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Understanding Hybrid Cars – A Comprehensive Guide to Hybrid Cars

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The very mention of “Hybrid Cars” and these days everyone thinks of the Toyota Prius. But did you know that the Prius wasn’t the first Hybrid Car? And that even though we have become familiar with the concept of Hybrid Vehicle thanks to it, the first hybrid car was designed by Porsche?

Hybrid Cars – A brief history

Jacob Lohner – a coach builder from Vienna – is widely considered to be the pioneer of Hybrid Vehicles. In the early 20th century, hybridization of vehicles wasn’t to gain more fuel economy. Rather their invention was pushed by the fact that traditional cars with their internal-combustion engine were quickly becoming disliked owing to their foul-smelling emissions.

Lohner, at that time, reached out to a very young engineer in the automotive industry – Ferdinand Porsche. At the young age of 21, Porsche created an electric motor that fit inside the hub of the wheel, and was completely battery operated. Lohner loved the design and asked Porsche to fit his motor inside one of the coaches that Lohner was already manufacturing. The outcome was what is the first Electric car – The Elektromobil.

Lohner-Porsche Elektromobil made its first public appearance at the Paris Exposition in the year 1900. This was almost a century before we ever heard the name Prius.

Initially, the Elektromobil was completely powered by the electric wheel hubs that Porsche had built. But keeping the battery charged was quickly becoming a major challenge. To mitigate this issue, Porsche went ahead and built a gasoline powered internal combustion engine that ran a generator, which in turn charged the battery. Effectively, building the world’s first Hybrid.

As per estimates, Lohner and Porsche sold roughly 300 units of their Elektromobil. Post that, their work and the idea of Hybrid cars faded into the books of history.

Even after that, barring a few automotive experts, the concept of a “Hybrid Cars” was hitherto unheard of. People had no idea what a hybrid car was or that such a mode of transport even existed. And no car company was considering a hybrid to be a viable business model.

Prius makes an entrance

In the year 1997, Toyota took the reigns by launching the Prius in Japan. Widely considered the pioneering hybrid car, that took the concept of Hybridization to the mainstream. Four years later, in 2001, Prius saw a worldwide launch and car owners around the world wanted to own one. In just 6 years following that, by 2007,  Toyota surpassed one-million units in Prius sales around the world. This made it the most widely accepted Hybrid in history.

What are Hybrid Cars?

Traditional cars have an internal combustion engine that is powered by gasoline or diesel. Hybrid cars have an internal combustion engine as well that are powered by the above mentioned fuels, but over and above that – they have at least one electric motor and use both of these to move the vehicle.

The car’s movement is sometimes powered by the Electric motor alone, in which case no fuel is used. At other times, the movement is powered by the internal combustion engine alone, in which case fuel is burnt. And at other times, both engines work in conjunction to move the car.

The overall result is less burning of fuel, thereby resulting in better fuel economy for the driver.

The term “hybrid” literally means – “a certain thing built by the combination of two different things”. In this case, the two different things are the traditional internal combustion engine and the modern electric motor. Hence the term, Hybrid Cars.

Electricity in a hybrid car comes from a high voltage battery pack in the car (this is separate from the traditional 12-volt battery that comes with every car). Hybrid cars also employ a system called “regenerative braking” – this charges the battery every time the brakes are applied by processing the energy/heat generated during braking. The gas engine also recharges the battery in many cases.

What are the different types of Hybrid Cars?

Though “Hybrid Cars” is an umbrella term for any vehicle that sports a gas engine and an electric engine together – not every car is built alike. Various manufacturers build hybrid cars to satiate varying requirements – some are built to increase the fuel economy to the maximum possible level, while others are built to bring down the cost of the vehicle.

Let’s take a look at the various types of Hybrid Cars in the market today –

Plug-in Hybrids

Hybrid Car Charging

This is the closest Hybrid cars get to full electric vehicles in terms of recharging/refueling. A Plug-in Hybrid as the name suggests is the kind of car wherein the engine can be charged through an electric socket.

Plug-in Hybrids sport the biggest battery pack out of all kinds of Hybrid cars and can be charged at your home, office or even at a public charging station.

Think of it like having a bigger tank of gas. Once recharged, these cars can give you a decent mileage per charge that can range from 25 to 55 miles per full charge.

These cars work exceptionally well for people with a short daily commute. Since, if recharged every night, the car is almost always powered by electric charge and never touches the fuel in the tank.

In the event that the electric charge is depleted completely, the car reverts to becoming a standard “Parallel Hybrid”, a form of Hybrid Cars explained below. However, there are some Plug-in Hybrids that are “Series Hybrids” as well – another form, explained below.

Most Common Examples of Plug-in Hybrids are the Mitsubishi Outlander P-HEV, Chevrolet Volt cars and the Toyota Prius PHV.

