• What is a Hybrid Car and How Does it Work?

What is a Hybrid Car and How Does it Work?

Read our helpful guide all about hybrid cars and find out how you can hire one today!

With many economical options available to drivers now, it’s easy to get confused with the different ways in which a car can be powered. As the UK moves towards more environmental means of travel, the popularity of hybrid cars is on the rise. 

So, what is a hybrid car and how does it work? To help make things clearer, we’ve written a handy guide to explain everything you need to know about a hybrid car, the different types of hybrid cars on the market, and what the benefits are to driving a hybrid vehicle. Read on to find out more… 

What is a hybrid car?

Combining power from two different sources, a hybrid car is fuelled by petrol (or diesel in some cases) and electricity. This means that under the bonnet, the car houses a conventional combustion engine, an electric motor and a battery.

If you’re not yet ready to transition to a fully electric vehicle, then a hybrid car is the best of both worlds and a great option for motorists wanting a ‘greener’ and more cost efficient mode of transport.   

How does a hybrid car work?

A standard hybrid car is designed to utilise all of its power sources for an overall more efficient driving experience. One such method is the regenerative braking system; when the car slows down it captures the kinetic energy produced to boost battery supplies.

By harnessing the otherwise wasted energy from the brakes, it is instead converted into usable power which is stored in the car’s battery to increase the available driving range. When this process kicks in, the combustion engine part of the car automatically shuts off to save on fuel and cut tailpipe emissions. 

A hybrid system means the vehicle can function on electric power for short periods of time (this varies between models) so that it isn’t wholly reliant on the standard combustion engine, helping make the car more economical and cost efficient overall. 

There are varying types of hybrid cars which operate in a slightly different way in line with their design. We explain more about this, below…

What are the different types of hybrid cars? 

Now we’ve explained what a hybrid car is and how it works, it’s time to explain the different types of hybrid vehicles and how they each operate. In alphabetical order, here’s the most common forms of hybrid cars you’ll find here in the UK… 

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV)

As the name suggests, a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV for short) is a hybrid vehicle that needs to be plugged in and charged in order to make use of the electric power source. Unlike hybrid cars that rely on regenerative power only, PHEVs must be plugged in for periods of time to charge up the battery. 

Just like a standard hybrid model, a plug-in hybrid car relies on a petrol or diesel engine alongside an electric motor - the main difference being that it must be plugged in and charged up so that it can run on pure electric power for longer distances.   

Mild hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV)

The most common form of hybrid car, a mild hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV for short) relies on power from both the conventional part of its petrol or diesel engine, alongside the electric motor which is fuelled by regenerative energy while driving. 

Its hybrid system is referred to as ‘mild’ because electric power is only created through regenerative driving habits, such as braking. As we’ve explained above, this process helps to power the electric motor while on the go.    

Parallel hybrid

Utilising power from both the internal combustion engine and electric motor, a parallel hybrid car means that both systems work in unison when in use. 

Known as ‘mechanical coupling’, the combustion engine and electric motor work together in most cases, but can still be programmed to function individually if preferred. Because the vehicle is designed for joint power, the battery pack tends to be smaller than in other types of hybrid cars.  

Range-extender hybrid (REX)

This is where the choice of hybrids can get a little confusing, but bear with us… A range-extending hybrid (REX for short) functions just like a standard hybrid car, but the main difference here is that an auxiliary power unit (APU) is present which extends the range produced by the electric engine for the battery. 

In essence, the APU acts as its own generator and tops up the battery when running low to increase the overall driving range.

Self-charging hybrid or full hybrid electric vehicle (FHEV)

Also known as a full hybrid electric vehicle (FHEV), a self-charging hybrid is a popular choice for many motorists. Much like a mild hybrid electric car, an FHEV combines a conventional combustion engine with an electric motor and battery to power the vehicle, with even more emphasis on means of creating regenerative energy. 

