Do Hybrid Cars Need To Be Charged?

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Nowadays, drivers who wish to cut down on emissions and save on fuel costs have a number of options available to them. Electric vehicles have become extremely popular. However, they remain impractical to many people for a number of reasons. Part of the reason that fully electric vehicles have not become more ubiquitous is the fact that the required charging stations are not readily available in all locations. This renders them unusable for road trips and other circumstances that will necessitate long-distance driving. These electric vehicles are also prohibitively expensive for many drivers.

When electric cars are not an option, drivers look next to hybrid vehicles, which combine a standard combustion engine with an electric one to reduce fuel costs. Many people, however, are uncertain about these vehicles as well, worrying that since the car runs on electricity at least some of the time, they will still find themselves stranded, without a charging station. Is this a valid concern? Do hybrid cars need to be charged? If not, where do they get their battery power?

What Is a Hybrid Car?

In biology, the term “hybrid” refers to a plant or animal that is a cross between two different species. For example, a mule is a hybrid of a donkey and a horse. It combines traits from both of its parents, meaning that it has the intelligence of a horse and the hardiness of a donkey, rendering it better than either one in some circumstances.

A hybrid car is very similar in principle: while both combustion and electric-powered vehicles have their downsides, a hybrid is designed to offer the best of both worlds. The electric component of the engine dramatically reduces the vehicle’s fuel usage, making it far more efficient and inexpensive to operate than cars that depend entirely on gasoline. The gas-powered components of the engine avoid the problems inherent in an electric car, such as the risk of losing its power without access to a charging station.

How a Hybrid Engine Works

The primary feature that distinguishes a hybrid from other types of vehicles is its ability to switch between electric and gas power. Rather than using both at once, it uses whichever power source is most useful and efficient for a given application. The combustion engine works in much the same way as it does in fully gas-powered vehicles, being used to turn the engine over and provide the initial power source.

There is no major difference in the operation of the combustion engine in a hybrid and the one in a fully gas-powered car. The ignition of the gasoline fuel source creates heat, which provides the necessary energy to move a piston in the engine. The movement of this piston is what generates the torque necessary to turn a crankshaft, which is the mechanism that causes the wheels to move.

During situations where a lot of mechanical energy is needed, a hybrid makes use of its gas engine. However, when the vehicle requires less power, such as during long-distance freeway driving, it switches over to its electrical engine.

The electrical engine makes use of a battery pack to provide the necessary energy to rotate the crankshaft in the vehicle, doing so without needing to burn any gasoline. A hybrid car actually has two batteries: a small one for the lights and other electric accessories and a larger 200-volt hybrid battery. This larger battery is what provides enough energy to power the vehicle, and so it must be kept charged.

Where Does a Hybrid Battery Get Its Energy?

Having established the importance of the battery in a hybrid vehicle, we should answer the initial question: do hybrid cars need to be charged? In the sense of being plugged into a charging station like an electric vehicle, no. A hybrid car does not ever need to be plugged in to continue to operate. However, this does not mean the battery should not be kept at full capacity. The car itself has a mechanism in place to charge its own battery.

The method by which a hybrid vehicle derives the necessary energy to charge its own battery is referred to as regenerative braking. As the name implies, the vehicle actually uses the brakes to “regenerate” energy for the battery.

In gas-powered vehicles, when you apply the brakes, the car uses brake pads to slow and finally stop the movement of the wheels. For hybrids, this process is somewhat different. Applying the brakes causes the movement of the wheels to reverse, which generates kinetic energy. This energy, which would normally be wasted entirely, can be recaptured by the vehicle and converted into stored battery power.

How To Keep Your Hybrid Battery in Good Shape

While a hybrid car does not rely on the battery alone to operate the vehicle, it still cannot function without it. And while the hybrid battery in a car will eventually wear out and require replacement, there are several things you can do to ensure it stays in good condition for many years.

It’s important to keep the battery in a hybrid charged. Unlike in an electric vehicle, you cannot plug it in, so you will have to drive the vehicle regularly for the regenerative braking process to take place and keep the battery healthy. If you do find that you will need to park your vehicle for a long period without driving it, consider investing in a trickle charger, which will continuously apply a small amount of power to the battery to keep it from going entirely dead. Note, however, that a trickle charger is still not as effective as regularly driving the vehicle.

As with all car parts, regular maintenance is key to high performance and longevity in a hybrid car. It’s important that this maintenance is done by a certified dealer for your particular type of vehicle. For example, if your hybrid is a Toyota Prius, the maintenance should be done at a dealer like Beaverton Toyota, which will employ specially trained mechanics and have access to Toyota brand parts.

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