Go Green This Earth Day! Everything You Need to Know About Hybrid Vehicles

Learn more about the increasingly popular vehicle style that helps reduce emissions and costs.

AAMCO  | 04/21/2021
Vehicle Maintenance

If you have rented a vehicle recently, you have probably been offered a unique choice for your drive: a hybrid vehicle. Hybrid vehicles have become increasingly common for consumers and are a terrific option for those looking to increase fuel economy and reduce their carbon footprint. Due to their various benefits and popularity, most vehicle makers are now manufacturing hybrid vehicle models.

Is a hybrid vehicle right for you? This Earth Day, take a moment to learn more about hybrid vehicles, how they work, and what is involved in routine maintenance. (Hint: Hybrid vehicles are a low-stress way to drive!)

Close-up of Hybrid vehicle

Know the Difference: Hybrid, Electric, & Gas-Powered Vehicles

So, what makes a hybrid vehicle different from other options on the road? Understanding the primary differences between gas-powered, electric, and hybrid vehicles can help you learn the benefits of the hybrid combination.

Gas-Powered Vehicles

The traditional style of automobile makes use of a gasoline or diesel-powered internal combustion engine to power the motor. As the vehicle travels, non-renewable gasoline or diesel fuel is used and emits carbon emissions — the main reason why many are looking to electric and hybrid vehicle options.

Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles run entirely using a High Voltage battery supplying electricity that is recharged primarily into the vehicle’s batteries from the electric grid. These vehicles make no use of gasoline and are often built lighter to reduce battery power drain on the electric power supply. While electric vehicles are growing in popularity, they are still relatively novel and somewhat expensive for the average consumer.

Hybrid Vehicles

To combine the benefits of cost and efficiency, many vehicle manufacturers have begun designing and manufacturing hybrid vehicles. Hybrid vehicles contain a  smaller gas engine than their gas or diesel-powered-only counterparts. This smaller, fuel-efficient gas engine connects to an electric motor/generator that charges the High Voltage battery and powers the vehicle in normal driving mode. The small gasoline engine will also kick in when an extra boost of power is needed during sudden acceleration. 

The electric motor inside hybrid vehicles is powered by a High Voltage battery that is automatically charged by the gasoline engine as needed while driving. As in pure EV vehicles, hybrid vehicles also use regenerative charging to slow down the vehicle and recharge the batteries as you slow down. In essence, your hybrid vehicle powers itself somewhat as you go — rather than depending solely on gasoline for recharging the High Voltage battery.

There are two main types of hybrid vehicles currently in production today:

Parallel Hybrid: With parallel hybrids, a gas-powered engine works in tandem with an electric motor to propel the vehicle forward.

Series Hybrid: Series hybrids operate in a stepwise fashion. A gas-powered engine powers the electric motor directly or helps to charge the batteries that give power to the electric motor.

Hybrid Vehicles: The Best of Both Worlds

With gas-powered vehicles being one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions in the world, drivers are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint without sacrificing cost and usability. 

With hybrid vehicles, drivers can enjoy the benefits of boosting their efficiency while driving a vehicle that feels similar in style to conventional gas-powered vehicles. 

Though hybrid vehicles will still use gasoline, their advanced mechanics and features help the vehicle make use of electricity with surprising benefits:

  • Small engines: The electric motor in hybrid vehicles allows for a smaller ICE (internal combustion engine), thus reducing engine weight and wear.
  • Regenerative braking: The electric motor is designed to allow the vehicle to slow down while utilizing the electric motor’s ability to generate electricity back to the batteries. When generating electricity, the motor is taking pressure and stress off of the driver to brake by capturing the kinetic energy from the wheels as they slow down. That energy is converted into electricity to recharge the battery, then directed back to the electric motor when it is needed to drive the vehicle’s wheels.
  • Automatic battery charging: The electric motor will act as a generator during regenerative braking, helping charge the battery and slowing the vehicle to a stop.
  • Periodic engine shut-off: Any time your hybrid vehicle comes to a complete stop, the electric motor will shut off, saving battery power. When the vehicle accelerates, the electric motor will kick back on automatically.
  • Aerodynamic & lightweight build: Hybrid vehicles are designed with a body and tires that reduce the drag on the vehicle, helping to increase efficiency.
  • Low-rolling resistance (LLR) tires: Hybrid vehicles have tires designed with lower rolling resistance to help save battery power. 

