What is a hybrid car and should I buy one?

Hybrid cars

More and more manufacturers are offering hybrid cars – and sales are increasing. But what are they?

How do hybrid cars work?

A hybrid car combines a conventional combustion engine with an electric motor, so it uses both electrical and petrol or diesel power.

Parallel hybrid cars use both the electric motor and the petrol or diesel engine for power, either together or separately. Range extender hybrids, on the other hand, only use the combustion engine to produce electricity to charge the batteries. So the combustion engine never actually drives the car, it just produces energy for the electric motor. Plug-in hybrids are the kind that can be plugged into an electric socket – a public charge point or an ordinary three-pin socket - to charge their batteries.

Parallel hybrids usually have quite small batteries, and can only run in electric-only mode for short distances around town. Plug-in hybrids usually have bigger batteries, and so can drive further on electricity alone – up to 30 or 40 miles. So if that’s all you cover in a typical day, you can run your car largely, or even entirely, on electricity from the grid.

What are the benefits of a hybrid car?

The big benefit of a hybrid car over a fully electric car is that you don’t have the limited driving range of an electric car – you’ll always have the petrol or diesel engine to rely on.

Hybrids are more expensive to buy than conventional cars – up to 20 per cent more – but if you’re buying used, there’s no road tax on pre-2017 hybrids which produce less than 100g/km of carbon dioxide. If you’re driving in London, you won’t have to pay the congestion charge if your hybrid has an electric range of 20 miles or more and produces less than 75g/km of carbon dioxide.

Is a hybrid car good for the environment?

An electric or hybrid car only constitutes a positive environmental step if it actually reduces your overall use of fossil fuels. The extra weight of a hybrid can make petrol or diesel economy from the combustion engine slightly worse, so unless you’re going to be able to use electricity enough to outweigh that and reduce your fossil fuel use, there’s no point in getting one. This is more likely to be the case if you do most of your driving for short distances around town, rather than if you cover a lot of miles, particularly on the motorway. And of course, if you buy a plug-in hybrid, the electricity needs to come from renewable sources – otherwise fossil fuels are still being burned.

How popular are hybrid cars?

Hybrids accounted for five per cent of new car sales in 2018. But sales of petrol-electric hybrids increased compared with the previous year, despite an overall seven per cent decrease in new car registrations.

Diesel-electric hybrids made up a tiny proportion of sales, which is almost certainly partly down to the (not entirely justified) bad press around pollution from diesels.

At Harlow and Maidstone car dealers Carwise Group, we have a wide range of used cars for sale – including many of the best hybrid models around. if you'd like to test drive one of them, call us on 01622 233151 or 01279 216163.