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Guide to buying a hybrid car

Here’s all you need to know about hybrids

With ever-stricter emissions targets for car manufacturers and consumers becoming more eco-conscious all the time the number of hybrid vehicles on the market is increasing all the time. Is it worth buying a hybrid car?

If you’re keen to jump into an electrified car but want to know more, this guide will detail the advantages and everything you need to know.

What is a hybrid?

Before we start to delve deeper into what you need to know, let’s start at the very beginning and explain what a hybrid actually is.

As the name suggests, it is a ‘hybrid’ of internal combustion and electric propulsion systems. These are usually petrol or diesel engines combined with a battery-powered electric motor.

Generally speaking, the engine will only run at higher, more consistent speeds, because that is when it’s most efficient. The electric motor, meanwhile, works at lower speeds and when accelerating so you get zero emissions at a time when the engine would be at its least efficient.

Types of hybrid

Mild hybrid (MHEV)

A mild hybrid is almost not worth including in this list, but because it has hybrid in the name it can be a source of confusion. These systems typically have a small motor and battery that has enough charge to run the car’s ancillaries such as the headlights and stereo so the engine doesn’t have to. The car won’t be able to drive on electric power alone.

This might not sound like much, but the benefit is that the engine can be turned off when the car is stopped, improving fuel economy and reducing local emissions.

This means that your fuel bills won’t come tumbling down with an MHEV, but they should be a little better than if you went for a fully petrol or diesel model. They’re also cheaper to buy than full hybrids, because the batteries tend to be the big cost in electrified models.


Yes, there are multiple types of hybrid, but usually when a car is referred to as a ‘hybrid’ with no other qualifications, it usually means that the car can run on electric only but cannot be plugged in to recharge.

This is often called a ‘self-charging’ hybrid, because the battery is charged through braking or via the engine, so the car effectively charges itself. This process is known as regeneration, because it re-uses energy that would typically be lost.

The positives are that they’re more economical than MHEVs because you can usually drive on electric at lower speeds, while also offering a middle ground on price. The downsides are that if you spend a lot of time cruising at high speeds, the battery doesn’t get much chance to regenerate, meaning you’ll rely on the engine a lot more.

Plug-in hybrid (PHEV)

If economy is the main goal, a plug-in hybrid is the best model because you can plug the car into an external electricity source to top the batteries up.

If you can charge at home this can make a massive difference to fuel economy, because you can plug it in overnight so you’ve got a full battery in the morning. Depending on the model, that’s dozens of potentially fuel-free miles, bringing down running costs drastically.

The downside for this benefit? Because of the big batteries and charging technology, PHEVs tend to be a lot more expensive than other hybrids.

Frequently asked questions

What does self-charging hybrid mean?

We’ve touched on this above, but it’s worth revisiting because the term is somewhat up for debate. Self-charging hybrids are different from plug-in models because you can’t use an external outlet to top the batteries up.

Therefore, the batteries are charged through ‘regeneration’. This is usually through ‘harvesting’ heat energy that would normally be lost during braking, but the engine can also be used like a generator to add charge in some cases.

Would a hybrid benefit me?

With a few different types of hybrid on offer, there’s a hybrid model for most people, but which one benefits you naturally depends on how you use it.

If you do a lot of shorter trips then a hybrid could massively lower your running costs. Particularly if you can afford to get a PHEV, because you might never use petrol or diesel at all.

However, if you spend a lot of time at motorway speeds, a non-hybrid diesel is still probably your best bet. Some manufacturers now offer diesel engines with mild hybrid options, which can’t hurt your economy.

Are hybrid cars reliable?

Because hybrid powertrains sound so complex, you’d think they’re at risk of being less reliable than traditional engines. However, that’s not been the case, with many older hybrids proving more reliable than petrol and diesel equivalents. It’s helped because electric motors are so simple, and also take stress off the engine, improving longevity.

Do you get a plug-in car grant?

Unfortunately, since March 2019 you haven’t been able to get a grant to buy a hybrid model. The low-emissions grants now only apply to fully electric vehicles.

Are hybrids eligible for exclusion from low emission zones?

Again, the rules for low emission zones such as that seen in London have become stricter to exclude all but the cleanest of hybrid models. To avoid paying the surcharge, your car has to emit less than 75g/km CO2 and have an electric-only range of at least 20 miles.

It’s also worth noting that from 2021, the London Ultra Low Emissions Zone will extend to the north and south circular when it will require all hybrids to pay. It’s worth checking the latest on this and for zones in your local area, because the rules can change fairly regularly to reflect how people are using them.

We have a wide range of hybrid cars available in our stock.  If you are looking for a hybrid as your next car you can check out what we have available here

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