As you can see from the list above, the benefits of hybrid vehicles extend beyond fuel efficiency and carbon emission reductions. 

Hybrid Vehicle Maintenance Tips

With hybrid vehicles combining the worlds of gas-powered and electric vehicles, the maintenance process may seem complicated. Thankfully, maintaining your hybrid vehicle is quite similar to your traditional vehicle’s routine care.

Seek the help of a trained hybrid vehicle technician when maintaining your hybrid. With the large levels of electricity, the voltage in hybrid vehicles can be deadly when handled without the proper care.

1. Check & Maintain Your Dealer-Recommended Fluid Changes

Hybrid vehicles may depend less on the smaller internal combustion engine under the hood, but they will still need to have their fluids monitored properly. Make sure to read the dealer-recommended oil change schedule, as well as any other routine fluid changes. You may find that your hybrid vehicle runs so well that you may forget to keep an eye on your fluids!

One note about oil: Most hybrid vehicles make use of a lower-weight oil, typically 0W-20. Conventional gasoline-powered vehicles use 0W-30 oil, so always make sure you are using the right oil type.

2. Don’t Forget About Your Brake Pads

The regenerative braking feature of hybrid vehicles results in far less use and friction on the brake parts — which naturally helps them last longer. However, age and driving behavior can still impact brake health, so always check your brake pads and other brake elements routinely.

3. Keep Things Cool

Another aspect of the hybrid electrical system is the amount of heat that the system can generate and the cooling systems that are used. There are separate cooling systems for your IEC (gasoline engine), your Hybrid drive system, and your High Voltage battery. To avoid overheating, always ensure that your cooling system — including hoses, pipes, clamps, and filters — is up to date and working correctly. This will help protect your battery and engine over the long-term.

How To Replace A Hybrid Vehicle Battery

One of the main elements of a hybrid vehicle is the High Voltage (HV) battery. The vehicle also uses a conventional type low voltage battery.  As an essential component, the low voltage battery in a hybrid vehicle model powers the vehicle’s accessories, the dash components, and is used to engage the HV battery to the electric motor. The High Voltage battery is mainly used to drive the vehicle using the electric motor, start the gasoline engine when needed, and operate the air conditioning system.  

Hybrid vehicle batteries are vital, so they are built to last. Some drivers even report that they don’t experience battery problems until 200,000 miles! However, like any other part of a vehicle, hybrid vehicle batteries can wear down over time and potentially fail. 

Unfortunately, hybrid vehicle batteries aren’t the same as your standard gas-powered vehicle battery and should only be treated and replaced by a professional. With high-voltage batteries and electrics, attempting to DIY a hybrid vehicle fix can be dangerous and potentially fatal.

Signs that your hybrid vehicle battery may be failing:

  • You notice a decrease in the vehicle’s overall fuel economy due to the battery not offering the same support as usual.
  • There are fluctuations in the hybrid vehicle’s charge levels.
  • You notice the internal combustion engine is running more than it should.
  • The battery has stopped holding a charge at all.
  • You notice strange or unexpected noises from the engine block.

At the first sign of battery problems, it is essential that you visit a trained technician to give the vehicle a look. Fortunately, many technicians are trained in hybrid vehicle maintenance and care, so you are not forced with a dealer-only option. 

If you are considering buying a used hybrid, always check with the dealer on the state of the battery charge and for any possible battery diagnostic trouble codes saved in the vehicle. Battery replacement can cost thousands of dollars, so make sure you don’t add an unexpectedly large cost on top of your new purchase. 

Make The Green Choice This Earth Day

For those looking to help protect the environment — and reduce their overall driving costs — nothing beats the combined power of the hybrid vehicle. Built to be efficient and durable, hybrid vehicles are the future of driving. If you are looking to impact your world and your fuel consumption, look no further than a hybrid vehicle this Earth Day!

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