Hybrid Vehicle Maintenance
There’s an awful lot to like about the current generation of hybrid vehicles. Gas mileage figures that “fossil fuelers” can only dream about. Cool technology. And the fact you’re doing the Earth a favor. But what about maintenance? How do hybrids and non-hybrids compare when it comes to keeping them on the road?
What is a Hybrid Vehicle, Exactly?
Most hybrid vehicles use both a gas engine and an electric motor. The car stores the energy produced while you drive and brake, and as you travel the car makes decisions about which fuel source to use, based on hundreds of automatic split-second decisions. Because the car switches power sources automatically, you end up using less gasoline than a conventional vehicle—some of the time you’re running solely on the hybrid’s battery, sometimes on regular fuel power.
How is Hybrid Vehicle Maintenance Different?
You may think that with both a gas engine and electric motor, you’ll need twice the maintenance to keep your hybrid in optimal condition. Not so! According to Edmunds, “Most hybrid cars do not require any additional regular maintenance on the hybrid-specific components.”
Given that the routine stuff—tune ups, oil changes, tire rotations, etc.—won’t differ much with a hybrid, it’s important to stick to your scheduled maintenance plan. Of course your driving habits largely dictate your maintenance needs, but the most significant difference you’ll see with a hybrid are:
The Braking System
Hybrid cars use a Regenerative Braking System to help collect the energy lost as you slow the car. In addition to providing energy for later use, the system reduces heat and friction—and subsequently wear and tear—on your brake pads allowing them to last much longer.
The Battery System
The main battery used in the hybrid component is very large, and expensive—often a few thousand dollars. But these aren’t like regular car batteries—they’re designed to last through much of your hybrid’s life and often have warranties covering them for long periods.
Hybrid Do-It-Yourselfer… Beware!
If you’re used to maintaining your own gasoline-powered vehicle, you may be shocked to learn that your “gear-head” knowledge can have limits in the hybrid world. When engineers fused together gas and electric power systems, they employed the use of extremely sophisticated electronics. So while you may still be able to check your fluids, change spark plugs, and replace things like air filters, you’ll probably be scratching your head when it comes to more advanced tasks.
- Hybrid’s oil weights may be unfamiliar to do-it-yourselfers, with new synthetic weights like 0W-20 being a common specification.
- Even though the hybrid battery may be hidden in the hatch or trunk, its complex wiring system reaches all the way to the engine compartment. So knowing what something is before touching it is critical.
- Some hybrids specify replacing tires with similar “low rolling resistance” tires.
- If you need 50 pounds of tools in the trunk to feel safe, don’t forget that weight is one of fuel economy’s biggest enemies.
Remember that you’re potentially encountering components with many more volts of electricity (often denoted by their bright orange casing). Don’t get shocked—leave troubleshooting, diagnosis, and repair of anything major to a service professional.