other green vehicles may better suit your needs. 

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)

Even the best hybrid cars and plug-in hybrids use gasoline, and some people want away from fossil fuels altogether. This is where BEVs like the Tesla Model 3, Audi e-Tron, or Kia Niro EV are superior. BEVs have no gasoline engine or generators and instead use high battery capacity to deliver ICE-like driving range of 500 km or more.

While BEVs' larger batteries offer a great driving range and meet most buyers' needs, many buyers still struggle with the number of hours it can take to recharge them. 

Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV)

FCVs use hydrogen and a complex fuel cell stack to create electricity, which is used to power the vehicle's electric motors while emitting only water vapour. So, technically, an FCV is an electric car, but it’s one you can fill up like a traditional vehicle. 

On average, it takes 4-5 minutes to refill an FCV's hydrogen tanks, rivalling a stop to the gas stations. The problem is, hydrogen refueling stations are scarce in Canada. 

FCVs are still rare, but the Hyundai Nexo and Toyota Mirai are the recent models. 

Get a Quality Pre-Owned Hybrid Vehicle at Clutch

Are you searching for a quality pre-owned hybrid SUV, sedan, or crossover? At Clutch, we have a wide selection of these green vehicles ready for you. 

Plus, you can rest assured you're getting a quality pre-owned hybrid, as they've all been through a 210-point inspection and reconditioning process to ensure they're top-notch. On top of this, we back all our vehicles with a 90-day or 6,000-km warranty in case something goes wrong. 

Check out our selection of hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars today, choose one that suits your needs, and complete your purchase 100% online -- no dealerships to visit. We'll help you secure financing, deliver the vehicle to your home, and even pick up your trade-in vehicle.