Parallel Hybrids

This is the most common for Hybrid Cars available on the market. Parallel Hybrids, as the name suggests, boast of a design, where the electric motor and the gas engine connect to a single transmission. This moves the car by blending the two sources of power.

The kind of transmission employed by the vehicle and the size of its gas engines determines the acceleration, look & feel and even the sound of the vehicle.

Most Common Examples of Parallel Hybrids are the Toyota Prius, Lexus RX 400 and the Toyota Highlander.

Series Hybrid

In this form of Hybrid Cars, the electric motor powers the car entirely and the gasoline engine never comes in contact with the wheels. The sole purpose of the gasoline engine in a Series Hybrid car is to recharge the batteries, in order for the electric engine to power the car.

Since the electric engine powers the driving almost entirely – the driving experience is very similar to that of an all-electric car.

The only known issue is the unintentional revving of the engine. This is known to make some users uncomfortable.

The car does have an internal-combustion engine, even if only for charging the battery. And when the battery needs to be recharged, the engine begins revving on its own. So you might hear it rev, even when you’re cruising at medium speed, thereby making you uncomfortable.

Most Common Example of Series Hybrids is the Fisker Karma.

Uncategorized Hybrid Cars

The Hybrid Cars industry has had over two decades of research, engineering and development. As a result of this, there are cars that don’t conform to a particular bracket of hybrids. It’s almost impossible to classify them as a Series or a Parallel Hybrid.

Honda, for instance, has a unique design that makes it both a Series Hybrid and a Parallel Hybrid. Like a Series Hybrid, the gas engine in their design keeps on recharging the battery. However, like a Parallel Hybrid, the gasoline engine can also power the car.

Volvo, on the other hand, has a range of plug-in hybrids that use the traditional gas engine to power the front wheels. While the car’s rear axle is powered by an electric engine.

Mild Hybrids

Then there are Mild Hybrids – which are not complete hybrids. In the case of Mild Hybrids, the electric engine doesn’t power the wheels at all, it, however, assists the main internal-combustion engine to help improve the fuel economy and performance of the vehicle.

The fuel economy benefits of Mild Hybrids is nothing in comparison to other Hybrid cars. Owing to this reason, they failed to achieve mainstream popularity. However, in recent months, they’re making a comeback of sorts – with cars like Audi A6, A7 and A8 and even the Mercedes-Benz E-Class adopting a 48-volt electrical sub-system to compliment their traditional high powered internal combustion engine.

Essentially, some or the other form of hybridization is now evident in almost every new model of cars.

Features and Benefits of owning a Hybrid Car

The electric battery powering a Hybrid Car not only helps with the fuel economy. But with additional performance and energy saving features as well.

Idle-Off

This is arguably one of the best features of a Hybrid Car. Think of the small sensor located at the top of the front side of your phone, right besides the camera. When you’re in a call, as soon as you hold the phone to your ears, the sensor shuts off the screen, thereby preserving battery. Similarly, the screen turns back on almost immediately when you remove the phone from your ears. During this entire time, the phone is on and you won’t miss a text or another call or an email.

Hybrid cars have a similar feature called “Idle-off”. When the car is idle for a certain duration of time, the main engine shuts off, automatically. Such as when stuck in traffic, or when at a stoplight or waiting for someone.

The other features such as the air-conditioner and the screen or dashboard lights keep working, thanks to the electric engine. The electric motor can restart the car almost seamlessly when moving and even engage the conventional engine when needed. This results in huge fuel savings.

Regenerative Braking

This is yet another fuel-saving feature. When applying brakes in a traditional car, it almost entirely relies on friction. This results in the vehicle’s kinetic energy turning into heat and gradually dissipating in the air.

However, in Hybrid cars, some of these energy recharges the batteries. This, in turn, can power the car’s various components and even start or move the car when needed.

Power Assist

Another feature that essentially assists the traditional gas engine. This results in the load on the gas engine to become greatly reduced. Thereby, allowing a reduction in its size.

Smaller gasoline engines produce less power on their own. However, in conjunction with electric engines, their capability fairly increases. These Hybrid Engines are capable of producing power that can equal or even exceed traditional gas only vehicles.

Electric-Only Drive and Electric Assist

Hybrids that sport a larger battery-pack (such as plug-in hybrids) can allow their users to enjoy extended drives. That too at relatively higher speeds on electricity alone without using the gasoline engine at all.

In Hybrids that are not be plug-in, the electric engine starts the car and can even drive at low speeds.

In either case, this results in far less fuel utilization..

On a final note

Hybrid cars have the potential to protect the environment and the climate. Not only this, it is also capable of protecting the consumer.

Reduced fuel usage is the need of the hour. And Hybrid cars are a great solution. They also rank very highly on the maintenance scale and require very little maintenance.

