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Ask The Hybrid Shop: Can a Poorly Performing Hybrid Car Battery Be Fixed?

This is the first of a series of posts on hybrid car battery maintenance and service, authored by The Hybrid Shop. HECN is happy to welcome them as our first Service Advisor. 

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If you own a hybrid car, chances are you’ve heard two questions time and time again from the lips of inquisitive friends and family, strangers and passers by: “What’s the gas mileage?” followed by, “What about when the battery dies? I’ve heard they’re expensive to replace.”

This most pervasive of hybrid rumors, while perhaps a bit overblown, is not without a kernel of truth. Hybrid batteries do have a limited lifespan, they do sometimes cause problems, and they can be quite expensive to replace. But many a curious hybrid neophyte has yet to understand that replacement is not the only option; thousands of aging and poorly performing hybrid batteries have been brought back from the brink of extinction to power their vehicle once more…

Hybrid Car Batteries Can Be Fixed–but Which Ones?

The primary decision that needs to be made when a customer brings in their hybrid vehicle with complaints of battery issues is whether or not it makes economic sense to attempt to resuscitate the battery at all. Sometimes, a hybrid battery can be too far gone for conditioning to be effective. Other times, internal damage is so pervasive that certain modules or battery components need to be replaced prior to undergoing a conditioning cycle. The limits of what is physically possible through the conditioning process must be balanced with the customer’s budget and expectations.

Determining a given hybrid battery’s actual status–and therefore its likelihood of responding well to a conditioning cycle–is in practice as much an art as a science. The health of a battery can’t be solely determined by looking at it, nor by driving its parent vehicle. While potentially helpful, neither method is necessarily indicative of the battery’s condition. We can and do run high-level, scientific diagnostics on the vehicle while it is being driven, providing a more conclusive picture of the battery’s status and sometimes ruling out the battery as the source of the problem.

You–The Driver–Are Our Best Source of Information

Despite the empirical allure of running the vehicle through our diagnostics, anecdotal evidence from the customer often proves to be our most reliable source of information about a hybrid battery and its history.

The length of time that a battery has been exhibiting problematic symptoms is our first indication of its status: the longer a battery pack operates in a limited or poor condition, the slimmer its chance of recovering. When batteries begin to develop problems, the car’s computer responds by relying less heavily on the faulty battery for acceleration and sustaining speed. The less often a battery is utilized, the more rapidly it degrades: a feedback loop of increasing severity.

The best thing a hybrid owner can do for their trusty green vehicle is to take it into the shop as soon as the battery warning light flicks on or a drop in performance is noticed. A hybrid battery pack that has been suffering for less than a month is much more responsive to conditioning than a battery languishing in disrepair for months on end. With badly neglected batteries, our last-ditch effort is to attempt conditioning and cross our fingers. A keenly observant and responsive owner can be the best preventative medicine for any hybrid car.

Many of the cars that end up in the care of The Hybrid Shop are brought to us with complaints of diminished performance, be it sluggish acceleration, unsatisfactory fuel economy, or any one of a host of tangible power-related issues. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to ascertain whether or not the battery pack is at fault on the lone basis of performance. This is especially problematic when the battery warning light is on, as the computer’s allocation of power begins to change as soon as it detects a faulty battery, masking the gap between the battery’s normal performance and its temporarily and purposefully minimized performance. Here again, our best bet may be to perform conditioning and analyze the results–measuring change rather than attempting to quantify static condition.

The Impact of a Car’s History on Battery Performance

Another dimension of our assessment is the condition in which the battery was kept during its lifetime. Months or even years of storage on a salvage yard shelf or a summer spent undriven in a sweltering garage can greatly reduce a battery’s likelihood of responding positively to conditioning. Extremes of temperature, whether uncomfortably hot or freezing cold, are considered unfavorable for any battery, be it the lithium-ion battery in your cell phone or the nickel-metal hydride battery pack in a hybrid car.

All of the information that a customer can provide about a car’s history–even the seemingly trivial details–can prove vitally important when evaluating a hybrid battery’s likely responsiveness to the conditioning process. If your hybrid vehicle is experiencing diminished performance, feel free to leave us some details in the comment section below or contact us directly here. We’d be more than happy to talk about your car and what we can do to get it back to top performance.


HECN is happy to welcome the TheHybridShop.com, a new green automotive startup, as our first Service Advisor.  The mission of The Hybrid Shop is to “provide the highest quality maintenance, service and repair experience for hybrid electric vehicle owners.” Read more about them and servicing hybrid electric cars here.  You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Google Plus, and YouTube.

 

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Sebastian James

sebastian@sebastianwjames.me

Accept no substitutes

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