How Hybrid Cars Work

The Benefits of a Hybrid Car

You might wonder why anyone would build such a complicated machine when most people are perfectly happy with their gasoline-powered cars. The reason is twofold: to reduce tailpipe emissions and to improve mileage. These goals are actually tightly interwoven.

Let's take the example of the California emissions standards, which dictate how much of each type of pollution a car is allowed to emit in California. The amount is usually specified in grams per mile (g/mi). For example, the low emissions vehicle (LEV) standard allows 3.4 g/mi of carbon monoxide. The key thing here is that the amount of pollution allowed does not depend on the mileage your car gets. But a car that burns twice as much gas to go a mile will generate approximately twice as much pollution. That pollution will have to be removed by the emissions control equipment on the car. So decreasing the fuel consumption of the car is one of the surest ways to decrease emissions.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is another type of pollution a car produces. The U.S. government does not regulate it, but scientists suspect that it contributes to global warming. Since it is not regulated, a car has no devices for removing CO2 from the exhaust. A car that burns twice as much gas adds twice as much CO2 to the atmosphere.

Auto makers in the United States have another strong incentive to improve mileage. They are required by law to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The current standards require that the average mileage of all the new cars sold by an auto maker should be 27.5 mpg (8.55 liters per 100 km). This means that if an auto maker sells one hybrid car that gets 60 mpg (3.92 liters per 100 km), it can then sell four big, expensive luxury cars that only get 20 mpg (11.76 liters per 100 km).

You can actually take steps to drive your car in ways that increase its gas mileage. In the next section, we'll look at some tips for increasing the efficiency of your hybrid (or just gas-powered) car.