What is a self-charging hybrid car?

Some hybrid cars can be plugged in while others only offer a small electric boost. Self-charging hybrids sit in the middle

BuyaCar team
Jan 10, 2022

Hybrids are a popular choice with car buyers looking to reduce their carbon footprint or increase their fuel economy. There are three main types of hybrid technology to look out for in a hybrid car, and each uses the electric motor in a different way. Some hybrids use the electric motor to provide additional power during certain driving situations such as when overtaking, while other hybrids are designed to improve overall fuel economy or drive short distances using only electrical power.

Depending on the way the car uses the electric motor, the car manufacturer will refer to it as either a mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid or a self-charging hybrid. It can be confusing to understand the difference between each one, so we’ve made guides to help you understand everything you need to know about hybrids. Here, we will tell you everything you need to know about self-charging hybrids. You can also read our other guides if you want to learn about mild hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

What is a self-charging hybrid car? 

A self-charging hybrid car uses a petrol or diesel engine alongside an additional electric motor. This electric motor provides assistance to the engine to improve fuel consumption under acceleration. Self-charging hybrids have much smaller battery packs than other hybrid vehicles, which only provide enough power to drive the car at slow speeds for short distances under a mile.

How do self-charging hybrids work? 

Self-charging hybrids recharge the on-board batteries using energy that would usually be lost while braking or from the engine. While it may seem unique, all hybrids and electric cars do this, but plug-in hybrid and fully electric models require additional topping up from a mains source to fully recharge the larger battery packs.

Self-charging hybrid car pros

✔  Can save you money on fuel costs
✔  No need to manually charge the car
✔  Lower CO2 emissions than petrol cars

Self-charging hybrid cars cons

More expensive to buy than non-hybrids
Less efficient than non-hybrids on the motorway
Batteries can eat into boot space in some models

What is the difference between a hybrid and a self-charging hybrid?

Self-charging hybrids are billed as 'self-charging because they can’t be recharged by plugging them into the mains. Don't let this mislead you, though, because all hybrids can be self-charged to a degree. The car can only top up the batteries when it’s on the move, which makes them different from plug-in hybrids. With a plug-in hybrid, you can top up the batteries by plugging the car into a dedicated charger or even an ordinary household socket.

Furthermore, plug-in hybrids can typically cover between 20-40 miles on a fully charged battery, so they are likely to be far more economical than self-charging hybrids for drivers that predominantly cover shorter journeys and regularly plug in the car. Many drivers could do their entire commute on electric power, charge at work and then get home without using any petrol or diesel. Plug-in hybrids tend to be slightly more expensive than self-chargers, but have a much larger battery capacity and offer even better fuel economy.

Should I buy a hybrid car?

Buying a hybrid can help you improve your fuel economy and lower the environmental impact of your driving. While self-charging hybrids may appeal to those who don't want to have to keep charging their car, many of the current batch of fully electric cars can cover 200 to 300 miles per charge - meaning that you shouldn't need to charge them too often. They are also likely to have a much lower impact on the environment, as they do without all the materials needed for a petrol or diesel engine and have zero tailpipe emissions.

Hybrids are best suited to driving around town and are less economical on the motorway, compared with conventional petrol or diesel alternatives. Those who predominantly drive around town, meanwhile, are likely to be well served by an electric car - provided they can afford a suitable model - as they can do all of their driving on electric power.

Self-charging hybrid controversy

Since 'self-charging' advertising appeared in 2018, there have been a number of complaints made about the phrase, including a great deal of controversy on social media.

Some people argue that the terminology is deliberately misleading, with others stating that the fact the cars keep their batteries charged is irrelevant when they have a very low battery capacity in the first place.

Unlike plug-in hybrid models, which can typically cover a claimed figure of 20-40 miles on a full charge - meaning that many drivers could do their entire commute on electric power, charge at work and then get home without using any petrol or diesel - conventional hybrids typically only offer up to a mile of electric running, if that.

This means that their environmental benefit is limited - with hybrids being most economical around town and least economical on the motorway, compared with conventional petrol or diesel alternatives. Those who predominantly drive around town, meanwhile, are likely to be well served by an electric car - provided they can afford a suitable model - as they can do all of their driving on electric power.

In response to the controversy over the 'self-charging' branding, Toyota said: 'We use the phrase self-charging hybrid to help consumers understand how this technology works when faced with a choice of different powertrains in today’s automotive market. We also sell a plug-in hybrid model so clear distinction between these models is important for the customer.'

Toyota continues: 'Prior to using this terminology in our advertising materials, we undertook rigorous consumer research and found this was the most simple and effective way to communicate hybrid vehicle operation.'

 

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