You have probably come across a hybrid car on the Kenyan roads, the Prius is one of the most common one around but now we have more variety of hybrids, from the Honda Fit to the Toyota Fielder and even luxury cars like the Mercedes S-Class and Lexus RX 450h. Heck, we even have light commercial trucks that are hybrid.
Ask anyone who drives a hybrid and they will tell you that they are very fuel-efficient, especially in Nairobi traffic. However, on the other side, you will hear some tell you that you should steer away from hybrids because if the battery was to die on you, they are not cheap to replace.
While the maintenance aspect of hybrids may be scary to most, there’s quite a lot about these model of cars that we do not understand. In this article, we will try to demystify all of that:
Types of Hybrid Cars
Before we break down the types of hybrid cars, let’s first understand what exactly makes a car a hybrid. Traditionally, cars are either fossil fuel-powered, in that they have either diesel or petrol engine. Before we got to electric cars, which are the hype right now, we had hybrids. Hybrid cars combine the traditional engine with a small electric motor to complement the performance. So, unlike electric cars which don’t have an engine altogether, hybrids have both an electric motor and an engine.
Full Hybrid – Having gotten the description of a hybrid car, a full hybrid is one that has a fairly large electric motor that is connected to the engine. This motor augments the engine and allows the car to drive in either of two modes; using the motor or the engine. Full hybrids usually start up with just the motor and can drive for short distances with just the motor thus saving fuel. They also shut off the engine when in traffic and simply cruse using the electric motor. The engine kicks in when the motor runs out of power or the driver accelerates hard.
How do you recharge the battery that powers the electric motor? You don’t. The car will automatically recharge as you drive around and when you brake using a technique known as regenerative braking. This type of setup is what a lot of hybrid cars on Kenyan roads have.
Plug-in Hybrid – For this type of hybrid, the setup is fairly similar to the full-hybrid with the only difference being that you will need to connect your car to an electric source if you need to recharge the battery. The upside of plug-in hybrids is that they can cover a longer distance driving with just the motor alone, some plug-in hybrids can go up to 40km on the electric motor alone and when the battery runs out, the engine simply kicks in. This makes plug-in hybrids a good alternative to electric car enthusiasts who may be shying from switching over due to range anxiety.
Mild Hybrid – This one is a bit rarer but works differently from the other two. With a mild hybrid setup, the electric motor is only used to “assist” the main engine when needed. For instance, when accelerating hard, the motor kicks in to give more power to the engine. At cruising speeds, the engine may also shut off and run the car using the electric motor. However, unlike the other two, mild hybrids never fully run on the electric motor alone.
Maintenance of Hybrid Cars
Like anything that has a motor and batteries, hybrid cars require a bit of special treatment compared to traditional fossil-fuel-only cars. The biggest maintenance headache is the battery, which costs upwards of KES 300,000 to replace. While this may seem stiff, the rate of failure is pretty low if the right maintenance is done.
For starters, we already import 7-year-old cars and having the status of the high-voltage battery checked before celebrating your “new” car will do you a lot of good. If you don’t want any headaches, just factor in the additional cash and get a new battery alongside the car. However, if you find that the battery is in a good condition, to prevent failure regular maintenance of the said battery is required.
The most important maintenance you can do to the high voltage battery is to service the fan filter which ensures that heat dissipates properly, thus preventing the battery cells from dying.
Should you buy one?
As with every car out there, hybrid cars come with their own share of issues but that should not stop anyone from enjoying a car they truly want. On the flip side, they are also cheaper to run. Aside from the fuel savings, hybrid cars don’t come with starters or alternators, making it cheaper for you when doing regular service.
So, our advice is, if you want it and you have the right knowledge on how to take care of it, go for it!