The recent news that petrol and diesel cars will no longer be sold in the UK from 2030 might have you thinking about your choice of vehicle. After all, there has never been a better time to make a switch to green technology.

But if you are used to the old fossil fuel vehicles, you might be a bit confused about some of the options available. What exactly is a hybrid car? How are they different to electric vehicles? And what does PHEV even stand for? We’ve put together this short guide to help make things as clean and clear as your carbon footprint.

What is a hybrid car?

The definition of a hybrid vehicle is one that is powered by two different types of fuel. In the vast majority of cases, this means a car is powered in part by a petrol or diesel engine, and in part by an electric motor.

How do hybrid cars work?

Hybrid cars work by combining an electric motor with a petrol or diesel engine and switching between them depending on the amount of power the car needs. In most cases, the hybrid will use their electric engine at low speeds, so for cruising around town or on quiet roads. When you need more power or drive at a higher speed, the car will switch to the regular fuelled engine to provide it with the power that needs. The car will also switch to its petrol or diesel engine if the electric battery runs out of power. 

You cannot plug in to charge a hybrid car, so to recharge the battery, you have to drive using the petrol or diesel engine until it is charged enough to use again. Every time you use the car, you will be adding charge to the battery, but the electric engine will drain of power unless you switch to petrol or diesel.

How do they differ to electric vehicles?

Electric vehicles exclusively use their electric motor to power their vehicle. To charge them, you either have to plug in at home or at a charging point at a petrol station or supermarket. That means this type of vehicle has a limited range when compared to the hybrid, and will need to make regular stops to recharge the battery. The range varies from car to car, with some like the Tesla Model S having over 200 miles.

Unlike hybrid cars, electric engines have no exhaust as they do not provide any fumes from creating the energy to power the vehicle. They are also a lot quieter as they don’t switch to combustion. Hybrid vehicles can be silent when operating on their electric motor alone, but still have that exhaust which will emit fumes when the combustion engine is in use.

What is a PHEV?

PHEV stands for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. That means it shares a lot of the same qualities as a normal hybrid vehicle: switching between combustion engine and electric motor depending on the amount of power needed, and the motor will be charged when the fuel engine is in use. But the bonus is you can plug-in the car to recharge the electric motor. So you don’t need to drive the vehicle to ensure the electric motor is fully charged.

How are they different to hybrids?

PHEVs are ideal for those who want to reduce their carbon footprint whilst also having that option to drive further on a combustion engine if needed. If you have to stick within the limits of your electric motor, like with a fully electric car, you need to plan your journeys carefully to ensure there are charging points available. A PHEV allows you to drive further if needed, which is ideal as the UK’s electric car charging network is not that widespread at the moment, even if it is growing all the time. 

The key feature is the plug-in ability. You can charge your car at home, so if you are making short journeys and don’t need to travel too far, you can exclusively use the electric motor without having to pay for fuel and drive your car to charge. This is great for those who want to drive a lot more cleanly on a daily basis.

The range of PHEV varies, with some having better electric engines than others. At the moment, the average range of PHEVs is around the 30 miles mark. So if you are planning longer journeys, you are likely to end up using the petrol or diesel engine for large parts of your journey.

So who are hybrids good for?

Hybrid cars are a better option than electric cars at the moment because the efficiency of electric engines is not comparable at the moment. Unless you are lucky enough to own a Tesla, your electric engine will have a range that limits you to the town or city you live in.

Having the option to switch to petrol or diesel gives you much more flexibility, meaning you can switch back and forth between electric and fossil fuel. On short journeys, you will just be using the electric motor and so will save on petrol and fuel costs. When you factor in the money you save on car tax and insurance (hybrid cars tend to have lower insurance costs), then there are a lot of plus points for hybrids.

If you spend long periods of time on the motorway, a hybrid vehicle is not going to be as suitable for you. It’s simply because you won’t see the benefit of the electric engine as much as someone who spends their time on short journeys. Sure, you will save a little money on those short trips around home. But on long journeys, you should prioritise cars with a good miles per gallon.

But hybrid cars are improving all the time, with the technology getting better and better year by year. With the looming fossil fuel ban in place, you might want to get ahead of the game and start getting used to life that is at least partly electrically powered.

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