Hybrid Owner Questions   Leave a comment

I was going to do a post on either composting or carpet recycling today, but I realized that my response to my husband’s uncle’s questions about hybrids would make a good post instead. (And since it took me almost an hour to write the email response, I ran out of time to write a separate blog post.)

We are a two-hybrid family. My husband is a “newbie” hybrid owner with his 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. I’m a veteran owner with my 2001 Toyota Prius. I was one of the experimental owners. I ordered my Prius in the first couple of months that Toyota started taking orders for them, so my baby is a 2001 model 1st generation Prius. She’s driven in Albuquerque, Bay Area, Sacramento area, and three times between Albuquerque and Bay Area/Sacramento, plus various other trips around California. Ooh, I just realized that today, 23 September 2010 is her 9 and a half anniversary! I’m so proud of my car (I should probably give her a car wash for her birthday).

My husband’s uncle will be teaching a class on hybrids this semester, and he emailed us some questions about our experiences with our cars:

1. Overall reliability, repairs, any nagging problems. Overall, she’s perfect. I’ve had no problems with the hybrid system. Really, I’ve had no major problems at all. I can tell that she’s not a new car any more, but I’d say she’s still running great for 9 and half years. There have been various recalls over the last decade, but they’ve all been taken care of and I never had any problems. I don’t notice reduced performance of the hybrid system, but I’m not sure that I would notice it until there was a noticeable decrease in gas mileage.

The only minor mechanical problem that I’ve had is related to long crank time in cold weather. Since the driver doesn’t crank the engine when turning the car on, there’s no way to know when the engine is having trouble turning over. When it is cold and the crank time is longer, the warning lights can come on. It first happened to me the first Thanksgiving that I had her, when she’d been sitting outside for a long weekend while I was out of town. When I got home it was below freezing and when I started her up, the warning lights came on. I panicked, spent the night at my mom’s instead of driving home, and carefully drove in to the dealer the next morning. They read the diagnostic code and told me that it was just the car telling me that the crank time was unusually long. Last winter after we were out of town for a long weekend while my car was outside, I started her up and the warning lights came on. I drove my errands like usual, figuring that she just needed to be warmed up, and sure enough the next morning the warning lights were gone.

2. Fuel economy as advertised. In the first year and a half that I had Hagan I averaged higher than advertised gas mileage. Since moving to CA, though, my lifetime gas mileage has decreased (I suspect it’s because of the ethanol), and I’m now only 47 mpg (advertised was 48). It’s depressing that recently my 3rd quartile gas mileage dropped below 50 mpg. That was a depressing month when I realized that. My inter-quartile range is approximately 43.5-49.75 mpg. Hagan has a high variability in gas mileage depending on weather. Mike’s car has demonstrated little to no temperature-related fluctuations in gas mileage over the last year and a half. In CA my gas mileage fluctuates about 10 mpg between winter and summer. In Albuquerque where the temperature range is greater (teens to 100s), the fluctuation was more like 15-20 mpg between summer and winter.

3. Performance with pedal to the metal as needed when passing or climbing hills. When I first got Hagan (spring 2001), I had been driving my family’s old 1986 Toyota Corolla. I felt like I had major power under the hood with Hagan. The old car couldn’t maintain 75 mph on the big hills on the freeway to my mom’s house, but Hagan could accelerate past 75 on those hills. I’ve never “taken her out to see what she can do” despite that being one of the questions I get the most as a hybrid owner. But when I need to accelerate on a hill or passing (or passing on a hill), she’s usually quite up for the job (although it is sometimes a bit noisy). I do experience some unpredictability in the amount of get up and go, though. I don’t think Mike has this issue with his newer hybrid, especially since it is an SUV. I figure it is because of the dynamic allocation of power draw between the engine and the motor based on the level of charge of the battery and the amount of power needed. Since the engine and the motor have very different horsepower and torque ratings, there is a noticeable difference in the response if the car is running more on motor or more on engine at a given moment. As a result, she does sometimes feel sluggish when I need to accelerate quickly, but it hasn’t been a problem for me. If I were an adrenaline-craving young man, however, it might not be enough.

4. Any high voltage battery problems covered under long term manufacurers warranty. I have had no problems with the high voltage battery either while I was under warranty (8 years), nor since. When I was approaching the 8 year mark I was getting really exciting about the prospect of converting my baby into a plug-in hybrid (I didn’t want to risk voiding the warranty). Unfortunately, Hagan’s 8 year anniversary was the same month we found out our former landlady was going to be foreclosed, and we decided that spending $2k to convert my car was not a wise move at the time. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future I can get a conversion kit, and then I’ll really be using/taxing the high voltage battery.

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Posted September 23, 2010 by mayakey in energy use

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