For many car buyers, hybrid vehicles appear to offer the best of all worlds by meeting the requirements of today’s all-location, all-range, all-the-time operations, while leveraging environmentally sound ways to further the evolution of at-large vehicle use. However, like any other technology, there are pluses and minuses involved with hybrid vehicles, and among them, associated safety considerations that demand more than just a passing glance.
The differences between hybrids and traditional cars:
From the outside, vehicles equipped with traditional gas-powered/internal combustion engines (ICEs), plug-in hybrid-electric (PHEVs), and pure hybrid-electric engine (HEVs) may appear to be similar in structure and design, though there are some significant differences under the hood. First, it should be understood that when it comes to hybrids, there are at least two central power sources nestled within the vehicle itself — the ICE, and a battery-energized power system. This means that hybrids require more attention to meet robust engineering requirements.
For example, hybrids are first and foremost electrically-powered, while vehicles that are solely gas-powered operate as demand-based power-support systems. This is a fancy way of saying that hybrids require their electric engines to be charged, while gas-powered only vehicles do not. However, there are still two complete power plants within the bodywork of a hybrid vehicle, so customers should expect more — not less — attention to detail when it comes to a hybrid’s safety elements, maintenance, and operational needs.
In the case of safety issues specifically, customer should pay attention to an expanded list of components such as the hybrid’s batteries and enclosure, high-voltage wheel-motors, various electrical converters and its computer systems, on top of the gas-powered systems as well. For the owner and their hybrid, these components create enormous amounts of operational heat and sensitivity that could potentially cause issues down the line.
Hybrid safety components, how they apply, and what they do:
There are numerous ways that safety systems apply to today’s hybrid vehicles. These elements range from colorful safety placards placed throughout the car’s physical structure, to internal temperature and sensor functions that monitor and manage power throughout the car’s electrical power train. To gain a better sense of some of these systems, and where likely safety problems may emerge, we’ve compiled a list of major areas to keep an eye on:
- Battery enclosure – this physical structure is responsible for housing the car’s central electrical energy/storage components. Battery packages placed within the enclosure are quite densely packed. The consequences here represent the potential for excessive heat, or the delivery of
electrical shocks transmitted throughout the car’s structure. In turn, these events can lead to the creation of structural damage, and in some instances, cause driver or passenger injury if not properly maintained.
- DC converters – these components primarily translate electrical energy from the car’s battery package to the hybrid’s wheel-motors. They operate on the basis of larger than normal voltages,
and can lead to the delivery of electrical shocks that can be transmitted directly to the car’s structure.
- Power inverters/controllers – these components work in concert with DC converter components, and are related to the car’s high-voltage operation. As a consequence, electrical shocks that can be transmitted throughout the car’s structure, creating the potential delivery of electric discharges that can damage the vehicle.
- Wheel-motors – these elements provide the direct drive of each integrated wheel hub. Again, these components operate on the basis of high-voltage operation, thereby creating the potential of excessive heat, or the delivery of electrical discharge throughout the vehicle’s structure.
Hybrid value judgments are in the eye of the beholder:
While we have spent time discussing what could happen with hybrid systems, the risk elements associated with these variants generally boil down to three areas of interest:
- Voltage transfer, i.e. direct or in-direct electrical risks
- Heat, i.e. uncontrolled energy management creating enhanced fire risk
- Complexity, i.e. the more you own; the more you’ll have to maintain
Because hybrids are much more sophisticated than typical gas-powered vehicles, you’ll have a better than even chance that, should a failure occur, the repair to fix the issue could be costly. If you’re looking to get from Point A to Point B and give minimal attention to maintenance, you may be better offer buying a traditional gas-powered vehicle and forgetting about it.
On the other hand, however, if you love cars and their associated technologies, as long as you’re comfortable with the comparative risks, hybrids can be great cars to own, operate, and enjoy.