What is a Hybrid Car?

Hybrid cars can be a fuel-saving alternative to fully gas-powered vehicles.

Updated November 30, 2022

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Hybrid cars operate with a combination of fuel engines and electric motors. These fuel-efficient vehicles can be a good option for drivers who aren’t yet ready to make the move to a fully electric ride.

A hybrid vehicle can allow you to reduce your carbon footprint, lower your fuel costs, and enjoy the latest in driving technology. Here’s what to know about hybrid cars.

How do hybrid vehicles work?

Drivers have been using gasoline-powered vehicles for about 120 years. More recently, car manufacturers have started to introduce both electric and hybrid vehicles.

Electric vehicles rely entirely on electricity to operate. But hybrid vehicles use a combination of gasoline engines and electric motors to get the best of both worlds.

All hybrid vehicles have at least one electric motor working in tandem with a gasoline engine. Batteries power the electric motors and get charged through regenerative braking and the internal combustion engine. Hybrids with a plug-in option allow drivers to charge the battery directly.

When the electric motor powers car operations, it limits the usage of the gasoline-powered engine and the result is a higher fuel economy.

Learn More: Eco-Conscious Cars: States with the Most Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

Advantages of hybrid vehicles

Hybrid vehicles come with a host of benefits to consider.

  • Financial benefits: A hybrid vehicle means fewer trips to the pump — good news if you’re tired of fueling up your gas-powered vehicle. Although it’s difficult to know exactly how much you’ll save, your monthly gas costs should be lower.

  • Eco-friendly: When compared to gasoline-powered cars, hybrids are better for the environment. Notably, hybrids emit less carbon dioxide.

  • Less reliance on fossil fuel energy: A combination of gas and electricity propels your hybrid. The increased fuel efficiency means consuming less fossil fuel, which means less budget pressure with fluctuating gas prices.

  • Regenerative braking: When the vehicle slows down, regenerative braking captures some of the energy expelled during the process. Hybrid systems can turn this captured energy into electricity, which means the vehicle has great energy efficiency.

  • Tax credit: Drivers who purchase a new plug-in hybrid vehicle might qualify for a federal tax credit that could offset some of their vehicle purchase costs.

  • Automatic start and stop: Many hybrids automatically switch to battery power when the vehicle is at rest, which will lower your fuel consumption. The hybrid will switch back to the gas-powered engine automatically when in motion. For example, a hybrid can switch to electricity when stopped at a traffic light and revert to gas power when you step on the accelerator.

    Good to Know:

    If you’re thinking of buying an electric or hybrid vehicle, you may be eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500. The actual amount of credit you qualify for will be based on the battery capacity of the vehicle. You may also be eligible for state or local incentives.

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Disadvantages of hybrid vehicles

Before shopping for a hybrid, you should also consider some disadvantages.

  • Higher purchasing cost: The internal workings of a hybrid are a bit more complex than a gasoline-powered vehicle. Increased complexity often leads to a higher price point, which might not work for your wallet.

  • Higher repair costs: The complex engine can also lead to surprisingly high repair costs.

  • Hybrid fuel inefficiency in cold weather: Hybrid batteries struggle to function at full efficiency in low temperatures. Hybrid drivers typically face higher fuel consumption in the colder months.

  • Vehicle performance: Although a hybrid can certainly get you around town, hybrids are often less powerful than gasoline-powered vehicles.

  • Still need some gas: You might be able to avoid the pump for longer, but eventually, you’ll need to fill your hybrid’s tank.

  • Higher insurance costs: The average hybrid driver pays more for hybrid car insurance, largely due to higher purchasing and repair costs. Although you can shop around for the best insurance premium, you might pay more than you would with a comparable gas-powered vehicle.

Hybrid vehicle maintenance: What to know

In a perfect world, you’d never have to maintain a vehicle after driving it off the lot. But unfortunately, hybrid vehicles, like all vehicles, require ongoing maintenance.

You may wonder how much most drivers will pay to keep up their hybrid. Plus, what kind of shops are competent enough to work on your vehicle?

Check Out: Auto Body Repair Costs and Car Insurance Coverage

Does upkeep cost a lot of money?

In terms of upkeep costs, the exact amount you spend will vary based on your vehicle. Just like gas-powered vehicles, some hybrids are more expensive to maintain than others.

In general, you’ll likely spend a little bit less to maintain your hybrid. The cost to maintain a hybrid electric vehicle was 9.4 cents per mile, a Department of Energy study found. In contrast, maintaining a gasoline-powered vehicle costs an average of a little more than 10 cents per mile. But fully electric vehicles were the most affordable to maintain, at an average cost of just over 6 cents per mile.

If you plan on driving a hybrid, it’s smart to look into the estimated maintenance costs for your unique vehicle. Every model has its own reputation for average costs, which means you can consider potential expenses before driving off the lot.

Auto repair shops and dealerships

When it’s time to get maintenance done on your hybrid, you’ll need to decide on a repair shop or the dealership. Of course, most manufacturers will recommend getting your service done at a dealership. But many auto repair shops are competent enough to work on hybrid vehicles, and some shops even specialize in repairing hybrids.

Before deciding on where to take your vehicle, check out any warranty details. If you’re having a problem that might be under warranty, it might be easiest to resolve it at the dealership.

Types of hybrid vehicles

For a vehicle to be a hybrid, it must incorporate an electric motor in its operations. Prospective hybrid drivers have multiple options for types of hybrid vehicles.


Parallel hybrids are the most common type of hybrid vehicle design. In this design, the gasoline-powered engine and the electric motor are both connected to the wheels. The mechanical coupling means that the electric motor and the gasoline-powered engine work in tandem to propel the vehicle forward.

