Given the automobiles’ somewhat lengthy history, hybrid vehicles are still relatively new to consumers and continue to pose many unique questions.
Our customers often ask us whether you can drive with a dead battery if you have a full tank of gas – or vice versa. They are great questions because there’s often confusion about how a hybrid actually works.
Here, we will answer the following questions:
- How Does a Hybrid Vehicle Work?
- What Happens When Your Hybrid Runs Out of Gas?
- Can You Still Drive a Hybrid Without the Battery?
Let’s dive into the details. But first, a quick recap:
TLDR: Can I drive a hybrid without gas?
In most hybrids that are not plug-in, the vehicle will shut down if it runs out of gas. In traditional hybrid vehicles, the hybrid battery isn’t meant to handle the job alone, so this shut-down prevents potential damage.
TLDR: Can I drive a hybrid without the battery?
In certain hybrid vehicles, you can drive without the battery, however, it is not recommended, as it can cause permanent damage to the hybrid system.
How Does a Hybrid Vehicle Work?
Whether you’re thinking about getting a hybrid or you’re a new hybrid owner, it’s essential to know and understand how they work. A lack of knowledge of the system can mean human error in the future that may affect your vehicle’s longevity.
A hybrid combines an electric motor with a gasoline engine. Since the two energy sources share their duties, sometimes one will be doing all of the work over the other. In other instances, they’re working together.
In general, a hybrid vehicle has two batteries. The first is the conventional 12-volt battery you’d find in your average car. The primary purpose of this, just like with any vehicle, is to power the electronics. The second battery is a high-voltage battery pack, which helps run the car separate from the gasoline, but is responsible for getting the gasoline portion started.
In a conventional vehicle, the alternator charges the 12-volt battery as you drive. Conversely, in a hybrid, regenerative braking recharges the high-voltage battery. Regenerative braking transforms the kinetic energy lost during deceleration back into the battery. The transferred energy becomes stored energy to keep your battery from dying.
In plug-in hybrid vehicles, some of the battery’s energy comes from regenerative braking but can also be plugged in for a recharge. These types generally have a more powerful electric motor and a much larger battery. The charge on a plug-in hybrid lasts longer and can run 10-50 miles without burning any fuel.
While driving, the vehicle switches back and forth between the use of gasoline and the battery. In turn, this system’s internal process uses less gas; therefore, saving money and improving environmental impact since less fuel is needed to get from point A to point B.
But what happens if you don’t have one or the other as a source of power?
What Happens When Your Hybrid Runs Out of Gas?
Now that you understand how the hybrid vehicle works, you may assume that since there are two power sources, only one is needed to run.
This answer depends on which hybrid vehicle you have, as manufacturers build their cars with different priorities in mind.
For example, in Chevy’s Tahoe and Silverado hybrids, the SUV and truck will not operate on an empty gas tank. They will shut down, even if the battery is fully charged. In a Nissan Altima Hybrid, the vehicle also shuts down if it runs out of fuel, while plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt do not require gasoline to run at all.
Many manufacturers’ reasoning for this is that running hybrid vehicles without gas makes the battery more vulnerable to damage. So rather than risking damage to one of the primary vehicle components, they don’t make it possible. In some hybrid vehicles, the system will try to restart the engine and will drain the hybrid battery. If you have an older battery this will result in you having to replace it.
In the case of the Toyota Prius, it will run on battery even if it runs out of gas – but not for an extended period. How far it will continue may be based on how much charge the battery has, how healthy it is, and even the terrain. It may only get you a mile or two – but this feature is excellent for helping you get to a gas station.
In Lexus’s case, they do not design the hybrids to run without gasoline, as it can cause damage to the entire hybrid system. Lexus recommends keeping gas in the tank at all times.
Can You Still Drive a Hybrid Without the Battery?
We’ve talked about one extreme – running out of gas and whether the battery will take over. So what about the opposite? If your battery is dead, can you drive your hybrid on gasoline alone?
In some cases, like with the Prius, the vehicle works off a parallel system. This means the two power sources work beside each other instead of depending on each other. In the case of a dead Prius battery, your vehicle could still run off gasoline, but it would be weak and not very smooth driving. (Note: You should only use this option to get to a safe location or a service station. Remember to stay at low speeds and don’t use the air conditioner.)
Additionally, the main battery is required to start up the gasoline engine, so you may have difficulties if you have one working without the other. It would still be best if you replaced the battery as soon as possible.
In most cases, if your high-voltage battery is dead, the vehicle will not run properly. Even if the high-voltage battery is not entirely dead but isn’t running as it should, you won’t get the same efficiency from your vehicle.
It’s important to note any signs that your battery is failing so you can replace it before it happens. A few of these signs are:
- Decreased fuel efficiency
- Fluctuations in charge state
- Not holding a charge as it should
- Strange engine noises
- A constantly running battery fan (which means your battery is getting too hot, and the fan needs to keep cooling it off)
Before your high-voltage battery fails, replace it with a new or refurbished battery from a reputable distributor. At Exclusively Hybrid, we save you time and money by providing specially engineered hybrid batteries direct from us, the manufacturer – which means you get the best price possible.
For an affordable hybrid battery replacement built with a focus on high-performance and longevity, contact us for a quote today.