What are the Common Problems with Hybrid Cars – Shocking Truth


A hybrid car has less moving parts than a regular car, but it can still develop some very expensive problems.  Since hybrid technology is fairly new when compared to a conventional car,  there are components that have to be tested thoroughly.  Nevertheless, I still feel that this newer technology is better than the old tech.

What are the most common problems that a Hybrid can develop?  A hybrid car could develop one of the following common problems: battery pack for the electric motor could die, the 12v battery is relatively small and it has been known to discharge too quickly, also the lack of an extensive infrastructure for charging stations is a problem when one needs to take a long trip on a highway.

I will explain in more detail the above major drawbacks or problems that some encounter with a hybrid.  I scoured forums and other websites to dig up these dirty little secrets.  Nevertheless, I just wanted to reiterate that these problems do not occur with 100 percent of hybrids.  If that were the case, the manufacturers would have been on top of this situation and quick changes in design would have already occurred.

The Replacement of Battery Pack can be Expensive

Even though the first hybrid was manufactured by Toyota in 1997, the concern for the battery pack is still a big issue.  The fact that they are high voltage does scare some people.  Initially, I thought that I would need to be careful with my hybrid in order to ensure that I did not shake up my battery pack, but now know that the pack is well insulated and protected.  Even so, it is an expensive item that has a lifespan that is not unlimited.

Years ago, it would have cost you as much as $8000 to replace a battery pack in a hybrid.  Nowadays, the pricing is a lot better, maybe 75 percent less than initially.  Still, I feel that anytime one might have to fork out a few grand for something, it is an amount that can disrupt most personal budgets.

There are Options for a Prius Owner

If you have an older Prius, you can assume that soon that you might have to replace the battery pack.  Replacement pricing can vary because there are numerous sources of Prius battery packs. Also, you can find services that provide a guarantee on refurbished packs that will save you a lot of cash.

Newer Models Means Fewer Options for the Battery Pack

However, if you do not have an older hybrid, your options are going to be more limited.  Manufacturers do not necessarily use packs that are universal.  Newer vehicles have packs that weigh a lot less and that has different functions.

One such newer Hybrid is the Honda Clarity that can be the plugin type of hybrid.  It was first available in leases only, and the public was able to purchase one back in July 2018. I have noticed on forums that people are already starting to get stressed out since they have realized that the battery pack options for it are limited.  Plus, the price is high since it has not been massively manufactured like the Prius Battery Pack.

Another Problem with a Hybrid is the Wonderful Lifetime Warranty on the Battery Pack that Manufacturers are Pushing

I have never been terribly excited by a lifetime warranty on anything.  They all seem to have a loophole for the manufacturer.  For example, some might say that the warranty is only valid with normal use.  Those types of restrictions really reduce the risk for them.

I have heard that Hyundai does the lifetime warranty offer, but that they state that the battery pack is not considered dead until it goes below 70 percent of its capacity.  For instance, if you pack has a few faulty cells, it might be operating for a few years at 75 percent capacity which Hyundai would consider as being alive and kicking.  Just imagine the extra amount of electrical power your limbing battery pack would require.

So, do not get swayed by such an offer, it is good but it is not perfect.

Guarantee for the Orginal Owner Only

Another caveat is that you must be the original owner.  Even if you were to sell it a day after purchasing it brand new, the warranty would become invalid for the next owner.  How many people actually keep their vehicles until it is ready for the junkyard? I do not.

Does the Guarantee State that the Replacement will be a New Pack?

You also have to read the fine print on the type of replacement.  Perhaps it will be a refurbished battery that will only last a few years? Or maybe they will only be willing to replace dead cells? If the battery pack is not brand new, you may have to deal with another replacement scenario in the near future that will not be covered by the lifetime warranty.

Problems with the 12v in a Hybrid

I have read numerous problems with the 12v battery in Hybrids.  You might be assuming that it not really that important because of the high voltage of the hybrid battery pack that supplies electrical power.  Nevertheless, the 12v is needed for the initial bootup of the onboard computers and through a relay, it tells the main battery pack to start to supply electricity to the electric motor.  In essence, it acts like an alarm clock that wakes up the sleeping electric battery pack.

So, it is evident that a 12v is needed to start a hybrid even though it has a larger electric battery network.  It is frustrating to think that such a small component that is relatively cheap in price could hinder your hybrid from starting up.  The site MoneyCrashers.com states that many Prius owners end up replacing their 12v with an aftermarket battery.  Apparently, the 12v battery that is with a new Prius does not have a powerful 12v.  The aftermarket version actually lasts a lot longer than the battery that is incorporated into a brand new Prius.

I do not own a Prius, but if this a fact, perhaps, the Prius designers should rethink which 12v is added during production.

