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Do currently available hybrids need to be plugged in?

No. In conventional hybrids, the batteries recharge by reclaiming energy when the car brakes or by converting energy from gasoline via the hybrid’s internal combustion engine. Yet, the Chevy Volt is the first of many upcoming “plug-in hybrids,” offering the option to recharge more powerful batteries via a common household electric socket, while still maintaining a small gasoline engine to ensure longer driving range.

How do hybrids work?

Instead of relying solely on a gasoline internal combustion engine, hybrids use both a gas engine and electric motors. The energy used by the electric motors are stores in rechargeable batteries. The ability to partially use electricity as a fuel means that you burn less gasoline. The computer system on a hybrid makes the decisions about which energy source to use at different times, based on maximizing efficiency while providing the same level of safety and comfort as conventional cars. Our technology section provides more details about how hybrids work.

Can you drive a hybrid in extremely cold weather? How about extreme heat?

Hybrid cars are designed to operate in the same range of conditions and temperatures as conventional vehicles. For example, Honda’s specs indicate that its Integrated Motor Assist system will operate as low as 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, although we have seen reports of a Prius in Barrow, Alaska suffering from a frozen and damaged battery pack—at 56 below zero. See how the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid was tested for frigid conditions. Something to consider: Gas mileage during cold weather is diminished for all vehicles, hybrid or not.

Can you tow with a hybrid?

Towing a Toyota Prius or Honda requires front wheels off the ground. Honda’s (manual transmission) can be towed with wheels on the ground, but it’s not recommended. Honda’s with CVT can be towed with wheels off the ground. Tow dollies are commonly used.

Toyota and Honda will say not to tow anything behind their hybrids. Except for the Insight, which has an aluminum frame, it’s done everyday. Prius and Civic Hybrid can tow with a tongue weight of less than 100 lbs and total trailer under 1000 lbs. (Just basic guidance; be careful.)

General Motors Two-Mode Hybrids, like the Chevy Tahoe, are specifically designed for full towing capabilities. Other SUV hybrids have adequate towing power. For example, the Ford Escape Hybrid and Lexus RX 400h have towing capacities of 1,000 pounds and 3,500 pounds respectively.

How often do hybrid batteries need replacing? Is replacement expensive and disposal an environmental problem?

The hybrid battery packs are designed to last for the lifetime of the vehicle, somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 miles, probably a whole lot longer. The warranty covers the batteries for between eight and 10 years, depending on the carmaker and the location.

Past Years

  • 2010 Hybrid Cars – Year in Review

    What are the major trends we expect as hybrid cars boldly move into the first year of their second decade? Plug-ins, new models, a growing market, and an evolving Prius.

  • 2009 Hybrid Cars – Year in Review

    What will be the biggest developments in 2009? Read about new hybrids coming out, upgrades for 2009, and where the hybrid market is headed.

  • 2008 Hybrid Cars – Year in Review

    What kind of year was 2008 for hybrids? Read about the biggest trends, quotes, news stories, and hybrid car introductions.