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Electric cars What is a self-charging car and how does it work?
  • Nov 30, 2022

  • 6 min read

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What is a self-charging car and how does it work?

There’s no doubt that electric cars are a greener, more sustainable and cheaper long-term alternative to petrol and diesel cars. As more people are making the switch to electric driving, and more electric cars come on to the market, it can be difficult to understand all the different types of ‘electrified’ cars out there. With self-charging, plug-in and fully electric vehicles on offer, there are many options to choose from.

To help you decide on the right electric vehicle for you, we’ve set out everything you need to know about self-charging hybrids – what they are and how they compare to fully electric cars. We also outline the pros and cons of driving a self-charging car.

What is a self-charging car?

A self-charging car, also known as a self-charging hybrid or a mild hybrid, is a vehicle that’s partially electric-powered and partially fuel-powered. Essentially, it’s a cross between an electric and a petrol or diesel car and uses the power generated by the fuel engine to charge an electric battery. Some of the time.

The electric battery is really small, so a fully charged battery could only take you a few miles at best on pure electric, but the battery does help with other car systems and components like braking, accelerating and heating and air conditioning systems. This all makes the car more efficient, reducing fuel usage and helps save pennies at the pump. However, this type of car burns fossil fuels to get any benefit from the electric battery, which is not good for the planet. These cars will soon be banned from being sold as new cars in the UK along with all other internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, and plug-in hybrids.

How do self-charging electric cars work?

The name suggests a self-charging electric car would fully power and recharge itself, but this is a bit misleading. Self-charging vehicles mainly rely on traditional petrol or diesel fuel, so they’re not as eco-friendly as they might first appear.

A self-charging car has a traditional internal combustion engine, but with an electric motor and a small electric battery pack too. Like any petrol or diesel car, fossil fuel is used to power the engine, and some of this energy is transferred back into the car’s electric battery pack. The electricity generated then helps to power the electric motor and some of the vehicle’s other systems, making the car more fuel efficient, meaning you can go further with less fuel.

A self-charging EV will recharge as you drive, but as it mainly still relies on petrol or diesel it’s not an eco friendly choice.

What’s the difference between a plug-in and a self-charging hybrid?

Hybrids typically come as self-charging or plug-in models. While both have similar systems and components, there are some differences between the two.

Self-charging hybrid

Self-charging hybrid cars (or mild hybrids) can’t be plugged in to charge. Their battery is charged purely from energy generated by the car’s engine. The term self-charging is a bit misleading because it sounds like the battery charges

Compared to plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars, self-charging EVs have much smaller batteries and so can’t travel as far on electricity alone — only about one to two miles at most.

Plug-in hybrid

Plug-in hybrids, similar to self-charging electric cars, also have petrol or diesel as their main power source, but they have larger batteries to help power the car.

With a plug-in hybrid, you’ll need to charge your vehicle either using a slow charge cable that works with a normal domestic socket or by using a charge point fitted at home, at work or at public charging stations.

The larger battery and ability to recharge from a mains supply mean a plug-in hybrid can use more electricity to power the car. This makes it more fuel-efficient than a 'self-charging' mild hybrid and able to travel longer distances (up to 30 miles) on electricity alone.

A step up from self-charging and plug-in hybrids is a fully electric car. Its sole reliance on electricity means it burns no fossil fuels onboard, and has zero tailpipe emissions, making it the most efficient, sustainable and eco-friendly option. Electric vehicle range and electric charging infrastructure has improved significantly in recent years, making fully electric the preferred choice for most.

Find out more on how hybrids and fully electric vehicles compare in our guide to the difference between hybrid and electric cars.

Are self-charging hybrids worth it?

While it’s true that self-charging hybrids may be more efficient and cheaper to run than traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicles, they are the least efficient and eco-friendly option if you’re considering the move to electric.

Although a self-charging hybrid could look like a good stepping stone, the reliance of these cars on fossil fuels, small batteries, and poor electric-powered range means they can't compete with a fully electric car.

There are many advantages of fully electric cars. These advantages tend to outweigh those of self-charging and plug-in hybrids. If you want to really reduce your carbon emissions, save money on fuel, avoid congestion charges, and experience better day to day performance, then fully electric is definitely the way to go.

Final thoughts

If the upfront cost of an electric car is holding you back from making the switch, consider the benefits of leasing an electric vehicle. For many, it means being able to afford the latest high-spec electric car and reap the amazing financial and environmental benefits that come with it.

With Octopus Electric Vehicles’ ultimate EV package you’ll be able to choose from over 65 exciting models and get a free home charger (or 4,000 free miles of public charge), servicing and repairs, tyre replacements and breakdown cover as part of the package, too. What’s not to love? Electric cars are the future and there’s no time like the present to make the switch.