As a car owner, when owning a Hybrid, you gain from the enormous fuel saving benefits of Hybrid Cars. While at the same time doing your part for the planet.

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Surviving Long Car Trips with Babies & Toddlers

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Travel Activities for Infants and Tots during Family Road Trips

Traveling with kids, particularly babies and toddlers, requires a lot of planning and preparation. Older children on long car trips can be distracted with a variety of activities due to their ability to read, write and count. But for babies and toddlers, the activities are somewhat limited. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be good traveling companions.

What parents need are some essential items for the car such as a diaper bag, tissues and wipes, first aid kit and food as well as a few fun car games to keep the little ones happy and occupied while on long car trips.

Baby Toys

Babies and toys get along just fine. And that’s why it’s a good idea to bring several small toys along. Don’t take them all out at the same time, though. Take them out one at a time so that they all stay “new”. When the baby seems to have grown bored with one toy, put it away and present her with another one. Parents can also buy some cheap and small toys when making stops during the journey.

Playing Peekaboo

Babies are often fond of playing peekaboo. Adults or older children in the car can all take turns to play peekaboo with the baby. Pulling funny faces is also highly entertaining for babies!

Dealing with Crying

The good news is that most babies can sleep through most of their journey. The bad news is when they get cranky, they may cry non-stop for a long while. Here are some tips to deal with crying while on the road.

  • Make sure the pacifier, blanket, and favorite toy are within easy reach.
  • If the crying continues, stop the car and check for rashes and other signs of discomfort.
  • Maintain the baby’s routine, particularly when it comes to feeding time and sleep time.
  • If the journey takes a few days, lodge at hotel rooms with a small kitchen or at least a microwave oven to heat up milk and cook simple, fast meals.
  • Assign someone who can tolerate loud and incessant crying for more than 10 minutes as the driver.

Surprise Goodie Bag

Toddlers will enjoy surprise goodie bags. Give each toddler a small bag filled with five to seven items such as small toys, stickers, balloons, picture books, coloring books, crayons, pencils, and erasers. Don’t open the bag and let them see the contents. Instead, get them to feel the bag and guess what the things inside are. Ask the children to guess the item one by one.

The guessing game itself will have eliminated a few minutes of boredom in the car. And when all the contents are revealed, the kids can get busy with them. To make drawing and coloring activities easier, invest in a snack and play travel tray for each toddler in the car.

Naming and Counting Objects

This is a good and fun way to learn new words and grasp numeracy concepts for toddlers. Use the objects you see as learning tools. Watch out for cows, horses, sheep, rivers, farms, houses, hills and other vehicles on the road. Name and count them as the car passes them by. However, be sure not to count to more than 10. Keep things simple and fun for the kids.

Singing and Rhyming

What’s a car trip without singing and rhyming? Get some CDs with children’s songs and nursery rhymes and sing along. Again, it’s a great way to learn new words. No children’s CDs? No worries! Just belt out any song to keep things alive in the car. Kids will love it too if Mum or Dad can sing off-tune or make silly sounds when singing.

Keeping babies and toddlers happy and amused on a long family road trip is challenging but not impossible. Just be sure to bring along their toys, coloring books, and crayons, have a contingency plan to manage crying and be prepared to play silly games and sing funny songs.

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Tips and Advice for Purchasing a New Vehicle

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What to Know When Buying a Car

The most important thing to know when shopping for a car is what you’re looking for. Buy a vehicle that will suit the driver’s needs and be appropriate for its required uses.

Safety Features

Safety features are important options, and many now come standard. Look for anti-lock brakes (ABS), airbags, side airbags (on the lower part of the side of the car) or curtain airbags (on the top part of the side of the car), shatter-proof glass and all-season tires.

For SUVs, also look for stability control and anti-roll control that will offer added protection against roll-overs. Another feature to look for in SUVs and trucks with manual transmissions is the hill-start assist. This helps prevent the vehicle from rolling backward until the clutch is released fully. Similarly, hill descent will offer better control when traveling downhill. This is especially important in vehicles that will be used for towing.

Cost of the Car

Before going to the dealership, get pre-approved to know the budget and available credit. Also, know the price range of each car in the running, and if there any markups for special models, limited editions or high-demand models.

When figuring out how much the car will cost, consider expenses that may not show on the price sticker: fuel costs, service expenses, changes in insurance rates. Talk to the service department to get an idea of how much typical services cost: new tires, oil changes, brake jobs, etc. Find out what kind of oil and other fluids the car takes and what preventative maintenance is recommended. These will all add to the cost of the vehicle, and they should be taken into consideration when calculating monthly expenditure.

After deciding on a price range and budget, review newspaper ads and websites for special offers and financing deals on particular cars. Choose between buying and leasing and for how long a term financing will be required. Then decide which dealerships to visit.

