Toyota® Prius®. BMW® X6®. Ford® Fusion Hybrid®. Mazda® Tribute®. The list goes on, with new hybrid vehicles being introduced—and familiar models being offered as hybrids—nearly every year. Hybrid vehicles are no longer the wave of the future. They are here and they are widely used, for personal vehicles, taxis, delivery vehicles, ride-sharing and more.
We spoke with Carolyn Coquillette of Luscious Garage, a hybrid specialist in San Francisco, California, to get the scoop on hybrids. There are some differences between hybrid and exclusively gas-powered vehicles, but one thing remains the same—both types of vehicles require regular care and maintenance to stay in peak running condition.
While some hybrid drivers will only visit the dealer for service, any shop can actually work on hybrid vehicles—no special certification is required. Coquillette says, “There’s nothing you can’t do with the appropriate tools and training.” Adding hybrid vehicle maintenance and repair to your shop’s offerings can expand your customer list and your car count.
There may be a misperception that hybrids require less maintenance but Coquillette says, “Even though hybrids are reliable and require little repair, they are still machines and need regular upkeep and some TLC.” As with all vehicles, there are factory recommended services at set intervals, ranging from oil changes to replacing spark plugs. Recommended maintenance and service procedures are included in ALLDATA Repair, along with Technical Service Bulletins outlining known issues and fixes. The Toyota Prius is the most common hybrid on the road, so the information below is based on the Prius.
Coquillette notes that although many people are concerned about replacing the hybrid vehicle battery, which can cost thousands of dollars, it isn’t commonly needed. “It’s an once-in-a-lifetime larger failure and doesn’t happen as often as people think it does.” However, there are two specific areas that shops working on hybrids should note: the frequency of changing transmission fluid and maintenance of the hybrid battery fan.
Transmission fluid should be changed every 30,000 miles on hybrid vehicles—and it’s a pretty standard replacement procedure, just a different interval than exclusively gas-powered vehicles. The battery fan is a more interesting element. Inspecting and cleaning the fan isn’t included in the standard factory-recommended service for all vehicles. Toyota notes that “high-use” vehicles under certain conditions should have fans checked—conditions like being driven for more than 15 hours a day, six days a week, with more than 50 back-seat riders per day. It sounds like taxis are the only vehicles that need the fan checked…but Coquillette says there’s another situation to consider.
Dust and debris from normal driving can clog the fan, but the biggest culprit may be pet hair. Prius drivers who regularly transport their pets in the back seat may find their battery fan is clogged much faster than other drivers. This is because the battery cooling fan is located in the rear of the Prius and does not have a filter. It can become clogged and stop working, which results in the battery overheating and shortening its life span. Coquillette recommends inspecting and cleaning the battery cooling fan every 60,000 miles as part of a standard service, or as a stand-alone service to prevent issues.
There are a few common repairs for shops to be aware of when working with hybrid vehicles. The most common, according to Coquillette, are tires, headlight bulbs and water pumps. Hybrid tires have lower rolling resistance than standard tires and since hybrids tend to be driven regularly, the tires don’t last as long. This is especially true with taxis or delivery vehicles. If your shop sells tires, it’s a good idea to have inventory, or easy access, to hybrid tires.
Headlight bulbs on many Prius models are High Intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs and, unlike Halogen bulbs, may flicker or be intermittently inoperable as they near end-of-life. Water pumps may be a more common issue because the Prius has two water pumps: one each for the gas and electric motors. ALLDATA Repair includes the testing and replacement procedures and important safety precautions for both issues. If you are not a current subscriber of ALLDATA Repair you can still access this from the OEM-accurate information with a Free Trial, simply click here to get started.
For shops interested in learning more about hybrid vehicle repair, visit the Luscious Garage website. Coquillette posts videos on YouTube, blogs and shares a variety of information about hybrids and repairs. Also, check out what ALLDATA Repair has to offer for hybrid vehicles. Submit a Library Request if you don’t see what you need, or call ALLDATA Tech-Assist for one-on-one advice from experts. We’re here to help you.