What's Up with Hybrid Vehicles?

If the price of gasoline has got you scared, and you're thinking about maybe trading in your car for a moped, you've got half the solution right. It might be time to trade in your car, but forget the moped - get a hybrid car instead.

The dictionary defines the word hybrid as: Offspring resulting from breeding between parents of two different species, and that's a good definition for our purposes. That's because a hybrid car has a power plant that's a cross between a gasoline powered engine and an electric motor.

What's the big deal about hybrid cars?

The automobile industry claims that a hybrid car can give you as much as 20 to 30 miles per gallon more performance than a standard gasoline engine. That means that you buy less gasoline, and buying less gasoline leaves more money in your pocket. You'll need that extra money, however, because hybrid cars are still relatively expensive compared to traditional gasoline-powered cars. As more hybrid cars are sold, manufacturing prices will drop, and that drop will be seen in the selling price.

How does a hybrid car save gasoline?

In a typical automobile, the engine is connected to the transmission via a mechanical link called the drive train. When the engine's sparkplugs fire, they ignite gasoline vapor which pushes a piston up and down. This piston movement gets transferred to the transmission via the drive train. The transmission turns the wheels and the car goes down the road.

Well, the hybrid car is almost exactly the same except that in addition to the engine being connected to the transmission, an electric motor is also connected to the transmission. Actually, there are two different versions of hybrid cars. The one that was just described is called a parallel hybrid, because there are two different energy sources connected in parallel to the transmission.

The other type of hybrid car is called a series hybrid because the gasoline engine works in series with the electric motor to power the car. This is accomplished by having the gasoline engine either charge the car's batteries, or power the electric motor. The gasoline engine doesn't actually turn the car's wheels at all.

The parallel hybrid operates off of the electric motor when the car is being driven below a certain speed, and the gasoline engine kicks in when that speed is exceeded, or when sensors in the car indicate that the driver has accelerated suddenly as if to pass or to avoid an emergency situation.

Of course, the gasoline engine is always running even when the electric motor is powering the car, so some gasoline is always being used.

The series hybrid is always running off of the electric motor, which restricts the top speed of the car, and the gasoline engine only kicks in when the batteries need to be charged.

Like all automotive claims, your mileage may vary. Even so, if you're looking to spend less money at the gas station, and avoid much of the effect of rising gas prices, you might want to park a hybrid car in your garage.