All the current automotive power sources explained.
Until the turn of the century, a car was driven by an internal combustion engine, fueled by either gas or diesel. Those were the only two options available, but now we have ICE cars, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery-powered electric vehicles, and fuel cell electric vehicles.
Join us as we take a closer look at each of these powertrains.
The best way to start is with the oldest powertrain of them all: the internal combustion engine. Not only is it still in use, but it also forms the basis of hybrids and plug-in hybrid models.
Here is a breakdown of the pros and cons of each type of power plant:
Purists will punt this as the be-all-and-end-all, but there are a few things to consider that aren't necessarily so great:
Dodge is likely the best example of gas-powered cars as it currently only offers large-capacity gas-powered vehicles. Its gas models are already quite affordable, but a used Dodge Challenger makes for a great starter car if you or your kids like old-school American muscle.
The move towards electrification has numerous advantages, but what else is there to consider about going green?
The Toyota Prius is one of the best hybrid or electric hybrid cars, since it is available in both guises. It's worth noting that plug-ins are often a lot more expensive than a basic hybrid. That doesn't stop people from buying them though, and PHEV SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4 Prime are among the most popular.
Why specifically call it a battery-electric vehicle? Because there are two ways to get power to an electric motor. One of them is using energy storage systems like battery packs.
This seems to be an ideal solution, as hydrogen systems for cars use a chemical reaction to power an electric motor.
Unfortunately, that decision has already been made for you. It will have to be electric, as almost every manufacturer has announced that it will go fully electric in the future: no more ICE or hybrid models. So questions like electric car vs hybrid car, hybrid cars vs gas cars, and plug-in hybrid vs electric car are a moot point.
Electricity won the battle, which is probably a good thing. Charge times are steadily dropping, and Tesla recently announced that it would open up its Supercharger network to other manufacturers. To find out more about electric cars, the charging network, and other interesting EV information, read here.
We do want manufacturers to develop hydrogen technology more, though. Toyota is still very much dedicated to the idea, which seems to be the ultimate solution. You get the benefits of ICE and EV, all in one car.
One thing that isn't discussed enough is the longevity of EVs. The longest battery warranty is ten years. And the sad fact is, once the battery goes, the car is a write-off. This is a significant drawback, considering ICE cars dating back to the 1960s still run like a dream.
Making lithium-ion batteries is a filthy business, and recycling them is even more complicated. While the result is a zero-emissions car, no EV driver can honestly state that their car did not do some kind of damage to the planet.
We can debate this all we want, but the truth is that the EV already won. The only debate left to have is EV vs fuel cell. EVs will likely win because their infrastructure is already in place. And there are halo models like the Tesla Model S Plaid that make ownership incredibly alluring. Still, we're hoping for the development of more hydrogen motors. The fuel cell engine uses the most abundant element on our planet to power an electric motor with few moving parts. Unfortunately, the best we have in terms of the hydrogen engine setup currently is the Nexo SUV, and a pair of sedans: the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity. None of these are particularly thrilling.
The actual car is as close to emission-free as you'll get, but the answer is no. Manufacturing an EV is a messy business, and you have to wonder where the power comes from. Most people don't think further than the wall socket, but that socket is most likely connected to a power station that uses natural gas, coal, or nuclear power.
Hybrids used to be pretty poor back in the day, but over the years, manufacturers figured out how to incorporate an electric motor and batteries better. Plug-in hybrids are more of the same, but they come with larger battery packs which allow for more electric-only driving. If your commute falls within a plug-in car's range, it's worth going for. You could go for weeks without using a drop of fuel. Thus, the main difference between hybrid and electric hybrid cars is how much they save you on actual gas. This depends entirely on your driving habits, though.
Hybrid cars were never meant to be the long-term solution, but rather a way to showcase the power of electric cars. The main reason the world is going through the ICE to EV conversion is to get rid of dependence on fossil fuels. Since a hybrid still depends on fossil fuels, the EV is the ultimate goal.
Instead of a battery pack, hydrogen fuel cell cars have a hydrogen gas tank. The chemical process separates the hydrogen into protons and electrons. The electrons create a constant flow of electricity, which powers the wheels.
It depends on where the power on the other side of the socket comes from. If the power comes from coal, an EV has a 90% thermal efficiency rating. In other words, it uses the power it's charged with exceptionally efficiently. Relying on fossil fuel for power takes that figure down to between 40 to 55%, making it only slightly more efficient than a gas-powered car.