Hybrid Engine Issues? These Four Tips Can Save You Big Money

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This post was sponsored by CarBrain.
The most recognized hybrid car in the world is the Toyota Prius in all its iterations, and it was one of the first to popularize the trend. Other models came after including the Chevrolet Volt, Honda Insight, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion, and many others. Soon, you’re going to see a serious portion of the cars on the road electrified.

But as with any developing technology, there are bound to be glitches and hiccups. And unlike internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, repairs can become extremely expensive—so much so that car owners are choosing to scrap older hybrid models rather than get them repaired.

CarBrain is an online marketplace for damaged and end-of-life vehicles (a.k.a clunkers) in the US, and COO Marcin Ladowski says that much of the uptick in scrappage is due to lack of maintenance. “The notion that hybrids don’t need maintenance is getting owners into trouble. Not only is there a gas engine that needs servicing, but the electric motor can only be worked on by specialized mechanics. What we’re seeing at CarBrain are people who haven’t been educated on a hybrid’s needs before it’s too late.”

Whether your hybrid is running like a top right now or you’re working through problems with your vehicle, these four tips can help you keep your car on the road longer rather than selling it for scrap.

Don’t Forget the Gas Engine Maintenance!

Electrification and fuel economy are two of the most significant drivers for hybrid vehicles. But having a hybrid doesn’t effectively reduce the amount of maintenance required on the gas engine. When the gas engine is in use, it’s typically running on and off for short spurts—just minutes or even seconds. The time between ignition cycles requires that more starts are required, leading to strain on systems like engine oiling and fuel supply. 

Strictly adhere to the regular maintenance schedule for a hybrid engine to eliminate major issues. For example, the Prius tends to deal with excessive oil consumption, especially when servicing falls to the wayside. Specifically, change the engine oil on time and check its condition during fuel fills. It might sound overly simplistic, but it can save you thousands on repairs.

Give It a Good Burn

A well-documented issue with many models is a Check Engine Light with codes related to catalytic converter inefficiency. The catalytic converter is responsible for superheating unburned hydrocarbons in the exhaust, of which the highest volume is at startup. The typical hybrid model’s gas engine cuts in and out consistently, and it can overwhelm the catalytic converter with particles in the emissions, resulting in a converter core that’s contaminated and unable to do its job.

The fix? It’s all about prevention. Running the gas engine for extended periods from time to time will allow the catalytic converter to achieve its optimal heat, burning off the buildup inside. That likely entails a highway run for twenty to thirty minutes with the gas engine engaged. It could save you a major repair bill to change it out, though.

Recondition the Battery

The most fuel-efficient mode—and the reason most people buy a hybrid—occurs when it’s zipping along silently in all-electric mode. Some popular models like the Honda Accord Hybrid have roughly 50 miles of all-electric range on a full charge. At least, that’s when the car is new.

Eventually, the range diminishes to just half the advertised distance or less, and a dealership might recommend replacing a $4,000 hybrid battery pack to get your range back. However, you may be able to get away with a service that knocks it down to a few hundred dollars.

Most hybrid and EV batteries can undergo reconditioning a few times before requiring replacement. Essentially, the battery needs to be fully charged and balanced, then discharged fully to eliminate the battery “memory.” Performing this cycle three times in a row often recovers as much as 25 percent of the battery’s capacity.

Keep Watch for Recalls

All over the internet, hybrid owners are posting concerns with various makes that have a common thread. Even though the symptoms are very different—loss of acceleration, Check Engine Lights, Check Hybrid System warnings, inverter failures, and more—they often boil down to outstanding recall campaigns.

Recalls are issued when faults are discovered by either the manufacturer or NHTSA, especially when it applies to safe driving. With your car’s 17-digit VIN number, you can check for outstanding recalls on the NHTSA website or on the manufacturer’s website. There is no cost to have recalls performed at the dealership either, so it’s a no-brainer if you don’t have to spend thousands to get your car up and running.

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