The main difference is that a mild hybrid relies heavily on the battery pack, whereas a self-charging hybrid generates power from the fuel engine to create electric power. Of course by comparison, a plug-in hybrid solely relies on power from a charging point as it does not have self-regenerative capabilities.      

How does a hybrid car differ from an electric car?

To put it simply, a hybrid car is powered by both a traditional fuel engine and an electric engine which means it can switch between relying on petrol or diesel, or run for short distances on electric power only. An electric vehicle (EV) is exactly how it’s described - a vehicle that runs on pure electric power from a battery without the backup of a combustion engine to boost the required range.   

Does a hybrid car use petrol or diesel?

A hybrid car relies on petrol or diesel as its main source of power alongside the support of an electric engine which is either powered by a battery or from regenerative energy sources, such as braking. 

Because a hybrid vehicle uses both fuel and electricity, it is considered more efficient to run than conventional combustion engine cars. 

How to charge a hybrid car

Unless the hybrid car is a plug-in hybrid model (PHEV), the vehicle won’t need to be charged as the internal combustion engine and regenerative power sources are designed to do this instead. 

However, a PHEV model will need to be plugged in and charged to boost the battery in order to benefit from electric power during the journey. Much like a pure electric car, a plug-in hybrid will need to be connected to a power source for a designated period of time. It can be charged using an EV charge point or domestic wall socket, although the time to fully charge will vary depending on the type of unit used. 

Remember that when the battery of a hybrid is low, the car will automatically switch over to use the power from the internal combustion engine (ICE) which will be topped up using petrol or diesel at a standard fuel station. 

How far can you drive in a hybrid car?

Much like a standard combustion engine car, hybrid vehicles can travel around 350 miles on a tank of fuel when paired with the added power of an electric battery. However, their ability to function purely on electric-only power is limited and depending on the model, can travel anywhere from 10 miles up to 50 miles on the battery alone. 

This makes a hybrid car a good choice for short or long distances using a combination of electricity and fuel. There is such a vast network of charging points dotted all over the country that topping up a plug-in hybrid is just as easy as filling it with fuel. 

What are the benefits of driving a hybrid car?

Hybrid cars come with many advantages which is why they’re fast becoming an increasingly popular choice among motorists. Here we list the main benefits:

  • Improved fuel economy (hybrids can reduce fuel costs by around 30%)
  • More environmentally friendly (fewer carbon emissions from the tailpipe)
  • No concerns of range running low (as the combustion engine kicks in when the battery depletes) 
  • Assisted power (the electric motor assists the ICE when you need it most, such as accelerating, overtaking or climbing hills)
  • Electric only driving (switch to EV mode for designated periods of time)
  • Regenerative braking (its system is designed to harness the energy from braking to charge the battery)
  • Automatic transmission (enjoy the journey without having to change gear) 

What is an example of a hybrid car?

A much-loved model chosen by motorists all over the country, the Kia Sportage is also available as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or mild hybrid version in addition to its standard petrol or diesel equivalents. 

As a reliable family-sized SUV (sports utility vehicle), the Sportage’s hybrid range will meet the needs of any journey while being supported by improved safety through its smart tech driver assistance features. 

Having been crowned ‘Best Family SUV’ at the What Car? Car of the Year Awards 2023, the Kia Sportage boasts a spacious interior cabin, an impressive boot capacity and flexible interior design to meet every driver’s needs. Best of all, the hybrid Kia Sportage Auto is available to hire from us here at Rent Direct

Hire a hybrid car at Rent Direct

Access hybrid car hire at the touch of a button! Choose from the popular Kia Sportage SUV hybrid or the seven-seater Kia Sorento hybrid with plenty of space for all the family and ample luggage room too when you choose to hire your hybrid vehicle from Rent Direct.

We’re not on price comparison websites and this is why; we own our vehicles so when you rent directly from us we’ll give you the best possible hire price - there’s no ‘middlemen’ involved! 

Whether you’re looking for a short term or long term car, MPV or van to hire, book online or pop into one of our six branches across East Anglia today and we’ll have you on the road in no time.