The Confusing World of Hybrid Vehicles

Its 2020, and environmentalism is still one of the things at the forefront of the minds of the public – Covid may have had its effects on peoples priorities; but many are still aware of the bigger picture! People are travelling less; and lockdown at least had the benefit of showing us how much of an effect the human-race have on the planet itself – anyone remember the amount of life that returned to the waterways in Venice for example?

So if you are environmentally conscious, maybe you have been considering making the jump from fossil fuel power to a greener alternative in many aspects of your life; maybe solar panels for your house, or an electric car?Nissan Leaf parked

However making these type of changes represents a big jump for the majority of us; both from an initial outlay perspective, and to ensure that we can get the same flexibility from the new arrangements. An electric car for example requires a big lifestyle change – not to mention excellent organisational skills in order to make sure that it is charged regularly and will have enough miles of range for the next days planned journeys (or even emergencies). We will go into the details of pure EV’s (Electric Vehicles) in a future article, and compare some of the positives and negatives of ownership then.

But for now, let’s talk Hybrids. Now Hybrids slot nicely into the ‘middle ground’ between a petrol/diesel vehicle, and a full blown EV. By providing this ‘halfway-house’ they are actually more accessible to more people because they retain more of the flexibility that we are all used to with fossil fuel powered cars – I.E. you can fill your car up in a quick 2-3 minute stop at a fuelling station. No planning required really; the need arises and you find the nearest place to stop and brim the tank. Sometimes a chore, but people are rarely left in a position where their vehicle will not be able complete/continue a journey. Hybrids all run with some combination of a combustion engine and a battery powered electric motor – and due to the retention of the combustion engine you retain the ‘easy life’ benefits I’ve gone into above – whilst also reducing your carbon footprint.

NOTE: Whilst both Diesel/Electric and Petrol/Electric Hybrids exist, the majority these days are made in the latter format. Therefore for the purposes of this article I will be referring to Petrol power for the combustion part of the Hybrid set-up.

Now the world of Hybrids is a confusing and murky one, full of industry jargon like ‘PHEV’ – which is enough to put off any sane person straight away – and who could blame you? So here follows a simple guide the 3 types of Hybrid Vehicle available, to help (as we always endeavour to do with these articles) our readers and the thousands of people using our Car Search engine every week to make more informed choices. So here goes: Hybrids!

  HEV stands for Hybrid Electric Vehicle

Full Hybrid (FHEV)

These vehicles can run in either full Petrol mode (remember my note above), full Electric mode, or a combination of both simultaneously. In this Hybrid setup the batteries powering the electric motor are never charged manually (by plugging it in etc), and instead are charged primarily through running the petrol engine. Other technology is also employed to assist this, such as regenerative braking – see further down for more.

Toyota have long now been the champions of the Hybrid car, and they exclusively make ‘Full Hybrids’, rather than dabbling in the other two options. Their technological advancements and breakthroughs have helped us move forward from a concept that worked well in a laboratory, but that didn’t translate well to real world conditions, to where we are now – a time when a Full Hybrid is a very real and appealing option that can mostly deliver on its efficiency promises in the hands fo a real owner. Toyota’s focus on the FHEV is so strong that they have recently made their entire new 2020MY Yaris range Hybrid only. A brave commitment and a strong ethics based statement on the companies policies and direction.

Search Toyota Hybrids

Mild Hybrid

Similar to the above FHEV, but on essentially a smaller/more basic scale. The batteries for the electric motor are charged from the petrol engine, and sometimes through additional technology such as regenerative braking. The difference is that unlike FHEV’s, Mild Hybrids can only run in ‘Parallel Mode’ – which means simultaneously. There is no petrol-only or electric-only mode capabilities. Think of the electric motor in this form of Hybridisation as the petrol engines ‘assistant’; filling in gaps in power and torque where the combustion engine lacks (for example from a standing start*).

  Electric motors develop almost all of their torque capability instantly – meaning that acceleration is far more instantaneous than a petrol equivalent.

It is widely accepted that Mild Hybrids cannot achieve the same level of impressive MPG figures as a FHEV. However due to the lower complexity of the drivetrain, smaller batteries required etc through the lower level of reliance on the electric, they do tend to be cheaper to make and buy than FHEV’s.

Plug-In Hybrid

In most cases – though not all – Plug-In Hybrids (PHEV’s) use all of the technology present in a FHEV; but have larger capacity batteries which never get fully charged from the combustion engine. Therefore they are ‘Plug-In’ because they require the owner to manually plug their vehicle into the mains to fully charge the batteries. PHEV’s tend to have a larger electric-only range than FHEV’s because of this.

A famous example of the PHEV is the BMW I8; a car that (in principle at least) revolutionised the future of the sports car.

Search BMW I8

So Spell It Out For Me…

As usual there isn’t really a clear-cut answer; it comes down to personal preference as well as what you are looking to achieve. In simple terms though, a FHEV (Full Hybrid) is the most fuel efficient of the Hybrid types on offer, since it completely recharges itself from its own petrol engine, all whilst on the move. Yes you can do a longer journey in full-electric mode in a PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid), and if this is something that you want to be able to do then you should look in that direction. And yes Mild Hybrids are cheaper to buy, and operate much more like a regular vehicle and if you are looking to ‘dip a toe in’ to the concept of the electric/hybrid car then maybe that’s the most appropriate direction to go in. But if you are looking for the most ‘efficient’ option (without going full electric of course) then maybe you should be considering a FHEV.

Take a look at some of the Hybrid options we have on our search engine below!

Search Hybrids


About Carsnip
Carsnip is the UK’s largest used car search engine, with over 500,000 dealer sold used cars across the UK. We operate a natural language search engine, to help you find your perfect used car, and narrow down the choice by what’s most important to you.

About the Author
Sam Wardega is’s very own in house car guru and journalist.
A lifetime Petrolhead who started with Hot Wheels aged 2, and now just spends his life savings on owning his dream cars. As they say, boys don’t stop playing with toys; they just get bigger and more expensive!