Car Buyers' Guide: Hybrid maintenance doesn't have

By Jack Biddle

Hybrid maintenance doesn't have to cost more than other vehicles

Hybrids such as the Toyota Prius do not have any specific service items that need to be replaced regularly.
Hybrids such as the Toyota Prius do not have any specific service items that need to be replaced regularly.

John recently read a motoring article about the pros and cons of owning a non-plug-in mainstream hybrid (petrol/electric) vehicle.

It centred mainly on cars sold new in New Zealand so concentrated on the likes of the Honda (Jazz, Civic, CRZ and Insight) and Toyota (Prius, Camry).

One of the claimed downsides of ownership was the need to engage specialised technicians with special equipment to carry out routine maintenance.

"What's the point in owning one of these vehicles if extra service costs take away any fuel savings gained at the pump?" asks John.

"You already pay a premium for the hybrid technology at time of purchase in many cases."

A phone call to Toyota and Honda workshop staff confirmed my initial belief that the routine service schedule for a hybrid/non-hybrid model are pretty much identical.

Toyota and Honda hybrids are fitted with petrol engines that require an oil change and filter at specific time or distance intervals (whichever comes first), exactly the same as any non-hybrid model does.

The hybrid side of the power unit has no regular specific service replacement items to worry about. If a problem was to arise with the hybrid system, a dash warning light would alert the driver to a problem exactly the same as it would for any other on-board electronic malfunction.

Technicians can, and often do, carry out a scan on a vehicle's electronic system as a precaution to check for possible faults being held in the computer's memory, on hybrid and non-hybrid models, but generally if the dash warning lights are not illuminating and the car is running okay, there is little to worry about.

My information would also suggest there are no additional costs associated with the routine servicing of a hybrid vehicle.

Hybrid battery life, however, is another story.

As with a normal car battery, there are no time/distance intervals when the hybrid battery will need to be replaced. New-car warranty on NZ-new vehicles can extend up to eight years/160,000km (whichever comes first) these days, with replacement costs varying between $1000 and $3500 depending on the vehicle distributor concerned.

Sounds a lot, but in reality it wasn't that long ago that owners of late-model vehicles were being hit with large repair bills for replacement items such as cambelts and the various add-ons such as belt tensioners and water pumps plus all the recommended fluid changes, all of which have either disappeared or have been stretched out to around 10 years or 200,000km these days.

Obviously owners of these older-generation models still face those recommended servicing costs.

When talking to the national service manager at Honda NZ, Bryan Davis, on this subject he reminded me about one of the benefits of hybrid ownership when it comes to servicing.

"While the hybrids are no more expensive to service than a conventional petrol vehicle, the brake pads last an awful lot longer due the regenerative braking that takes place when the hybrids are decelerating," he said.

"That is a big saving for many hybrid owners, more so if the brake rotors were in need of resurfacing or required replacement."

Like buying any older vehicle, buyers need to factor in future potential running costs with hybrid batteries simply becoming another potential cost they may, or may not, have to face.

Chances are the higher the mileage or the older the car, the greater the risk of the battery pack needing to be replaced earlier rather than later.

When looking at a used import hybrid, it always pays to find out what the warranty is on the battery, as it is highly unlikely to match that offered by the new-vehicle distributors in New Zealand.

Some of the best people to ask about the routine service or general vehicle running costs of hybrids are taxi drivers. Most would say their fuel savings plus overall low service costs convert to a much healthier bottom line than operating a non-hybrid vehicle.

- NZ Herald

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