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Information About Hybrids

Is it worth it to buy a hybrid?

This totally depends on what you are looking for. Right now, you will still probably spend more for a hybrid than you will save in gas over the long haul, compared to a conventional propulsion system. But there are other reasons to buy a hybrid. If you subscribe to the theory of global warming, there is no question that hybrids emit less CO2 than a conventional power plant. And even you are not convinced that man has a major influence on our climate, no one can argue that burning less oil and emitting less pollution is a good thing.

How long will my hybrid high voltage battery last?

It would seem they last a pretty long time. Toyota's warranty on the batteries is 10 years 100,000 miles. Some states, like California, require an extension of that warranty for even longer. We have heard Toyota claims that since the Prius model year 2000, they have not replaced a HV battery due to wear and tear. The best answer to this question is: time will tell.

How much does the replacement battery cost?

Hybrids have two batteries. The high voltage battery that powers the car is the expensive one. You should check with your manufacturer for the actual cost. The MSRP for the HV battery on our Toyota Camry Hybrid is about $3600.00. Many people claim that by the time your hybrid battery needs to be replaced, the batteries will be cheaper and better. We'll see.

Do I have to plug in a hybrid?

As of now, you don't. There are companies that do plug-in conversions that enable the car to be driven further on electricity alone. Just remember plugging in your hybrid will raise your electricity bill, and in most cases something was burned and pollution was emitted to produce that power.

How come my Prius doesn't really get 60 mpg in the city?

The Prius is capable of running on batteries alone up to 40 mph. It can do this until the battery discharges too far. After that the I.C.E. (internal combustion engine) is running. Also, while it is possible to accelerate from a stop to 40 mph without the I.C.E. coming on, it requires a VERY light foot and you will likely have some upset people behind you.

When you are on battery alone you are getting infinite mpg but it drops way off when you accelerate normally. If there was some city, somewhere, where you could drive around at 40 mph or less and never or rarely have to stop at a light, I'm sure you could get 60 mpg. If you happen to live in such a city, let us know because we're going to move there.

Our guess is the EPA testing was done under optimal conditions as opposed to real world conditions. Most of our Prius owners are getting 45-48 mpg average. Civic Hybrids are running about 40-42 mpg, and Insights can top 50 mpg. Our Camry Hybrid gets a consistent 37-38 mpg and it has plenty of pep, seating five adults in reasonable comfort.

What's wrong with the gas gauge on my Prius?

Chances are nothing is wrong with the gas gauge on your Prius. They are so notoriously inaccurate that some refer to the gas gauge as the "guess gauge."

The gauge inaccuracy is due to a very unique design inside the gas tank. Inside the metal tank is a rubber bladder that contains the fuel. The idea is that as the fuel level goes down, the bladder collapses, thereby limiting the amount of air the fuel is exposed to, and reducing evaporative emissions. The problem, it seems, is the amount of fuel the rubber bladder can hold is greatly affected by ambient temperature -- so you may find the accuracy of the gas gauge varies with the seasons. Nice.

The bottom line here is: don't let your Prius run out of gas! It can cause problems. If the gas gauge begins to flash, fill up as soon as possible. Better yet, fill it up when you get down to 1/2 tank. You will be glad you did if some disaster strikes and you can't pump gas because the power is out.

If I own a hybrid, can I drive in the HOV lane?

In California, many cars that had an EPA mileage rating over 45 mpg and met certain emission standards were eligible for HOV lane stickers no matter what powered them. However, California is no longer issuing HOV stickers and this law is set to expire in 2011. Please be aware of this before you spend top dollar for a used hybrid that has HOV stickers. The stickers may become useless in a few years if new laws are not passed.

Should I buy a hybrid with a "salvage" title to save a few bucks?

Be very careful here. When gas prices were spiking during the summer in 2008, we were inundated with folks wanting us to do pre-purchase inspections on used Priuses (or would it be Priusi?). The ones with HOV stickers that were not salvaged were selling for 4 to 6 thousand dollars more the brand new ones. Salvage Priuses with HOV stickers were selling for nearly the same price as new ones. We inspected over 10 salvaged Priuses in a month and only had a "buy" recommendation for one of them. If you're thinking of buying any salvage-title used car you should have it inspected by a trustworthy, un-biased shop that has your best interests in mind.

How do I get the best mileage out of my hybrid?

All of our suggestions for fuel savings for regular cars still apply to hybrids, with some minor tweaking.

Hybrids get better mileage for one reason alone: regenerative braking recycles the energy that a conventional vehicle wastes when it is decelerating or braking. Any time your foot is off the gas pedal, you are recycling the normally wasted energy and storing it in the HV battery for later use. This does not mean our advice to "avoid using your brakes" should be ignored if you are driving hybrid. At a certain point, if you brake hard enough, the conventional brakes on your hybrid will apply and slow the car, wasting energy.

Try to keep your hybrid in "stealth mode," a term used by hybrid enthusiasts: any time the car is turned on and the engine is not running, you are in stealth mode. The onboard computer controls stealth mode completely but there are some things you can do to encourage it. Stealth mode can only occur below 40 mph. Go for stealth mode when you can anticipate a substantial run at a constant speed below 40 without stopping.

To get there quickly, accelerate from a stop quickly to just above your desired speed, then lift your foot. If the HV battery is sufficiently charged, the engine should shut down. Now you can add just enough pedal to maintain your desired speed. You are now getting infinite mpg. Try to anticipate upcoming stops and coast down as long as possible before hitting the brakes.

Be aware that "stealth mode" only applies to the Toyota Hybrid System (THS), or generation 1 Prius, and the Hybrid Synergy Drive system (HSD). One of these systems is used on all Toyota, Lexus, Nissan, Ford Escape, and Mercury Mariner hybrids. It does not apply to Honda Hybrids, as they cannot run on electricity alone.

What does the "B" position do on the transmission shift lever?

"B" stands for braking. If you are going down a long steep grade and are worried about using up your brakes, you can shift to "B." This will allow the compression of the engine to help slow the car. It is similar to down-shifting a conventional transmission.

The testing we've done indicates that using up or overheating your brakes is not a big concern because of the regenerative braking that occurs. We've gone down some very steep grades that would have smoked the brakes on a regular car without using the "B" range and have not heated up the hybrid's brakes at all. What we don't yet know is if you get better mileage using "B" or just using the brake pedal. We suspect that "B" uses more fuel because the engine is running at high rpm in "B."

Hybrid Horrors

(or what not to do to your hybrid)

We have a customer who drives a 2002 Prius. They brought the 12v battery in without the car, saying it went dead and could we please charge and test it. We did, and the battery tested fine. We advised them to make an appointment so we could check out the electrical system to make sure everything was ok.

They put the battery back in the car and resumed using the car. It did not take long for the problems to begin again. What we didn't know was the master warning light (a triangle with an exclamation point inside it) and several other warning lights were also on. The Prius arrived a few days later on a tow truck, out of gas and with the high voltage battery almost completely discharged. The gas gauge read about 1\2 full.

What the owner did not realize was that you can drive a Prius around with no gas and the engine not running! Sounds great until the HV battery runs out of juice. Just a little bit more driving with no gas, and this car would have been headed for an expensive trip to the dealer to get its high voltage battery recharged.

After adding gas and resetting all of the 7 computers on the Prius, everything was fine. The Prius has a notoriously inaccurate gas gauge but this was a little extreme. This car needed a new fuel tank, engine computer, and a flash reprogram to correct the problem.

The moral of the story is: don't ignore the warning lights on any car, especially a hybrid. If they are coming on, then there may be a problem that needs to be addressed to avoid getting stranded and incurring unnecessary costs.