Dear Car Talk:
I want to know if I'm justified in feeling smug. I have a hybrid that has a full electric vehicle mode. When the light turns green and I tromp on the pedal, am I right that I'm not polluting the air like the guy in the next lane, nor abusing my engine at all? -- Tom
I think permission to feel smug comes with every hybrid, Tom. If you look, it's probably listed on the new car sticker. You can smug it up all you want. In EV mode (some hybrids allow you to push a button for battery-only operation), you are not polluting the air like the guy next to you in the '76 Volare.
Obviously, the electricity you used to charge up your battery came from somewhere. And unless it's a plug-in hybrid and you get your power from solar or wind, you did create some pollution somewhere to get your battery charged.
But nothing's coming out of your car that affects the air around you. Well, unless it's coming from you, Tom, but that's between you and your gastroenterologist.
You're also not harming your engine, because you're not using your engine. You're using your electric motor. Are you harming the electric motor? No. A gasoline combustion engine has many more parts, and more inertial forces at work -- parts that have to start and stop, and change direction, like pistons, connecting rods and valves. All that stuff gets stressed more, and wears out more quickly when you suddenly change speeds and floor the gas.
An electric motor, on the other hand, has fewer parts, and the main component of an electric motor does only one thing. It spins around an axle. And if it's well-built, as most electric motors in cars are, it really doesn't care how fast it spins. So no harm is done to the motor when you whomp on the accelerator.
However -- you knew there'd be a however, Tom, right? There are still things like the drive axles and the suspension parts that are stressed if you go from zero to 60 in a few seconds. Like a combustion engine, these parts are sitting still with you at a stoplight, and suddenly, there are huge forces on them coming from the electric motor. And you're not doing those mechanical parts any favors.
So when you're in the breakdown lane, and the guy in the '76 Volare tootles past you at 25 mph, blowing blue smoke, you can still be smug, Tom. Just say to him, "Ha, I didn't pollute, and my electric motor didn't feel a thing. I'm only waiting for a tow truck because I broke my axle."
Instead of trading in your old car for pennies on the dollar, donate it to your favorite NPR station. They will turn it into the programs you love. Here's how.