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Hybrid car maintenance: Why it’s critical if you want to keep your car beyond the warranty

Maintaining your hybrid costs a fraction of repairing it

At CARS, our mission is to keep your car affordable, reliable and safe. And our message today is for hybrid car owners: If you want your hybrid to be affordable and reliable beyond the warranty period, we cannot stress how important routine maintenance is for the:

  • Hybrid battery.
  • Transmission fluid.
  • Brake fluid.

Why? The maintenance costs are a fraction of the repair or replacement costs. Let’s take a closer look.

Your Hybrid Battery

This is an individual battery module from a Toyota Prius.This is an individual battery module from a Toyota Prius.

There’s traditionally been a lot of fear around hybrid cars and what it costs when the hybrid battery fails, which will happen if you follow Toyota’s specified Hybrid Battery maintenance because, guess what? There is no specified maintenance. Guess what else? The reason there is not recommended maintenance is because there is not a Toyota dealer on this planet that can actually test the battery because they do not have the equipment to do it. Like many independent shops that are wannabe hybrid specialists , the dealer can diagnose a failed battery, but not a pre-failure, aging one, But CARS of America has the equipment and can perform predictive testing. To help consumers overcome their hesitation, the carmakers have paired hybrid sales with battery warranties that last for 100,000 miles or 8 years. Once out of warranty, with no preventive maintenance performed, the battery will fail and it will almost always need a major service and a bunch of modules, most of which could have been avoided.

We’re here to tell you: You don’t have to worry about replacing your hybrid battery. At CARS, we have specialty equipment to recondition your battery and return it to like-new condition typically at less than half the cost of a new battery. And if you service the battery as early as 60,000 miles, the costs are even lower.

What are we talking about? We recommend evaluating the health of your hybrid battery every 60,000 miles or 6 years. At this interval, we typically need to rebalance the individual battery modules, a process by which we bring all the modules or cells in the battery back to the same performance level. We also recondition the copper “buss bars,” which connect the battery modules to one another and allow electricity to flow between them. We usually do not need to replace any hard parts at this time. This service costs about $800 to $1,000.

The hybrid battery terminal (or The hybrid battery terminal (or “buss bar”) on the top has been reconditioned and is as good as new compared to the corroded terminal on the bottom.

If you wait until 100,000 miles and 10 years or longer, we can still recondition the battery, but we will likely have to replace some or several of the battery modules. (A Prius battery has 28 modules.) The average cost of this service is $2,000 to $2,400. It’s a little steeper than the rebalancing service, but it’s still half of what it would cost for a new battery pack at the dealer (about $4,500). (Here’s how we saved one client $2,000 on their hybrid battery.)

Not sure you want to worry about the battery while it’s under warranty? We can understand that. But if you change your mind, we are here and can do a complimentary, high-level Hybrid Battery validation. If it fails that screening, we highly recommend thenon-invasive Battery State of Health Assessment for about $150.

Your Hybrid Transmission

In a conventional transmission, the trans fluid is tasked with building hydraulic pressure to shift gears and cooling and lubricating all of the internal parts, of which there are many. It’s subject to intense heat, pressure and contamination by friction material which causes the fluid to break down over time.

In a hybrid transmission, the fluid lubricates the moving parts and cools two electric motors, but it isn’t subjected to all of the heat or any pressure. This is good, except that it does become contaminated with iron oxide, which can then kill the electric motors. These are expensive to replace. A new Hybrid Transmission runs about $11,000. At CARS, we can repair them or replace only the failed part, which costs significantly less than a new transmission.

But wait! There’s more. An even better idea is to service the transmission fluid every 50,000 miles or 5 years. This consists of draining the dirty fluid from the transmission and refilling it with clean fluid. Again, the cost is about $115.

The Factory Specified Maintenance calls for changing the transmission fluid at 105,000 miles. That approach is fine if you plan on trading the car before or at the end of warranty, but not so good if you’d like to go 200,000 or 300,00 like the vehicle is capable of doing, and the price of being wrong is too high

Your Brake Fluid

Believe it or not, flushing the brake fluid on any vehicle with stability control can prevent a very expensive part failure during a wheel alignment. In the stability control system, there’s a part called a linear valve, which is immersed in brake fluid. If you never flush the brake fluid, the valve can become corroded and stuck in place with sediment, especially during a wheel alignment when part of the computerized alignment process drives the linear valve from full right to full left to calculate the midpoint in the steering wheel turning range. If the valve gets stuck in the corrosion, it has to be replaced, to even make the car drivable again. Otherwise, your service technician won’t be able to properly set the steering wheel to center. There is no way to visually inspect of predict if you will be the unlucky person that has to replace the $3,000 valve with the alignment

How to prevent this? Flush the brake fluid every 2 years or 24,000 miles, or drive around with a steering wheel that isn’t straight and stability control system light on and non-functional; not so good for the resale value.

At CARS, if a high-mileage hybrid with stability control comes in and there’s no history of a brake fluid flush, we will caution the owner about the can of worms we might be getting into. Do yourself a favor: Flush regularly!

The bottom line on hybrids is that they can be very affordable to own and drive, but they aren’t free nor are they maintenance free. Working with the team at CARS of America, you can plan ahead to keep your hybrid affordable, reliable and safe.


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