What is a self-charging hybrid and how do they work?
With more and more hybrid vehicles entering the NZ car market, a question we are asked often here at Dave Allen Motors is "what is a self-charging hybrid and how do they work?"
You may have heard the term 'self-charging hybrid' more recently here in NZ, as it been appearing in advertising for certain cars for several years now on TV or in the papers. It can be a little confusing at first, but the term is just another name for a normal hybrid car.
A 'self-charging hybrid' is a car that can drive itself using electric power alone but cannot be plugged in to charge like a plug-in hybrid or (PHEV) cars can. Technically, a PHEV is an electric vehicle that’s also fitted with a conventional engine that’s used for both charging and driving when the battery runs low, or when extra power is needed.
Before plug-in hybrid cars started to appear, this was simply called a hybrid car. Basically, a self-charging hybrid is a traditional hybrid car, such as a Toyota Prius or Aqua, two of the more popular models sold here in NZ.
While a plug-in hybrid can be driven only on electric power if you regularly plugin, the only way to drive a traditional hybrid on electric power is to allow it to charge itself up using the onboard petrol engine. This is why it's called a self-charging hybrid.
Both types of hybrid are great for driving in the city, as they allow the engine to be shut off in congested traffic conditions, saving fuel and reducing local emissions. However, as 'self-charging hybrids' tend to have smaller batteries than plug-in hybrids, they're more likely to need to switch the engine on if you are stuck in traffic for a long time.
How does a hybrid work?
Most hybrid (or self-charging hybrid) cars feature a petrol engine, an electric motor and a small battery pack. As you drive along, some power from the engine and kinetic energy recuperated from slowing down and braking is used to charge the battery pack – this is what leads some manufacturers to use the term 'self-charging. Then, as you accelerate, electricity from the batteries powers the electric motor and helps the car gain speed, making the petrol engine’s job easier and improving fuel economy.
When enough charge is in the battery pack, most hybrid vehicles can also pull away just using electricity and travel for a short distance at low speeds, using no fuel at all.
Hybrids also require very few changes to your driving habits, because they can be parked anywhere (you don’t need to find a charging point), refueled at any petrol station, and require the same level of care and maintenance as any ordinary car. A major hurdle for electric vehicles in NZ has been ‘range anxiety, with early models often having a range of fewer than 200kms and the need to find a working charging point to top up the batteries. A hybrid doesn’t need to be charged and can drive for hundreds of km's on a tank of fuel.
Because of the small capacity of the battery packs fitted to hybrid models, they can’t travel very far, or for very long, on electric power alone – typically less than a couple of km's. If you want to travel for a greater proportion of the time using just electricity, a plug-in hybrid model is more suitable, as most of these can be driven for 30-50 km's without the conventional engine kicking in. To achieve this, plug-in hybrids require a much larger battery pack that requires charging from a mains supply or public charging point, but they're also significantly more expensive to buy as a result.
We hope this article has helped spread some light on the subject for you. We import a wide range of hybrid vehicles at Dave Allen Motors to suit most budgets. If you have any further questions don't hesitate to contact our sales team or our Business Manager regarding finance options.
Tips to Improve Mileage on Hybrid Cars
Hybrid car owners are always looking for ways to improve their gas mileage, after all, that's one of the main reasons you purchase a hybrid vehicle, to begin with. Just the fact that they have purchased a hybrid car doesn't mean they’re getting better mileage. Conventional vehicles with internal combustion engines depend on gasoline regularly for all driving speeds. However, hybrid cars only need gasoline when driving on faster-moving roads. The rest of the time, the electric motor and car battery produce power for the slower-moving roads. This saves them a lot of money on gas and gives them much better mileage.
Use Cruise Control
If you commonly drive on the motorway, or any 100km road around NZ then take advantage of the cruise control feature in your vehicle if there is one. Cruise control keeps your vehicle moving at a consistent speed, which takes the pressure off the engine. Basically, your engine won’t need to consume as much fuel because the acceleration demands are not changing constantly.
No Hard Braking
Try to go easy on the brake pedal. In other words, do not slam on the brakes with your foot unless it is absolutely necessary to prevent an accident. Hard braking is bad for hybrid cars because it drains the power from the battery rather quickly. Also, hybrid cars have a regenerative braking system for giving power back to the battery, but this can only happen when there is less pressure on the brake pedal. Therefore, avoid hard braking if you can.
No Hard Accelerating
Hard acceleration is never a good thing for someone who wants to improve the mileage of their hybrid vehicle. The more foot pressure you apply to the gas pedal of your vehicle, the more fuel that is consumed. Get in the habit of gradually accelerating and then maintaining a certain speed. Even if you don’t use cruise control, try to keep your gas pedal in the same position without changing it erratically. This will go a long way in improving your mileage and the economy of the car.
Some hybrid vehicles have a special “ECO Mode” (such as the Toyota Prius) which reduces the sensitivity of the gas pedal. If you’re driving on a road that won’t require you to accelerate quickly, say around town at 50km/h then use ECO mode. Your engine won’t consume as much fuel if you use this mode.
Do not forget about the servicing/maintenance of your hybrid vehicle. You still need to take care of your tires and oil changes, just like in a regular vehicle. Make sure the treads of your tires are in good shape and inflated to the correct pressure, and that you get your car serviced at the correct times. (All our vehicles here at Dave Allen Motors have been serviced and AA Appraised) If you fail to do these things, your engine won’t run as smoothly. This will cause it to burn more fuel to compensate.
Reduce the Load
As with a conventional car, hybrid cars can get stressed out when they haul too much weight. You need to reduce the load of your vehicle to save on petrol mileage. The more stress you place on your engine, the more fuel it will consume because it must generate extra power to move all that weight.
Keep your battery charged
A well-charged battery on a hybrid car helps drivers use less petrol and more electricity. Make sure you read the owner’s manual to your hybrid for the maker’s best recommendations for charging the battery. If you are purchasing a used Japanese import in NZ, then the manuals will be in Japanese, so the easiest way to do this is to download a PDF English version online.