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What is a Hybrid Car?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A hybrid car is a vehicle that utilizes two types of technologies for energy. This usually refers to an automobile that has both a conventional gasoline engine as well as a bank of batteries and that shares the demand for power between these two sources. One source might be the main power source with the other serving as a backup, or the vehicle might use one source in certain situations and the other in different situations.

Two Power Sources

Hybrid cars work in a variety of ways. The most basic hybrid car is powered by a gas engine but also keeps a charge in a bank of batteries. Many hybrid cars also charge their batteries by using regenerated energy that was captured through braking. Hybrid cars typically will switch between gasoline and battery power as necessary. For example, when there is minimal demand on the engine, the car might stop using gas altogether and switch to battery power. Some hybrid car drivers have said that it can be unnerving to hear their vehicles' gas engines turn off while they are driving.


This technology has been around since cars were introduced in the 19th century, because most vehicles use a combination of energy sources for power. For example, most cars have a battery that starts the car and can power the car's accessories, such as the headlights. In the late 1990s, hybrid cars with more power began to be considered viable and popular alternatives to conventional gasoline-only vehicles, and several models broke into the market and became popular sellers.


The hybrid car is considered by many people to be an excellent alternative to conventional vehicles because it can be more gas efficient. Many hybrid cars have a gas efficiency that is double that of conventional gasoline-only models, which provides a significant cost savings for the user. In addition, hybrid cars tend to be less polluting during use, because they burn less fuel and because the companies that build them tend to be conscious of environmental pollution and make an effort to build cleaner vehicles. Many jurisdictions give owners of hybrid cars special incentives, such as tax breaks and permission to use carpool lanes on highways.

Advances in Technology

Some companies have gone further with hybrid car technology by building cars that can be plugged in to charge batteries that can power the vehicle for 150 miles (241 km) or more before needing to switch over to the gas engine. For most short trips, this allows the car to use only the battery power. Many companies also have begun developing hybrid cars that use alternative energy sources, such as hydrogen hybrid cars, in the hopes of encouraging consumers to switch over to more sustainable energy sources.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By emtaym — On Feb 15, 2012

I don't know if the oem auto parts of a hybrid car are the same price as the auto parts of just an ordinary car.

By anon233290 — On Dec 05, 2011

what is a hybrid car? is it like a car with a rechargeable battery or is it solar powered?

By anon100246 — On Jul 29, 2010

Where will all the dead batteries from hybrid cars be dumped? I'm sure in the near future there will be millions of them. Won't they be a pollutant? Just a thought.

By Amphibious54 — On Jun 18, 2010

@ Babalaas- There is a new hybrid technology that should be hitting the consumer market within the next few years. Hydraulic hybrid technology does not require batteries, expensive light weight components or any other electrical source of energy.

The vehicles brake system captures the braking energy and stores it in hydraulic fluid in tanks underneath the vehicle. The energy is then released on acceleration to propel the vehicle. The gas or diesel motor is only used to maintain vehicle speed and for extended non-stop driving on the highway.

The EPA has developed the system and it already has it fully operational in an assortment of test vehicles; proving its capability. The agency states a 40% combined fuel efficiency, low costs, and 50% less emissions.

This application is best suited for large vehicles, and stop-and-go driving. This means that someday soon large pick-ups, service vehicles, and SUVs will get almost 26+ PG city, and 30+ MPG highway; all while increasing torque and acceleration.

By Babalaas — On Jun 18, 2010

There are some considerable obstacles to making electric hybrid vehicles a cure all to carbon emissions. Making batteries for hybrid cars adds a considerable amount of carbon emissions to the carbon debt of hybrid electric vehicles; so much so that a new hybrid consumes over 100 million BTUs in the manufacturing process. This is the equivalent to about 1,000 gallons of gasoline, and is about nine times more than a conventional vehicle.

A fuel efficient vehicle conventional vehicle will have a lower carbon debt than a hybrid electric vehicle as they roll off the assembly line. If the conventional vehicle gets as good an MPG rating as a similar hybrid, (say a turbo diesel that gets 40+ MPG) than the hybrid will never be as efficient as the conventional vehicle.

A fuel efficient used vehicle is even better because it only has to be manufactured once; meaning that the second owner will have no carbon debt to pay off. Right now the best thing that people can do is keep their cars longer, maintain them well, drive less, and buy fuel efficient vehicles; hybrid or not.

By ivanka — On Mar 23, 2008

There are numerous hybrid cars and SUVs on the market. Some states and the Federal government offer tax credit on hybrid vehicles, which is an additional bonus to an already substantial savings at the gas pump.

The latest new thing that I have noticed is that at least one store offers special parking spaces for hybrids. Of course the best benefit of them all is lower emission of carbon dioxide.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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