Regenerative Braking: Do All PHEVs Have it? It’s Surprising.

Plug-in, or PHEV, vehicles are hybrid, meaning they come with a battery and an internal combustion engine.

Both methods of propulsion work in tandem together, however, a PHEV has a larger battery than your typical “hybrid” vehicle. 

Regardless of the category, all-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and standard hybrids utilize a regenerative braking system. Regenerative braking is just what it sounds like, utilizing the energy from the act of braking to recharge the battery while you’re on the move. 

Since all categories of electric vehicles and the various hybrids feature regenerative braking, they can all take advantage of the extra range it provides.

Regenerative braking is certainly not a new concept and, although it helps give the battery some juice, it’s not a standalone charging feature. 

What is Regenerative Braking?

Through the normal braking process on a standard, internal combustion engine system, the braking effect is wasted energy.

Not wasted in terms of making you stop (that’s definitely what you want the brakes to do) but the accumulated energy through the process is wasted.

So, instead of using the traditional brake pads that close over the rotor through a hydraulic pressure system, electric vehicles and hybrids use motors.

These motors are designed to capture the kinetic energy created by stopping the car and convert it to DC voltage to charge the battery. 

Depending on the level of regenerative braking designed in the braking system, you will either gain more range or preserve your current battery.

Some hybrids utilize the energy from regenerative braking to power most of the auxiliary systems in the vehicle, rather than recharging the battery. 

However, the act of powering the A/C, radio, and entertainment components mean there is less strain on the battery.

This equates to an overall better range. It’s all about improving efficiency in the vehicle. 

Activating Regenerative Braking

Regenerative braking is not used in the same way in all models, at least in terms of how the driver activates it.

In most EVs and hybrids, it’s automatic but, in some, the driver has to activate regenerative braking by a lever or button on the dash or steering wheel. 

Some EVs and hybrids are more proactive with the regenerative braking system, activating it even when the car is just coasting with the driver’s foot off the accelerator.

There are also EVs and hybrids that have different drive modes, some of which feature regenerative braking as a higher priority. 

Benefits of Regenerative Braking

The most crucial benefit of regenerative braking is that it takes some of the strain off your battery.

Whether the regenerative braking system is designed to power the auxiliary functions of your vehicle or put some juice back into the battery, it’s improving the longevity and range. 

Regenerative braking systems are motors that you don’t see on traditional, internal combustion engine vehicles, but they aren’t solely responsible for stopping the vehicle.

They work in coordination with a traditional braking system, such as the brake pads most people are familiar with. 

Since they work in tandem with the brakes, it also improves the overall lifespan of your braking system.

You’ll find yourself replacing the brake pads in a traditional car far more often than you will in an EV or a hybrid vehicle. 

Look at it this way—in a hybrid, the regenerative braking system improves the overall efficiency of the vehicle.

A straight-up EV, it improves the range of the vehicle. Either way, you’re getting more out of a regenerative braking system than you will a standard braking system.

Pros and Cons of a Regenerative Braking System in PHEVs

ProsCons
Reduces wear and tear on the brakes Improves the range of the PHEV Harnesses energy that would otherwise be wasted Keeps your battery topped offFor new PHEV owners, the vehicle brakes strangely Not as efficient at high speeds It’s wasted in city driving

For the most part, the benefits of regenerative braking are obvious, however, the drawbacks may not be, at least not to the casual observer.

For instance, if you are the first-time owner of a new PHEV and you have never experienced regenerative braking before, the experience can be a little disconcerting. 

This is especially true if you’ve been driving combustion engine vehicles for years.

It’s not that it makes it harder to drive, it’s just that it feels weird to someone who has never used it before. 

PHEVs use both regenerative braking motors and standard drum brakes or hydraulic disc brakes.

The reason is that regenerative braking is not very efficient at stopping the vehicle quickly when it’s traveling at very high speeds. 

However, to make room for the regenerative braking system, drum or disc brakes are trimmed down a little more than their standard counterparts.

Because of this, a PHEV doesn’t have the strong stopping power of a regular combustion engine vehicle. 

Last but not least, if you do a lot of driving in the city, where traffic is consistently stop-and-go.

Pair this with an average rate of speed that’s pretty slow, regenerative braking is almost completely useless. 

Not useless in that it doesn’t stop the vehicle, but useless in that there is a negligible benefit to the battery.

Because you’re never traveling fast enough, there isn’t nearly as much kinetic energy created in the braking process. Less kinetic energy means less energy for your battery. 

Fortunately, the situation is improving as technology continues to advance in the arena of regenerative braking.

It’s probably just a matter of time before there is either a serious advancement in the kinetic energy-gathering capabilities of the system.

Alternatively, something entirely new will come to the forefront. 

All Things Considered

Regenerative Braking is present in all hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles manufactured today and currently on the road.

You would have to go back several years to find an EV model that doesn’t utilize regenerative braking in some form. 

While it lacks the raw stopping power of traditional disc or drum brakes, regenerative braking is an essential part of EVs and PHEVs, allowing drivers more range and improved efficiency.