What is a hybrid?

When I started this blog, I said it would help to share knowledge. So here I am, a person without a car who knows TOO MUCH about cars telling you, maybe a car owner, what the difference between hybrid and electric is. Because as it turns out, not everyone knows and if you have a car, it’s good to know.

There are two reasons why I researched this topic.

Firstly, you might or might have not heard the news – UK will be banning the sale of petrol and diesel new cars from 2032. We have a nitrogen dioxide issue caused by fossil fuels and it kills around 40,000 people per year, or at least contributes to their death.

I happen to live in London, where congestion charge boarders coincide with Ultra Low Emissions Zone – this means that if you want to drive a car into central London, it will cost you a pretty penny. For a standard vehicle (say a diesel 5-seater car) it will cost precisely £11.50 per day of congestion charge (a fee aimed at reducing the number of vehicles in the city centre) followed by £12.50 in the ULEZ fees. That’s £24 just to drive into the city centre. London. By comparison, using a bus costs a maximum of £4.50 per day within London, with kids under 16 riding free.

British government is wonderfully indecisive and somewhat poor at researching environmental aspects of their own decisions, let’s face it. Only few years ago it was recommending Diesel, now it’s onto alternative fuels. Yes, alternatives to fossil fuels are great (hopefully) from environmental perspective, but the information currently out there is either murky, confusing or at best too technical.

Secondly, I have been lucky to be exposed to this topic during a large work project recently (the one time a day job comes in useful for this blog!) and in a course of interviewing a sample group of right around 100 people, all car drivers, only a couple of individuals knew much about what the alternatives to fossil fuel vehicles were. It made me think that if people seeing themselves as petrol heads didn’t all have some knowledge on this, maybe it’s worth writing about this.

So to the point, what is a hybrid, and what is electric?

Let’s start with a hybrid. You might have seen the now-ubiquitous Toyota Prius – the very first mass-manufactured hybrid. If you haven’t, there’s probably one rolling down your street right now. Hybrid, in context of a car simply means a vehicle which engine can be powered in more than one way. In case of conventionally considered hybrids, the power sources are electricity paired with fuel. There are four types of hybrid and the difference is worth knowing about:

  1. Mild hybrid – it has both fuel and electric motors, but the electric one only aids the engine, it cannot run it by itself.
  2. Parallel hybrid – think Prius. There are other brands offering parallel hybrids too, but since Toyota got there first, I’m calling out just Prius (not sponsored). It can run the engine off the fuel, or the electric motor, or off both at the same time.
  3. Range extended hybrid – it runs off the electric motor and only uses the traditional fuel to charge the battery which powers the electric motor.
  4. Plug-in hybrid – it’s a hybrid with the perk of you being able to just plug it in and charge from the mains. These come with comparatively larger batteries than the other three types of hybrid and can drive long distances on just the electricity. But because it still can use fuel, it’s not actually an electric car.

So now you know what a hybrid is. In terms of costs, arguably it is cheaper to drive a hybrid than a petrol car – they drive more economically and for low speeds (in example 15mph and under) will usually use the electricity instead of the fuel. When you drive them on fuel, the battery gets charged during acceleration, de-acceleration and stopping. They are however more expensive to purchase (around 20%-25%) but looking at Autotrader resale prices, they seem to hold their value better. I hold my hands up to this % being an educated guesstimate and not a full analysis of the market, so do your own research too.

Now, moving onto electric.

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Electric cars are not the same as hybrids. They don’t contain fossil fuel engines, they only use electric motors to propel themselves. You will need to plug them into power points to charge up. In return, you’ll never have to burn fossil fuels as you drive again. They of course have environmental impact, as much as anything us humans get up to, but their impact is arguably much lower than traditional and hybrid cars. I say arguably, because I am yet to find a form of human activity without some level of environmental impact. However, if you need means of transport and your legs won’t do the job, this is a good option, a better one than a diesel guzzler. Prices range a lot and are again higher than traditional vehicles (new Nissan Leaf starts at £28k, double their traditional fuel range of comparable size as example). I have no idea how this type of a car will hold its value though, as they really haven’t been around long enough to see a pattern well. My guess is, that similarly to hybrid, they’ll hold better than petrol and diesel. To reduce the costs, you can investigate battery leasing schemes.

Unlike the hybrid, electric vehicles come with certain limitations – they can drive over 200 miles now (think Tesla, but cheaper ones are up there too) before they need charging. To charge them you need suitable infrastructure – a charger, for a lack of better word, and a bit of time. Most new electric cars come with rapid charge (usually adding up to 100 miles to a range) and take up to 8h to fully charge up. So you will need to remember to plug them in. The batteries are also sensitive to extreme temperatures so if you are in Antarctica, get a sledge and some dogs instead.

I hope this article explained what hybrids and electric cars are in a way that you find easy to remember and differentiate. If you already drive a type of a car which does not rely just on fossil fuels, let me know in the comments what your reason for switching was.

Thanks for reading!

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