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Mitsubishi Outlander

What is an electric/hybrid car?

You've heard the terms 'electric car' and 'hybrid' but do you know what they are, how they work and what benefits they have?

So what is an electric car?

An electric car is exactly what it says on the tin: a car powered by an electric motor. Electric cars don't use any fuel type and are propelled solely by electricity from the energy stored in its rechargeable batteries. They are a cleaner and quieter alternative to conventional petrol or diesel cars.

The main selling point of electric cars is that they produce zero CO2 emissions, making them far more eco-friendly than ICE (internal combustion engine) cars. This also means you save a lot of money in car tax. Recharging your batteries costs a lot less than it does to fill up a tank of petrol or diesel too, while regenerative braking (where the energy saved by braking is stored for recharging) means the car is recharging on the move.

BMW i3

Performance and space benefits

Some drivers may be sceptical about the performance of electric cars compared to those powered by traditional fuels, but they have unique qualities that make them a pleasure to drive. Unlike in petrol and diesel cars, power is delivered instantly to the wheels, resulting in sharp throttle response and instantaneous torque for an engaging driving experience.

This nippy performance compensates for the fact that electric cars are in fact heavier than the average fuel-powered car. You would think they'd be lighter because they don't have a great big engine and fuel tank, but battery stacks actually weigh more. However, electric cars tend to have a lot more passenger space, as the battery packs lay along the floor of the car and equal out the central gravity.

While petrol stations are still more common than electric vehicle charging stations, recharging your electric car away from home is becoming easier all the time. Many supermarkets and service stations provide charging terminals, so you won't have to worry about running out of power.

What is a hybrid car?

Hybrid cars are powered by a combination of more than type of power, using a petrol or diesel engine and electric motor with a battery. Essentially, hybrids are halfway between fuel-powered and battery-powered, and are therefore an appealing option for drivers who want to reduce their carbon footprint without making the jump to all-electric straight away. After all, there is still the convenience of being able to fill up at petrol stations and there is a wider choice of models on the market than all-electric vehicles.

Vuaxhall Ampera

How do hybrid cars work?

Most hybrids are classed as 'parallel hybrids'. This means the car's wheels can be powered either directly by the engine, by the motor alone, or by both power sources working together. The electric motor tends to power the car at low speeds, making pulling off easier and stop-start city driving more economical. For this reason, hybrids are popular with taxi companies, which is partly why you see so many Toyota Prius cabs these days. The petrol or diesel engine gradually kicks in as you accelerate, providing more power at higher speeds.

There are also 'range extender' hybrids, in which the engine does not power the car but produces electricity for the generator that recharges the batteries. The BMW i3 is available in range extender guise.

A term you've probably heard is 'plug-in hybrid' - in another words, a hybrid that can be recharged by plugging into an electric outlet. These cars are a step closer to all-electric than conventional hybrids, and they are growing in popularity. With larger batteries, they are less reliant on their engine, meaning they can travel further on electric power alone.

Now you know!

With CO2 and the environment such a hot topic at the moment, plus the increasing numbers of electric and hybrid cars on the market, having a basic understanding of these types of cars is a useful thing. Even if you're a loyal petrol- or dieselhead, it helps to understand these new types of cars. You never know when you might want to try something new, or even just save money on your fuel bill!