What is a Plug-In Hybrid Car?

Mary McMahon

A plug-in hybrid car is a passenger car which takes advantage of both electric battery and gasoline power. Depending on the distance that the car needs to travel, it may be run entirely without gasoline, leading to the alternative name of “gasoline-option vehicle” to describe these cars. Several firms offer conversion services, converting regular hybrid cars into plug-in hybrids, and some car companies have responded to consumer demand by producing plug-in versions of their hybrid and gasoline cars.

Conventional cars use more gas and produce more exhaust than hybrid cars.
Conventional cars use more gas and produce more exhaust than hybrid cars.

Regular hybrid cars have a gasoline engine and an array of batteries. The car captures energy from braking and other tasks to charge the batteries, which are used to power the car at low speeds and as it idles, and the battery power may also kick in to supplement the gasoline engine at high speeds. These cars are touted as more environmentally friendly, because the use of battery power increases the fuel economy by a sometimes significant amount.

A plug-in hybrid car.
A plug-in hybrid car.

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A pure electric car can be much more ecologically friendly, as the environmental cost of electricity generation to charge an electric car is much lower than the cost of the gas to run a conventional engine. However, electric cars are limited by range restraints, limiting people to the distance they can drive between charging stations. The plug-in hybrid car takes the hybrid concept to the next step, harnessing the ecological friendliness of the electric car and compensating for the range issue by providing a gasoline engine as an option.

A hybrid car captures energy from braking and other tasks to charge its batteries.
A hybrid car captures energy from braking and other tasks to charge its batteries.

The plug-in hybrid car attracted attention in California in 2004 when a number of Toyota Prius owners converted their cars so that they could be plugged in. While this violated the warranty on the vehicle, these car owners felt that creating a plug-in hybrid car was worth it, and some stated that they rarely needed their gas engines. The trend spread, leading several motor companies to offer a plug-in option on their hybrids.

Chevrolet Volt at a charging station.
Chevrolet Volt at a charging station.

The concept of the plug-in hybrid car is one among a growing number of solutions to dependence on oil to fuel personal vehicles. For consumers, it is probably one of the most attainable, because getting a plug-in hybrid from a manufacturer is relatively easy, although consumers may be waitlisted due to the popularity of these vehicles, and it is also possible to pay for a conversion of a regular hybrid. Fans of the technology point out that the plug-in hybrid does not require an overhaul of existing fuel and energy distribution systems, as many are designed to plug directly into household current when specialized fast charging stations are not available, and these vehicles strike a marriage of convenience between short-range, environmentally friendly electric cars and ecologically unsound conventional gasoline engines.

Hybrid cars can still use gasoline for some driving.
Hybrid cars can still use gasoline for some driving.

Discussion Comments

ashwin

how pocket friendly is a plug in hybrid?

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