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How Do Plug-in Hybrids Work?


Plug-in hybrids are just what the name implies—they can actually be plugged in to be recharged. While not yet currently available to the public, there are a variety of plug-ins in planning stages, such as the Chevrolet Volt. Plug-in hybrids take electric vehicles to the next level since they are designed to rely predominantly on the electric motor for propulsion, with the internal combustion engine as back-up, solving the short-range dilemma and speed limitations of all-electric and neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs).

Indeed, a plug-in hybrid is intended to be recharged daily by connecting to 110-volt household current. They are designed to handle a commuter-type range (20 to 60 miles) on just their electric charge, and they actually can drive on just their “electric vehicle power.” Unlike other hybrids, they don’t need the engine to kick on to get around town. The internal combustion engine serves as a back-up to provide increased range: if the battery runs low, the engine will kick on and charges the battery.

Case in point: Say you’re the proud new owner of a brand new plug-in hybrid. You drive it home from work. You pull in to your garage and plug your vehicle in to the 110-volt outlet in the front of your garage, head indoors and forget about it while you eat, play with the kids and watch “Dancing With the Stars.” When you’re up bright and early the next morning ready to head to work again, your plug-in hybrid has a fully-charged battery bank. Unplug and drive to work. Repeat as needed. Your daily commute takes you 20 miles to work and 20 miles back home, and guess what: you will never need to start the internal combustion engine. It’s an all electric-powered round-trip. Yes indeed, in this condition, you can conceivably drive for weeks without ever starting the engine.

Pretty cool, huh?

More on Hybrids

Remember, a hybrid vehicle is any kind of vehicle that uses two or more propulsion systems. They work by integrating an internal combustion engine and an electric motor and battery.

Depending upon the type and design—and type of usage—hybrid types can range from operating mostly on the internal combustion engine with some assistance form the electric motor, to basically the opposite--operating predominantly on the electric motor, using the internal combustion engine only when significant power is needed.

Quick reference definitions - Three basic types of hybrids:

  • Mild – uses the electric motor and battery as an assist to the internal combustion engine
  • Full – the two propulsion systems (electric motor and internal combustion engine) can work independently or in conjunction with each other
  • Plug-in – the internal combustion engine acts only as a back-up to the main rechargeable motor and battery system

Learn how mild & full hybrids work.

More Hybrid Information:

Hybrids 101
Why is electricity an alt fuel? How exactly do mild, full and plug-in hybrids work? Plus FAQs about hybrids.

Hybrid Buying Guide
Check out the photos and test drives of current hybrid models, plus the lowdown on up-and-coming models.

Hybrid Maintenance and Safety Issues
Get the scoop on hybrid maintenance: from routine maintenance and professional repairs to safety issues and “beware the orange.”

Hybrid Tax Credits & Rebates
They go hand-in-hand: reduce your taxes and greenhouse gas contribution when you buy a hybrid vehicle.

Learn More at Hybrid Central.

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