Regen Braking Master Cylinder Can Cause Problems

I know that it is easy to find numerous obscure problems with a hybrid if you dig far enough into forum posts. But I wanted to mention that problems have occurred with the master cylinder for regenerative braking.  If you end up having this problem, the quotes that you will receive to fix a hybrid that is out of warranty will shock you.

If the regen braking master cylinder dies, another component called the hybrid control unit will probably die along with it.  Those components can cost as much as $1200 and $3600. This pricing does not include the labor involved.

Replacing these items is something that a lot of mechanics steer away from because it involves playing around with the ABS.  Nevertheless, it is best to get numerous mechanics to look into these items since sometimes the warning lights do not match the problems.

I have read a case in a forum on Edmunds, of an owner of a Ford Hybrid that was quoted $5k by one garage, and then ended up having the repair done for only $176.  It seems that the complexity of hybrid computer systems causes numerous problems with signaling parts that might be defective.  In this particular case, the mechanic simply did some reprogramming of the ABS and bleed the brakes instead of replacing those high-priced parts.

In other words, treat mechanics as you would for getting a doctor’s diagnosis, get a second and even a third opinion before letting your hybrid go under the scalpel.

Recalls are a Hassle and Frequent for the Relatively New Hybrid Technology

If you were to type in your car model and year and the word ‘recalls’, you probably will see something come up as a recall.

Once a new model comes out, there will be a number of recalls that happen since full-fledged testing on all possible combinations of functions for a hybrid can rarely be achieved in a lab setting.

For instance, I had purchased a new Sonata about 7 years ago, and it started to develop a strange sound, like that of a cricket.  It was completely annoying, and it was driving me nuts.  I took it back to my dealer and the sound would oddly not show up when they did a road test.

I am not saying that Sonatas were recalled for this problem, but it might be something that they ended up altering if numerous reports had occurred.  It might have been a problem that shows up only after a few weeks.  In other words, newer models will have slight adjustments that will need to be made for future models.

If you have the newest model of hybrid that does not have previous versions, you may have to deal with some recalls versus if the model had earlier versions like the Prius.

How are Recalls Dealt with on Hybrids

I read an interesting report online on the LATimes website that questions the effectiveness of Toyota for dealing with recalls.  The article was written in such a way that makes the reader feel as if Toyota was looking for a band-aid solution to a problem.  The problem was occurring in the Prius hybrid that was manufactured between  2010-2014.  There were 20,000 vehicles that needed to be recalled for an overheating problem.

Transistors were being fried because the inverter that regulates the amount of power going from the battery to its electric motors was overheating.  Toyota quickly reprogrammed some software that seemed to prevent the overheating.  Nevertheless, cases of overheating eventually started to resurface even after the update.

One Toyota dealer claimed that Toyota should replace the inverters even though the cost to Toyota would have been thousands per car.  Toyota stated that they were ok with the software upgrade because it prevented the inverter from completely dying.  Also, the vehicle would go into a slower mode so that the driver would not be stuck at the side of the road.  This slow mode was set at 15 mph, which would allow the hybrid to travel far enough to safely pull off the road.

Do I think that Toyota was choosing the software upgrade route to save money? Perhaps, but you need to be aware that the tech with hybrids is complex and it changes from model to model. Plus, any progression in design may spark recalls.

Catalytic Converter Issue with Some Hybrids

A hybrid has a catalytic converter that breaks down the exhume fumes before they exit the exhaust pipe.  If you have a fully electric car, your car does not have a catalytic converter.  Without such a converter in a hybrid, the poisonous exhaust fumes will enter into the atmosphere untreated.

What is interesting about a catalytic converter is that hardly ever fails, but I decided that you need to be aware of a different type of problem with it.  It tends to be the target of thieves.  I have read numerous reports that stated that Prius cars are targeted for their converters.

They are easily removed.  Thieves are just cutting the wiring and ripping out the small metal box which is the converter. They are able to resell them for as much as $300.  I read a recent article on the Sacramento CBS site that stated that a series of cars along the I-80 had their converters ripped out.  What is interesting, is that you might not realize right away that your converter is missing.  Nevertheless, sooner or later your dashboard will flash an error message.

Once you have been warned of a problem, your trip to the garage will not be pleasant if your warranty has expired.  Even though someone can resell a converter for just a few hundred dollars, repairing the problem could run you as much as $5000.  The thieves do not care about the delicate wiring loom that they are cutting into.  They just snip away to free the converter and then run off into the night.

How do you protect your converters? There is not much that you can do actually.  Just try to have good insurance and try not to leave your hybrid parked in unlit areas.  Regarding replacing a unit, you could try to source one at a local junkyard.  They are actually quite simple in construction and getting a used converter might not be a huge undertaking.

Oxygen Sensor

I have read reports that people are needing to replace their oxygen sensors.  In a hybrid, you may have a sensor under the hood or even connected close to the catalytic converter.  Something as simple as a rock could break the sensor.  If you have a faulty sensor, you run the chance of wrecking the expensive catalytic converter.