The Dealership

Get to know a dealership before making a purchase. Learn about its reputation, if others have had problems with it in the past. Talk to others who have bought at that dealership. Talk to the general manager and the service manager. How do they treat their customers? Are they reputable? Trustworthy?

A dealership should do its best to make customers comfortable. If a sales associates is not a good fit, ask to speak to someone else. The customers are the ones spending thousands of dollars, and an uncomfortable experience will not help anyone.

Test Drives

If possible, try a car that has the exact specifications desired. This offers a true representation of how the car will drive.

While in the car, take the time to play with the gadgets. Pay attention to the sounds the car makes. Will that pinging get annoying in a week? Is the car too loud?

Get a feel for how the car will handle under normal driving conditions. If a normal commute consists of highway driving, take the car on the highway. If it’s destined to stay local, drive downtown roads. Try the car on less-than-ideal conditions, such as cracked roads and construction areas. See how it handles overall, how it accelerates and if it feels comfortable.

If the allotted time does not give a good idea of how the car drives, ask for a longer test drive. Some dealerships will even let consumers borrow the car for a day or two so they can drive on their normal routes as they normally would. If this is not possible, look for dealers or agencies that offer the same car as a rental.

Other Tips

Listen to sales associates. Many associates are knowledgeable and can offer information about comparable cars, how a particular car fares overall and specifics on the car itself. Talk to them about other cars that are in the running to get an idea of how they compare.

Watch out for first year models. High demand may cause prices to skyrocket, and there are often limited options. In addition, there may be bugs or kinks that haven’t been worked out yet. Wait until the second or third year, or until the car is used, to purchase that model.

The best time to buy is at the very end or beginning of a calendar year, or even at the end or beginning of a month. This is the time when dealerships are trying to meet quotas or set a trend. There will often be more associates available to help, and they will be more willing to negotiate price and trade-ins.

Some prices may be negotiable, but be reasonable. Back up offers with facts. This applies to the amount given for trade-ins as well. With trade-ins, consider the actual condition of the vehicle and how much it would actually be worth, not how much you want to get for it.

Get educated before shopping for a vehicle. Knowing what to look for and what to expect will ensure the right choice is made.

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Some Simple Ways to Save on Car Expenses

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Lowering Automobile Costs by Being Proactive

Owning a vehicle is costly. Yet, in most North American cities it is almost a necessity, because of the sprawl that is common. Keeping the expenses of having and using a vehicle can be kept lower by following some simple rules

Proper Vehicle Maintenance Lowers Overall Cost

Keeping a vehicle in good running condition is necessary for efficient and cost-effective use. Gas mileage lowers with poor maintenance, increasing costs almost instantly. Something as simple as doing the oil change on time can make a significant difference in this area. There are always coupons coming in the mail or fliers. Use these to lower the costs of the oil change. Some places offer discount cards or even free memberships. If these are available in your area, be sure to check and compare which one is best.

If a vehicle isn’t in proper repair, then it is more likely to have mechanical problems, even minor ones. These are, of course, even more, costly than the original maintenance would be. So make sure to keep all vehicles in good repair!

Only Using a Vehicle When Necessary Keeps Costs Down

Some people will use a vehicle to drive two or three blocks to go to the corner store or drive half a block to check their mail. These trips cost in gas, wear, and are completely unnecessary. Even longer trips are often frivolous and can be avoided by walking or riding a bicycle. Combining errands into one trip can also greatly reduce the amount of vehicle use. And not only will that save on fuel and vehicle wear, but it can also save on personal time. Isn’t it great to have more free time to do things that are enjoyable, instead of running errands? Combine trips into one to make life easier and less expensive. Use lists if remembering is a problem, as this puts everything down and helps to jog the memory.

Do Some Self Vehicle Maintenance for Reduced Costs

Some minor maintenance isn’t that hard to do. Simple things like wiper blade replacements, filter replacement, checking the tires, and even oil changes and spark plugs can all be done quite easily. Changing the spark plugs can cost as little as $25.00, including buying the tools! Yet, if a mechanic does this, it can cost $100 because labor rates are high. To know if these need changing, simply pull the plugs and see if they are really corroded. There are many websites available that give tips on car maintenance – check these out for more help! Oil changes can also be done at home – just make sure to package the oil and take it to the recycling depot rather than pouring it out on the ground or down the sewer. Any old plastic container will do for this. Wikihow has a great page on changing the oil in a car. It even includes a video. One of the simplest maintenance items that can be done at home is washing the car. Why pay someone else to do what will take the same time at home and cost a lot less? Other simple maintenance items include changing the lights or fuses – these are much less expensive to buy and replace than have done!

There are also many things that can be done to decrease the costs of fuel by increasing fuel efficiency. Most of these are maintenance related, such as keeping the tires properly inflated, filters clean and not storing excess in the vehicle. There are more tips on fuel saving available at Personal Budget Help.

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