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3 ways a car can be a hybrid

2015 Ford Fusion Hybrid is a new plug in model of this popular vehicle.

Whether a car is considered a hybrid depends on what energy sources make that vehicle run. Some of the technology used in hybrid vehicles includes:

1. Regenerative braking

Energy from the wheels turns the motor, which functions as an energy generator. Energy normally wasted during coasting and braking is then turned into electricity and stored in a battery until needed.

2. Electric motor drive/assist

Hybrids can use smaller, more efficient engines because the electric motor provides extra power, helping the engine accelerate when passing or climbing a hill. In some vehicles, the motor provides power on its own for low-speed driving, which is more efficient than a combustion engine at low speeds.

3. Automatic start/shutoff

This feature shuts off the engine when the vehicle stops, which then restarts when the accelerator is pressed, so no energy is wasted while idling.

Power sources

Hybrids work off of two power sources. The most basic vehicle uses a gas engine with a bank of batteries that stores electricity. Many charge their batteries using regenerated energy captured through braking.

Hybrid cars switch between gasoline and battery power when needed. In fact, the car can stop using gas altogether when there is no demand. It can run completely on battery power.

Hearing the engine turn off when you're driving can be a bit unsettling, and the quiet engine is both a pro and a con of hybrid vehicles. What many consider noise pollution also can be a safety feature, since you can almost always hear a combustion engine approaching and know to stay out of the way. Electric engines make no noise at all and can sneak up before you know it.

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