I also read a thread on the CarGurus forum from a hybrid owner that damaged his sensor by driving through water.  He had noticed that a filter was soaked and decided to chance a sensor in case it was damaged.  Changing a sensor on your own is fine if you make sure that you are replacing it with the correct sensor.  Personally, I would just have a mechanic switch it out since it could affect the converter.

If you are seeing a warning code that states that an Oxygen Sensor is creating a slow circuit response, a trip to the garage is advisable.  I have read online that some people simply swap out the sensor in question with a  new one.  After 30 minutes or so, the message appears again for the brand new sensor.  In other words, it could be a problem elsewhere, like in the catalytic converter, that is causing this error message.

If you are wondering about the cost to replace the sensor on your own, here is what I had found out.  Replacing a sensor on your own could cost close to $100.  If you have it replaced by a mechanic, the bill could be as much as $500 which includes the labor.

Steering of a Hybrid Versus Compared to a Conventional Vehicle

I have found numerous reports left by people on forums regarding their dissatisfaction with the handling of their hybrids.  The reports were not for one specific car.  For instance, someone that had a Hyundai Ioniq claimed that the alignment was going off numerous times.  Another person stated that their Prius had a strange noise radiating from their steering column.

Perhaps certain models are having problems with their steering column.  Personally, I feel that the problem is the weight distribution.  A hybrid is designed to be as light as possible.  They need to be light in order to save on gas and also to allow the vehicle to run farther on just electricity when within a city environment. The dependancy on light materials is probably creating less design attention on the suspension,  This flimsy suspension could be affecting the steering and effectiveness of the steering column.

Do I know for sure that this is the root cause of power steering problems in certain hybrids? No, but I am not the only person that feels this way.  I read an article written by an automotive editor on the CarsDirect website that highlighted that one of the drawbacks of a hybrid is that they are not equipped with suspensions that are sport-tuned.  The main goal when designing a hybrid is weight reduction.

Personally, I have noticed that my Sonata hybrid seems to make a lot more creaking noises than my previous Sonata that was non-hybrid.  It is evident that the materials used are lighter than in a conventional car.  In other words, maybe the suspension is not as strong creating steering problems to occur.

Truck Space is Limited

Something that I had enjoyed about my non-hybrid Sonata was the truck space.  I never had to worry about grocery shopping. I could purchase whatever I wished and I managed to cram it into the truck.  Now with my hybrid sonata, truck space is one of those dreaded trade-offs. I save a ton of gas while driving in the city, but the truck space is probably about 1/3 of what it was before.

Nevertheless, I have determined ways of using the space more effectively. I just have to pack in the bags systematically.  If I have something too large for the truck, I just throw it into the back seating area.  Not really a big deal actually.  In other words, do not decide not to buy a hybrid just because of the limited truck space.

By the way, the truck space is limited because the battery takes up the extra space.  It is the perfect place to situate the large battery cells. Because of the battery cells, it usually is impossible to lower the backseats.  So, if you need to be able to do so for transporting large items, a hybrid might not be a good choice for you

Infrastructure is Not There…. Yet

The availability of plugin ports is still limited. You cannot assume that while traveling that you will be able to easily charge up your PHEV.  I noticed that some hotels do not even specify if there is an area to plugin your vehicle.  You need to call them first to see if it is possible.  Sometimes the employees do not realize that hybrid plugin vehicles can be plugged into a regular outlet.

It can take a  longer period of time to charge them up at a regular electrical outlet, perhaps overnight, but you can rest assured that you will have a full charge the next morning before continuing on your trip.

Also, a lot of restaurants may have an outlet that they offer free to clients, but what happens if several people with plugin hybrids arrive at the same time? The cost for a commerce to offer a charging station is still quite high and most restaurants, because of this unknown cost, are not willing to have one installed.

I guess that over time that the availability will match the present demand.  Nevertheless, the lack of charging stations makes most people avoid purchasing a hybrid.  They can be charged at home which is a plus, but when you are traveling outside of your city or town, the chances are still not 100 percent that you be able to find out of the speedy charging stations.

Larger Battery Pack Creates More Weight, other Parts are Cheaper and Lighter

Besides the lack of charging stations, the fact that the battery pack is heavy, designers tend to use parts that are much lighter than normal. These lighter parts might even be sub-par.  Personally, I have noticed that my hybrid has an interior that is designed with materials that are different thicknesses of plastic.  My previous car was a hyundai genesis and it seemed to have materials in the inside that provided less creaking sounds when the interior was cold during the winter.

Use Gas During the Winter to Warm the Car

Something that you need to be aware of is that during the wintertime, your hybrid will use gas to heat the interior of the car fast.  These cannot be done with just the electric motor.  The time to heat the interior is short but over a period of a month, you will notice a difference in your gas consumption compared to the level used during the summertime. This is not something that a salesperson will highlight when you are shopping for a hybrid.

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