Engine, and motor, and battery, oh my! Hybrid Powertrains 101

By Product Expert | Posted in Technology on Friday, September 15th, 2017 at 5:47 pm
How does a hybrid engine work?

Electric and hybrid cars are all the rage these days. More and more manufacturers are starting to produce them and there are multiple different types. But how does a hybrid engine work? The science and technology that goes into an hybrid vehicle is fairly interesting, and looking at it can give you a better idea of what is available in the automotive market today (and what it might mean for car buyers).

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How does a hybrid engine work?

A traditional gasoline (or diesel) engine has a fuel-powered engine and a transmission that transfers power from the engine to the wheels. A hybrid powertrain works a little differently. If you have a combined gas-and-electric powertrain (as opposed to a gas engine with light electrification) then it will actually have four parts.

  • Gas engine – Runs the same as a normal engine (just maybe less often) and provides power
  • Battery Pack – Stores electricity for use (either electricity from the engine, or from being plugged in, or both)
  • Electric Motor – Turns the wheels, using power from the engine and/or battery pack
  • Transmission – Distributes power from the gas engine to other places, might control all power depending on the model

The hybrid vehicle you have will determine how much each of these pieces are used. For example, if you use electric power only to make your daily commute, the engine won’t come into play at all.

breakdown of the engine and powertrain components on the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica including engine, transmission, battery and motor
hybrid engine of the 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid
woman charging a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid in her garage
Plug view of the all-new 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

What is “light electrification”? Is that still a hybrid?

The term “hybrid” can be confusing, because anything that combines traditional gas power with electric power is considered a hybrid. There are some vehicles where the battery is charged by the engine alone (not a plug). These might be considered hybridized or lightly electrified powertrains. Hybridization helps the engine maintain speed and great acceleration with less fuel. These usually also have “regenerative braking.”

What is regenerative braking?

Every time you step on the brakes in a traditional vehicle you are basically losing the energy you were using to move forward. With regenerative braking in a hybrid or lightly hybridized vehicle, that energy is captured to be used when you start moving again. The energy from braking is stored in the vehicle’s battery, and then used when the vehicle begins moving again. This feature can save a lot of energy, especially in stop-and-go traffic or at red lights.

We currently don’t have any hybrid or electric vehicles in our pre-owned inventory here at Third Coast Autos, but with how many more are becoming available in the market we assume we will have some sometime in the future.