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In the Nick of Time: Your Car’s Serpentine Belt

Drive by any car lot in the United States and ask to see the latest hybrid car models. Don’t be stupefied if eight out of ten tell you that they can’t seem to keep them on the lot—that they’re just selling too fast! There is reasoning behind the hype: consumers believe in one (or all) of three things, that they’re going to be getting a better deal once gas prices hit $2.50 a gallon, that they’re not sacrificing performance and that they’re helping the environment.

Let’s first take a look at how these cars are put together. First, we have to understand the concept of “hybrid”. A hybrid car might be defined as any vehicle that uses two or more sources of energy to propel itself. Seems simple enough. Hybrid machinery is all around us in the form of diesel-electric, such as city buses, and nuclear-electric, such as those used on many US submarines. So, the idea and the technology have been around awhile—it’s just now that another energy scare like that of the 1970s, that we start becoming resourceful and a little ingenious. Hybrid power is on the up-rise (and in-demand) only because the two different types of propulsion possibilities (gasoline/diesel and electric) standing alone have proven an ineffective means to get both power and efficiency in one package. But, working together, there is promise.

A hybrid car, in modern terminology, is usually referring to any car that has a combination of an electric and a gasoline (or diesel) motors. These cars use kinetic energy (referred to as regenerative breaking), absorbed by your breaks when you slow down to a stop, to recharge batteries that in turn push the electric motor. All of this is combined into one finely tuned schematic—the result being power to the transmission and propulsion power (i.e. wheel movement).

All hybrids contain a gasoline engine, an electric engine, a generator (mostly on series hybrids), fuel storage container, batteries and a transmission.

There are basically two different types of hybrid engines. The first is a parallel hybrid. This sort of hybrid actually contains both a gasoline and electric motor that both operate independently to propel the car forward. It’s designed to have two power sources working with one goal in mind. In many ways, they are still “connected”.

The second hybrid is often referred to as a series hybrid. In a series hybrid, the gas or diesel powered engine doesn’t connect to the transmission directly, meaning that it doesn’t actually propel the car by itself. It actually works indirectly, powering a generator, which in turn (controlled by computer monitoring systems) either feeds power to the batteries or directly feeds power to an electric motor that connects to the transmission.

As stated above, hybrid buyers are looking for the combination (and compromise) of power and energy that these cars seem to provide. Many gas-powered cars have a lot of horsepower. This is useful for modern driving experiences. No one wants to be doing the minimum 45 mph on the interstate and stopping to “refuel,” as with purely electric motors. Plus, there’s no need to feel like you should have placed your slow-moving reflective magnet on the trunk. However, many gas-powered cars are truly “wasteful” resources because out of those 175 horses, you’ll only have to use less than half that power for everyday driving. We don’t even have to get into the harmful environmental factors of pure gasoline engines. We are just now starting to see the results of our apathetic attitudes on this subject.

The engines in hybrid automobiles are usually much smaller (except in some brand new V-6 models). While this reduces fuel consumption, it means that for the extra “power” that drivers are looking for has to come from somewhere else. That’s where the electric motor and batteries come into play. In some models, sensors detect that the car is in need of extra energy for going up hill, for example. That’s when the “hybrid” half of the engine kicks in. It will do a dandy job of giving the engine that extra oomph or boost that it needs, without using any more gasoline.

Newer hybrid models do a lot of extra tricks so that your car gets as many miles to the gallon as possible. For example, when you’re stopped at a traffic light, another sensor will trigger the gasoline engine to idle down to a complete stop, while the car stays “running” solely on its electric power. Did I mention ingenious?

Since the idea behind the hybrid powered car is reduced fuel consumption without the loss of speed or power, many cars are being designed to move through the streets with the utmost in aerodynamic form; meaning that a hybrid will create less “drag,” simply due to its body structure. Many also use much lighter building materials, reducing weight and pull. Some models even have wheel covers and no mirrors (replaced with cameras and navigation equipment), which saves an enormous amount of energy.

Hybrids don’t seem to be a fad or some social experiment. Consumers and car enthusiasts alike are enjoying what they’re seeing in the market. Everyday it seems a better designed, lighter; more fuel-efficient and powerful hybrid enters. Recently released models are even beating their gas-powered counterparts. One boasts a 255 hp engine with other capabilities such as being able to shut down half the cylinders (without notice) while in motion to conserve fuel and energy.

Hybrid-engineered cars cost a bit more too. Usually the price difference is around 3,000 bucks. And, it may take a few years (depending on gas prices) for you to actually make the savings in fuel worthwhile. However, it’s still better for the environment, and that lingers (and makes it worthwhile) in some consumers’ minds.

And, if you are still one to wholeheartedly grip the stick of your V-8 without budging, you might take into mind that newer hybrid models are gaining on those petal-to-the-metal peelers of yesteryear. Hybrid models are inching nearer to (and even beating!) gas powered cars in 0 to 60 mph road tests.

So, when you decide that a new car might be a viable option in the near future, don’t expect to see too many hybrids in dealers’ lots. You may have to do some across-the-state driving to find a choice. Do some preliminary searching on the Internet and find out what model may benefit you and your lifestyle the most. Keep in mind all that we’ve mentioned and perhaps—in the future—you’ll have no other choice than a hybrid, which at this time seems to be by far the best choice around.

About the Author

Michael Walker is a freelance author providing tips and hints on engine related topics such as engines from the JDM, used car motors and swapping engines. His articles are a valuable source of information for the auto enthusiast.

Written by: Michael Walker

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