by Sara Lacey

Sometimes we go along, acting like we know what a thing is when we secretly are confused about that thing. I’ve been getting some questions about hybrids from secretly confused people lately, so let’s figure it out together.

When talking about vehicles, people think a hybrid has more than one type of engine. See, this is already confusing. The word “engine” in the hybrid world refers to an internal-combustion engine that requires burning fuel for power. If the “engine” uses electricity for power, then it’s referred to as a “motor.” Hybrids will usually have both an internal-combustion engine and an electric motor.

But let’s not stop there, because hybrid vehicles can have motors that get their electric power from different sources. The Toyota Prius, for example, gets its electric power from a regenerative braking system. This system essentially slows the vehicle by running the electric motor backwards, turning the motor into a generator. The energy created from the motor running this way is captured and stored in batteries for the motor to use later. Additionally, when the vehicle is coasting, that energy is sent to the batteries to be saved as well. This type of configuration is referred to as a “hybrid electric” vehicle.

Another way motors get their power is from plugging the vehicle in to a power source. When this kind of motor is paired with a combustion engine, the vehicle is referred to as a “plug-in hybrid.” Plug-in hybrids also typically employ a regenerative braking system.

It should be noted that an all-electric vehicle is not a hybrid. Neither is a vehicle that has a combustion engine, even when using an alternative fuel like E85 or diesel.

Hopefully, there is less secret confusion now surrounding hybrids and what they are.

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