How Does a Hybrid Car Work?

A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) is a type of vehicle that uses both an internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric motor to power the vehicle. Notably, the Honda Insight was the first hybrid to arrive on the market in the U.S., followed quickly by the Toyota Prius. Today, most manufacturers have built or are building hybrids, a type of electric vehicle that’s affordable and practical for most shoppers.

Ford F-150 Hybrid Pickup Truck
The current-generation Ford F-150 welcomes its first-ever hybrid model.

The key components of a hybrid electric vehicle are as follows:

Battery: The battery is used to store electrical energy and power the electric motor in a hybrid car. Notably, the low-voltage auxiliary battery is responsible for providing the initial electrical power to start the car before the traction battery is activated. Additionally, it serves to power various vehicle accessories.

DC/DC Converter: The DC/DC converter is used to convert the high voltage from the traction battery pack to the low voltage required to power the auxiliary systems in the car.

Electric Generator: The electric generator is used to generate electricity to charge the traction battery pack in a hybrid car.

Electric Traction Motor: The electric traction motor is used to propel the vehicle using electrical power from the battery.

Exhaust System: The exhaust system in a hybrid car is used to remove the gases produced by the internal combustion engine.

Fuel Filler: The fuel filler is used to refill the fuel tank in a hybrid car. In a conventional hybrid, the filler is no different from a full gas model.

Fuel Tank (for gasoline): The fuel tank stores gasoline to power the internal combustion engine. In a hybrid, the tank is only tapped with the gas engine is active.

ICE: The internal combustion engine is used to generate power to drive the vehicle’s wheels. In a hybrid, engines run on the Atkinson cycle instead of the usual Otto cycle. This means the Atkinson cycle has a longer expansion stroke than compression stroke, which results in a lower compression ratio. Specifically, the fuel-air mixture is not compressed as much as it would be in an Otto cycle engine, which reduces the power output of the engine.

Power Electronics Converter: The power electronics converter is used to control the flow of electrical energy between the battery, the electric motor, and the internal combustion engine.

Thermal System: The thermal system is used to manage the temperature of the battery, the engine, and the cabin.

Traction Battery Pack: The traction battery pack is used to store electrical energy to power the electric motor in a hybrid car.

Transmission: The transmission in a hybrid car is used to transmit power from the internal combustion engine and the electric motor to the wheels. Some hybrid models use a continuously variable transmission while others are outfitted with a geared transmission.

How a HEV Works

A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) combines an internal combustion engine (ICE) with one or more electric motors to power the vehicle. The electric motor is powered by a battery that is charged by the ICE and regenerative braking. Specifically, during acceleration and low speeds, the electric motor provides additional power to assist the ICE, reducing the workload on the engine and improving fuel efficiency.

At higher speeds, the ICE provides most of the power to propel the car. The power management system controls the flow of power between the engine, electric motor, and battery, resulting in improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions compared to a traditional gasoline-powered car. Indeed, hybrids typically deliver at least 10 mpg more per gallon than a full-gas equivalent model. In some cases, fuel efficiency rises by at least one-third, making hybrids an attractive buying option.

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Photos copyright Stumpwater Media Group, LLC.

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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