Hybrid Cars: Six Important Things Everyone Should Know (But May Not)

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2012 Lexus RX 450h

2012 Lexus RX 450h

Hybrid cars are increasing in popularity all the time in the U.S, but they still make only a small proportion of new vehicle sales, and as such some people still aren't clued-up on their benefits.

Hybrids use two powertrains--in the U.S, that's generally a gasoline engine and electric motors. Together, they aim to reduce fuel consumption by using smaller engines which spend less time running, while maintaining or improving performance thanks to electric assistance.

To go some way to fixing the misinformation and lack of information, we've had a think about things everyone should know about hybrid vehicles.

Don't feel bad if you're looking at this list in bewilderment--everyone has to start somewhere. And buy yourself a drink if you already knew them all!

If you'd like to know about other efficient vehicles, why not check out our guides to things everyone should know about electric cars, and things everyone should know about diesels?

(1) Hybrids work best in the city... and many on the highway too

While the diesels we covered the other day are at their best in highway driving, many find the opposite to be true with hybrids.

With an electric motor to deal with low-speed driving, some hybrids can spend large amounts of time using no gasoline at all, in the city. Not every hybrid can do this--mild hybrids like those from GM and Honda can't run entirely on electricity, for example--but even then, the assistance of an electric motor means you'll use far less gasoline getting about than in an equivalent non-hybrid.

That isn't to say they can't work on the highway either, though.

The aerodynamic forms of many means long periods at highway speeds can also be surprisingly fuel-efficient, and higher electric-only speeds of some vehicles means you might not use much gasoline on shorter, higher-speed trips either.

(2) No, you won't have to keep replacing the batteries

Is this myth still floating about? Unfortunately so--many people think that buying a hybrid new, let alone second or third-hand, means you'll soon be paying half the value of the car to replace the batteries.

That simply isn't the case. Not only do hybrid batteries last an inordinately long time in most cases--even under duress, like those in New York taxis--but they no longer cost the earth to replace if the car is in your tenure by the time its battery needs replacing.

And really, there's not enough data around to even suggest it'll definitely need replacing--in many cases, the car itself might be past its use-by date before the battery expires.

(3) They're really easy to drive

One of the things many people enjoy about hybrids is how easy they are to drive. Just because there's plenty of complication under the hood, it doesn't mean you'll need a quantum physics degree to operate them.

2013 Toyota Prius liftback

2013 Toyota Prius liftback

The vast majority use automatic transmissions for a start, and some--like those from Toyota or Lexus--don't even trouble you with gears, instead using seamless continuously-variable transmissions.

Of course, for those that like more of a challenge, most provide you with displays showing just how much power you're using, turning gas-saving into a videogame-style challenge.

It's actually quite addictive to drive hybrids like that--keeping an eye on the battery meter and power bars to use as little energy as possible. Just remember to pay attention to the road, too...

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