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How Hybrid Cars Work

Aug 7, 2008
Let's face it, filling up at the pump is painful now a days. With gas prices continuing to rise, more and more people are looking into buying a hybrid vehicle. But just what is a hybrid vehicle? How does it work? And what types of cars are available?

Obviously most people are familiar with a gas-powered car and have at least heard of an electric car. A gas-powered car has a fuel tank, which supplies gasoline to the engine. The engine then turns a transmission, which turns the wheels. An electric car has a set of batteries that provides electricity to an electric motor. The motor turns a transmission, and the transmission turns the wheels. A hybrid vehicle is a cross between a gas-powered car and an electric car.

The hybrid car has a gasoline engine much like the one you will find on most cars. However, the engine on a hybrid is smaller and uses advanced technologies to reduce emissions and increase efficiency.

Improving Fuel Economy

Besides a smaller, more efficient engine, today's hybrids use other tactics to increase fuel efficiency. Some of these things include:

* Recover energy and store it in the battery. Whenever you step on the brake pedal in your car, you are removing energy from the car. The faster a car is going, the more kinetic energy it has. The brakes of a car remove this energy and dissipate it in the form of heat. A hybrid car can capture some of this energy and store it in the battery to use later.

* Sometimes shut off the engine. A hybrid car does not need to rely on the gasoline engine all of the time because it has an alternate power source -- the electric motor and batteries. So the hybrid car can sometimes turn off the gasoline engine, for example when the vehicle is stopped at a red light.

* Use low-rolling resistance tires. The tires on most cars are optimized to give a smooth ride, minimize noise, and provide good traction in a variety of weather conditions. But they are rarely optimized for efficiency. In fact, the tires cause a surprising amount of drag while you are driving. Hybrid cars use special tires that are both stiffer and inflated to a higher pressure than conventional tires. The result is that they cause about half the drag of regular tires.

* Use lightweight materials. Reducing the overall weight of a car is one easy way to increase the mileage. A lighter vehicle uses less energy each time you accelerate or drive up a hill. Composite materials like carbon fiber or lightweight metals like aluminum and magnesium can be used to reduce weight.

Some Hybrids on the Market Today

While hybrid cars may come with a slightly higher price tag, the overall savings in gasoline over the life of the car is probably worth the price. Here are a few of the hybrid cars on the market today:

* 2007 Honda Accord Hybrid, price $31,000-33,090, MPG 28-35

* 2007 Lexus GS 450h, price $54,000, MPG 25-28

* 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid, price $26,000, MPG 38-40

* 2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid, price $24,400, MPG 36-42
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