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Know your electric vehicles

Robert Scoble- Creative Commons

Robert Scoble- Creative Commons

Wednesday, February 26, 2014, 8:22 AM

Looking to green up your ride? Maybe you just want to save a little gas. There’s more options than ever thanks to a growing range of hybrid and electric cars. If you’re shopping for one, you might get confused by the different types, and how to maintain them. It’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Hybrid cars work by combining an electric motor with a conventional gasoline engine.

Parallel hybrids are the most traditional type. The electric motor assists with getting the vehicle moving, and recovers energy while braking. Since starts and stops are the hardest on your engine, it saves fuel by taking the load off. They also shut the engine down when the car is idling to save even more gas. This type performs best in heavy traffic or on longer trips.

Series hybrids use an all-electric drive train. The gas engine runs a generator instead of being connected to the wheels. When the batteries are drained, it starts up to charge them and provide electricity to the motors. They’re the most efficient for city driving and short trips.

Power-Split hybrids combine both technologies into a more efficient package. The engine can either turn the wheels or a generator, making it well suited for all driving conditions.

Plug-in hybrids have a battery that can be recharged at home as well as by the engine. They tend to have a longer all-electric range than other vehicles but have a gas engine as well, in case you need to go further.

No matter what kind of hybrid you buy, they all require the same kind of maintenance. You’ll need to do oil and fluid changes on the gas engine at regular intervals, perhaps change the spark plugs after a few years. Many hybrids don’t use belts, opting for electric motors to run the pumps and air conditioning. That’s one small area where you can save on maintenance.

Replacing the batteries are the one big expense for hybrids, costing several thousand dollars. However, most will last the lifetime of the car with typical driving.

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Electric vehicles are entirely different. They don’t have a gas engine at all,. Jjust batteries and motors. These are completely emission free vehicles, especially if your electricity comes from a renewable source. They’re now coming in a wide range of models, from econo-boxes to powerful super cars. Since hydro is usually cheaper than gas, you’ll save quite a bit on driving costs. They also require next to no maintenance since there’s no oil to change and they have fewer moving parts.

EVs do have some pretty big drawbacks though. Unless you get expensive luxury models, range anxiety can be an issue. 160km is a typical ballpark range for consumer level EVs. Since they take several hours to recharge, drivers have to plan their trips carefully to avoid running out of juice. They’re also more expensive to buy than both hybrids and conventional cars. Something to keep in mind when shopping for your next vehicle.

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