People are attracted to many features found in hybrid vehicles. For instance, the ability to limit one’s carbon footprint and save money on fuel are significant contributors to the popularity of hybrids. However, while you’re stacking loonies by limiting the time spent at the gas station, expensive components are slowly deteriorating during your everyday commute. Because the systems are so intricate, resolving issues isn’t always as straightforward as visiting a local repair shop.
In this article, we’ll discuss the hybrid battery pack so you can understand what to expect when it fails. When this critical part of a hybrid vehicle begins malfunctioning, the consequences can vary depending on the manufacturer. Some models can maintain operation without the hybrid functions but might be noticeably weaker and less smooth while travelling. Other vehicles will completely shut down because the pack is responsible for charging the 12-volt starting battery. If the system alerts you that a failure is imminent, it is essential to have your hybrid vehicle serviced immediately before other components are damaged.
What is a Hybrid Battery Pack?
Hybrid vehicles take advantage of teamwork between a small gasoline engine and electric motors for stellar fuel economy and a greener driving performance. The heart of the electronic system is the hybrid battery pack, which consists of numerous cells that produce low voltage to create a more robust charging unit. Most automakers hide the unit behind or underneath the rear seat, connected to the engine with high-voltage cables.
Because users cannot plug in a hybrid to restore battery power, the high-tech system uses driving behaviours to employ the electric motor and send juice to the battery pack. The most common form of energy transfer is called regenerative braking. Generally, when a driver engages the brake pedal, power is created, and the hybrid battery receives the boost it needs.
A properly working system automatically switches between the conventional combustion engine and electric capabilities without driver intervention.
Signs of a Failing Hybrid Battery Pack
Repairing or replacing a hybrid battery pack requires specially trained technicians, tools, and sometimes massive labour costs. Because the components are packed with high voltage, attempting a DIY repair can prove harmful or even fatal.
Fortunately, automakers offer generous warranties on this powerful part. Most manufacturers equip the battery pack with an eight-year guarantee, but Toyota extended its warranty to ten years in 2020. If you’re planning to buy a used hybrid vehicle, research the brand’s warranty limitations, as any remaining coverage should be transferred to the new owner.
So, how do you know if your vehicle is facing issues? Here are some of the most common types of failures that you may experience:
- A noticeable decrease in mileage
- Significant fluctuations in the state of charge gauge on the instrument cluster
- An unexplained loss in battery bars after little to no usage
- The combustion engine is operating more frequently than usual
Hybrid vehicles are also loaded with technology that can trigger alerts from the computer to the driver that service is required.
How Are Hybrid Battery Packs Repaired?
When a hybrid battery fails, the most common solution is replacing the entire unit. The procedure demands strict safety measures, as a technician must manage the heavy equipment while avoiding contact with high-voltage components. Another challenge during replacement is removing numerous pieces of trim, screws, and wiring harnesses and then ensuring that each part is returned to its correct position.
In some cases, a technician will choose to restore the pack by running diagnostics to determine which cells are failing. If the problem is caught early and only a few calls are becoming weak, the vehicle can normally be rejuvenated by replacing the modules. Unfortunately, the system will rarely display issues until most cells are compromised, which can make repair more time consuming and expensive than replacement.
The final option for dealing with a defective hybrid battery pack is reconditioning. Technicians use grid charging, discharging, cycling, and balancing to isolate and recalibrate failed cells back to a functioning condition or simply replace them.
Is it Safe to Service a Hybrid Battery Pack?
Most of us have had the pleasure of changing a vehicle’s 12-volt starting battery. Besides losing our coveted 10mm socket wrench and busting our knuckles on the components surrounding the charging element, this chore is pretty standard for a DIY vehicle owner. Working with a hybrid battery is a totally different animal and best left to the professionals.
Manufacturers take extra precautions to display high-voltage components with bright colours: generally orange, blue, or yellow. For instance, cables and connectors that pose a risk to human safety are always easily identifiable to make repairs safer. Before engaging the battery pack, technicians must take special care to ensure the system is completely shut down. Some safety measures include:
- Verifying that the vehicle is completely powered down
- Keeping keys at least six metres away to account for keyless ignition sensitivity
- Wearing heavy-duty gloves rated to withstand 1,000 volts
If a hybrid battery pack is punctured during an accident, experts agree that the vehicle must be isolated in a location at least 15 metres away from flammable or combustible materials. If the component were to ignite, the fire could be difficult to extinguish.
While there are severe safety risks involved with servicing or replacing a hybrid battery pack, a trained and licensed mechanic can perform the repair seamlessly.
Are Hybrid Vehicles Worth the Upkeep Expenses?
While replacing a hybrid battery pack will generally between $1,000 and $6,000 in parts and labour, that is hardly a reason to avoid investing in this innovative kind of vehicle. Even though manufacturers offer ironclad, long-lasting warranties, you may not even experience a breakdown if you buy a newer car that’s still covered. For the most part, the components involved are built with durable materials and offer tremendous lifespan expectancies.
However, when purchasing an older model or one that is already displaying battery issues, it’s a good idea to prepare for a significant expense. It is essential to plan for licensed technicians at the dealership to make repairs, as most maintenance requires highly specialized knowledge. If you consider the money saved by the incredible fuel economy throughout the vehicle’s lifespan, the cost of a hybrid battery pack repair may seem less daunting.