Buying a Used Hybrid Car? 5 Beware of 5 Issues With the Honda Insight
As the first hybrid electric car released in the United States, the Honda Insight had the rare chance to define what the archetypical hybrid would come to mean in the minds of consumers. Its EPA record-setting 53 mpg seemed a sign that the future had arrived, a premonition mirrored by the car’s sleek, aerodynamic profile. Critics have decried later generation Insights as Toyota Prius rip-offs, forgetting that the Insight was the originator.
While the Insight’s stellar fuel economy bolstered the hopes of eco-conscious consumers the world over, no car–plug-ins aside–has come close to surpassing the Insight’s 1999 record. Unfortunately, Honda may have been a bit too far ahead of the game, as the Insight suffered from lackluster stateside sales; just over 14,000 first-generation Insights were sold in the US. Thanks in part to this limited supply, Insights are still a hot commodity, kept in vogue by a fervent subculture of hybrid enthusiasts who laud the vehicle as the first and best hybrid car.
But not all is hunky-dory; as Honda’s first generation of Insights ages, certain problems have begun to crop up again and again. Honda has a reputation for rock-solid engineering, but anyone is bound to make a few mistakes in the name of experimentation and innovation. Let’s take a look at the most frequently-cited issues with the Honda Insight:
The Ever-Erratic Auto Stop
In a typical instance of prescient engineering, Honda built an Auto Stop feature into the Insight. The car’s computer detects when the vehicle has come to a stop and shuts off the internal combustion engine, saving gas and imbuing the Insight with that sneaky hybrid silence.
Usually, the engine kicks back in upon acceleration, but according to experienced Insight owners, this is not always the case. Depending on whether the A/C is turned on, and how high you have it cranked, Auto Stop may not kick in at all, or it may stop the engine and then restart it automatically after 12 seconds. Humidity seems to exacerbate the issue, as does a low battery charge. That being said, the finicky Auto Stop feature is more of a slight annoyance, or perhaps a curiosity, than a true problem. Take some time to get acquainted with your Insight, and you should be able to predict the sometimes bizarre patterns of Auto Stop.
One feature of the Insight that has troubled more than a few drivers is Lean Burn Mode, during which the vehicle alters the Air/Fuel ratio in order to achieve higher fuel efficiency at the expense of power. Lean Burn Mode sometimes kicks in and out while the driver is maintaining speed, rather than accelerating, resulting in a mysterious sudden loss (or gain) of power without any movement of the gas pedal. For emissions reasons, Lean Burn Mode must intermittently drop out for periods of 10-20 seconds, but as long as the gas pedal stays put, normal performance should return quickly.
In their noble attempts to make the Insight more gas-efficient, the engineers at Honda strove to cut weight wherever possible, including sound insulation. While owners may appreciate the car’s light weight at the pump, they may feel some regret on the road at high speed, where the Insight is notoriously noisy. Some drivers describe a maddening whistling or howling sound that can only be placated by replacing the windshield entirely. Others blame the stock tires; even Honda has admitted that the tires can pick up excessive wind noise at speed. The solution for most Insight drivers? Slow down. It’s better for gas mileage anyway.
Wiggling and Swaying
The Insight’s teardrop shape–the car tapers towards the back end, both in profile and from above–gives it a drag coefficient of 0.25, resulting in vastly increased fuel economy. The rear tires are slightly closer together than the front tires, allowing them to be partially covered without disturbing the car’s aerodynamic design. Unexpectedly, this slight variation in tire width sends the Insight into a swaying motion at highway speeds. Aficionados refer to this common problem as, “the wiggles,” and consider it standard behavior for stock Insights. 1/8” to 1” spacers on the rear wheels should resolve the issue without otherwise disturbing performance.
IMA Battery Issues
Last but not least, the dreaded IMA Battery light. Every Insight owner fears the day when the IMA–Integrated Motor Assist, Honda’s hybrid car technology–light blinks on for the first time, signaling a problem with the hybrid battery. Batteries of all types can only last so long, and even Honda’s relatively well-designed hybrid batteries must eventually lose their ability to hold a charge. The severity of the problem can often be a factor of whether or not the car is under warranty, as most protected drivers choose to simply replace the battery if Honda is willing to foot the bill. For those drivers without warranty, several options remain for rejuvenating the battery pack, whether through replacement or conditioning; check out our post on Insight battery pack replacement for more detailed information.
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