Should you buy a hybrid? That will depend on many factors, and you need to know the facts first. Here are some frequently asked questions about hybrids:

How do they work?
The models currently available use a small gasoline engine, combined with an electric motor and battery pack. The gasoline engine runs as in a conventional car, but when more acceleration is needed, the electric motor works alongside it. This can give the vehicle power that would normally require a larger gasoline engine. “Full” hybrids, like the Toyota Prius and Ford Fusion Hybrid, can also run on their batteries alone for short periods. “Mild” hybrids, like the Honda Insight, always use the gasoline engine when moving. The trade-off is that mild hybrids usually cost less.

What’s the “idle-stop”?

If it’s not too cold outside, and the battery is fully charged, the gasoline engine stops running every time the car stops, such as when you’re waiting at a light. This means you’re using no fuel and spewing no exhaust. The lights, stereo, climate control and power accessories continue to work, and the car is started again by the electric motor, so there’s no worry about premature starter wear.

Do I switch the car from gas to electric?
No. It happens automatically, depending on how much power is needed. Some full hybrids have a button that lets you select electric drive at low speeds, but the gasoline engine will come on anyway if necessary.

What’s a CVT?

Most hybrids use a CVT, which stands for Continuously Variable Transmission, a type of automatic. Rather than gears, a CVT uses cone-shaped pulleys and a belt to keep the engine in its most fuel-efficient range as you speed up or slow down.

Does the battery wear out?

So far, hybrid batteries appear to be pretty solid. Most have warranties of eight years, and as much as 160,000 km. Should you ever need a new battery pack, it will probably cost about the same as replacing a transmission.

Sounds great! Where do I sign?
Not so fast. Hybrids are a viable solution, but they’re not for everyone. You’ll get the maximum benefit and best fuel economy if you adapt your driving to the hybrid. Do your homework before you buy.