Hybrid Battery Life: Good for the Long Haul?

Unpublished, January 1st, 2012

NOTE: this is an unpublished piece which was used as part of a set of samples which helped me to land a blogging/social media/newsletter content assignment for an e-newsletter publisher servicing Toyota dealerships. This assignment should commence in September, 2011.

Hybrid Battery Life: Good for the Long Haul?

If you’ve been holding off on buying a hybrid vehicle until the data are in on hybrid battery life, we have good news for you–hybrid batteries have been exceeding expectations since day one!

Toyota in particular has racked up a tremendous amount of experience in selling, reselling, and maintaining hybrid vehicles, having sold over three million of them worldwide since its first hybrids went on sale in 1997. Toyota is so confident in the long-term reliability of its hybrid battery packs that it provides a battery warranty of 100,000 miles, or 150,000 miles in some states.

But don’t just take Toyota’s word for it. Ask the people who really put their cars to the test, day in and day out–taxi drivers. Andrew Grant of Vancouver is widely considered to be the first taxi driver to use a hybrid, having begun driving a 2001 Toyota Prius taxi all the way back in the year 2000. He ended up putting 200,000 miles on it. He then put 240,000 miles on a 2004 Prius–with no failures in any of its hybrid drivetrain parts. Both of his cars went back to Toyota to be studied so that future models will be even more reliable. Today, Vancouver and many other cities are teeming with hybrid taxis, saving taxi companies millions of gallons of fuel per year.

But what about hard numbers? Toyota expects its hybrid battery packs to last the life of the car, which Toyota defines as 180,000 miles. Andrew Grant’s experience shows that even under heavy driving conditions, some drivers can expect quite a bit more than that.

Gary Smith is Toyota’s National Service Technology Manager. In an interview with Jacob Gordon of TreeHugger (via MSN Autos), he states that the battery failure rate for first-generation Priuses in their first ten years on the road was less than one percent. In the second-generation Prius, that number had fallen to less than one in 40,000. With experience gained from Prius owners like Andrew Grant, the current third-generation Prius’ batteries should be even more reliable than that.

When Toyota’s hybrid batteries do experience a failure, it can often be traced to only one of the 28 modules in the battery pack. For vehicles still under warranty, replacing a battery module (or a whole battery) costs the vehicle’s owner nothing. For vehicles which are out of warranty, it may be possible to replace a single battery module at a fraction of the cost of replacing the whole battery pack.

As described in an article on AutoChannel.com, Toyota engineers have developed a reconditioning process in which a functional battery module of approximately the same age and mileage can be matched to the other modules in a battery pack. (The module must match the chemistry of the battery pack’s other modules, thus explaining the need for a module of similar age.) This process can add years to the life of an older hybrid battery pack.

So whether you’re considering a Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, or any other hybrid model, either as a new car purchase or as a pre-owned vehicle, you can feel comfortable knowing that your car’s battery pack will hold its charge over the long, long haul.