With a parallel hybrid, you’ll be able to fuel up with gasoline. The electric motor will help you make the most of your fuel economy. But you won’t be relying entirely on electricity to get around town.

Here are some examples of parallel hybrids:

  • Honda Accord Hybrid: The Honda Accord hybrid is a sedan that boasts an MPG rating of 48 miles in the city.

  • Kia Sportage Hybrid: Although the Kia Sportage also offers a plug-in option, the parallel hybrid option allows for up to 43 MPG combined in this crossover.

  • Lexus NX 350h AWD: Drivers looking for a luxurious crossover will find up to 39 MPG with this parallel hybrid.

Range extender

Some drivers shy away from making the switch due to range limitations, according to a Deloitte study. Range extender hybrids might ease the concerns of would-be electric vehicle drivers.

As the name suggests, range extender hybrids essentially extend the range of an all-electric ride. The vehicle is propelled by stored electric power. But if the battery power is low, a small gasoline-powered combustion engine will kick in to charge the battery.

Unlike a traditional hybrid, the vehicle’s range extender may only kick in rarely. It’s almost like having a built-in backup to give your range an extra boost when you need it.

  • BMW i3: This discontinued compact vehicle included a range extender to ease potential worries about an all-electric range limited to 72 miles.

  • Chevrolet Volt: Although discontinued, the Chevrolet Volt included a range extender to provide peace of mind and extra miles for drivers.

  • Cadillac ELR: The Cadillac ELR offered a range extender feature to take drivers farther. But this range extender hybrid is also a thing of the past.


Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are another hybrid option that uses both an electric motor and a gas-powered engine. PHEVs charge in multiple ways:

  • By plugging in to an outside power source

  • By the internal combustion engine

Plug-in hybrids use only an electric motor to power the wheels. If the battery power source is too low, then the vehicle uses the gasoline-powered engine to generate electricity for the electric motor.

  • Toyota Prius Prime: The Prius might be one of the most recognizable plug-in hybrid options on the road today.

  • Volvo XC60: As a midsize SUV, this plug-in hybrid offers an eco-friendly ride.

  • Chrysler Pacifica: If you need a spacious interior, this plug-in hybrid offers seating for seven.

Which state has the most hybrid-vehicle drivers?

More drivers might be interested in purchasing a hybrid vehicle, especially with the new tax incentives. But as of now, more California drivers have taken the plunge. Almost 6% of vehicles on the road in the Golden State are electric or hybrid, representing the highest proportion of this vehicle type in any state.

Other states with a relatively high percentage of hybrid-vehicle drivers include Massachusetts, Washington, Hawaii, and New Hampshire.

Learn More: Find the Cheapest States for Car Insurance

How to save money on car insurance for hybrid vehicles

If you plan to buy a hybrid car, nailing down your insurance policy is essential. As you explore your options, don’t forget to keep an eye out for money-saving opportunities.

  • Choose the right coverage level: Everyone has different car insurance needs. If you opt for your state’s minimum coverage, that often comes with the lowest premiums. But keep in mind, if you’ve leased or financed your hybrid car, your lender or leasing company will require you to carry full coverage.

  • Compare car insurance quotes: Shopping around for car insurance helps you tap into the best deal available for your needs.

  • Increase your deductible: A high deductible often translates into lower insurance costs. But before using this option, make sure you can easily come up with the deductible if you need to.

  • Take a defensive driver course: Some insurance companies will give you a discount when you complete an approved course.

  • Look for discounts: Discounts abound for car insurance shoppers. A few discounts to look for include student, safety features, multi-car, automatic billing, bundling, and professional association membership.

Hybrid car FAQs

  • A fully electric vehicle relies on an electric motor, which is powered by a battery that can be charged by an external electricity source. A gasoline-powered engine relies entirely on gasoline to move the vehicle.

    In contrast, a hybrid vehicle relies on a combination of a gasoline-powered engine and an electric motor for smooth operations. Drivers with hybrid vehicles often enjoy increased fuel economy, which can result in a smaller carbon footprint and lower fuel costs.

  • Whether you need to charge a hybrid vehicle depends on the type of hybrid you own. If you have a plug-in hybrid, you'll need to charge it directly. But if you have a parallel hybrid, you won’t need to charge your vehicle. Before purchasing a hybrid, make sure you understand the fuel needs and charging specifics of the vehicle.

  • In most cases, hybrid cars can run solely on fuel. However, the goal of most hybrids is to function on a mix of gasoline and electricity.

  • Compared to gas-powered vehicles, hybrids are especially efficient in stop-and-go traffic. But even on the highway, hybrids can push their fuel efficiency higher than a gas-powered equivalent.

    Although a hybrid may be less efficient on a highway than in the city, that doesn’t rule it out as an option for long-distance highway commuters. Ultimately, you’ll need to compare the range of a hybrid to your commute.

  • In terms of tailpipe emissions, hybrid vehicles can be better for the environment than their gas-powered counterparts. Some hybrid drivers end up consuming more gasoline than expected due to infrequent charging. Most hybrids emit fewer tailpipe emissions per mile driven, but greenhouse gasses might still be involved due to where the electricity is produced.

    Beyond emissions, electric vehicles require extensive mining of high-impact metals for the battery. Research on improving the battery recycling process is ongoing. But at the moment, the production of these batteries does have a negative impact on the environment, according to the nonprofit Dovetail Partners.

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Sarah Sharkey
Sarah SharkeyInsurance Writer

Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer who enjoys helping people make savvy financial decisions. She covered insurance and personal finance topics. You can find her work on Business Insider, Money Under 30, Rocket Mortgage, Bankrate, and more. Connect with her on LinkedIn.