Why Hybrid Car Battery Problems May Change the Industry Forever

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Though life in 2014 isn’t quite as folks in the 20th century probably thought it would be (The Jetsons, anyone?), we’re still leaps and bounds ahead of where we were when we made those particular predictions. We might not have flying automobiles, but we’re doing pretty well with electric cars so far, even having the luxury of choice. A common question among hybrid buyers is: What cars have the best MPG? Dealers have long had conflicting answers, and that’s what’s made the market so interesting to watch.

Plus, if the latest reports are any indication, the electric car market is still heating up. Statistic Brain has the number of hybrid vehicles sold in 2012 pegged at over 2,100,000 — and that’s just in the United States alone.

In keeping with the growth, Honda recently announced plans to expand its popular Accord model to a hybrid plug-in model as well in order to better compete with Chevy’s Volt, Ford’s Fusion and Toyota’s Camry hybrid models. If you’re savvy on the latest from the hybrid market, that’s great news now — especially given the current state of Honda’s hybrid batteries. But still, “what cars have the best MPG?” might not be the appropriate question to ask anymore.

Before we get to that, it’s important to understand what makes a hybrid engine work. All cars have batteries, but batteries in hybrid cars operate a bit differently, seamlessly kicking into gear once the fuel in the vehicle reaches its low limits. A regular hybrid battery will recharge when the car is running, but a plug-in vehicle literally needs to be plugged in so that its battery (and main power source) can become fully charged again.

Plug-ins historically haven’t been the most practical options, which is why standard hybrids have gained so much in popularity over the past decade or so. However, Honda has run into problems with its hybrid batteries, with drivers experiencing complete battery failures after only six or eight years of driving a brand new vehicle. And that’s not sitting right with hybrid owners at all.

In addition to the inconvenience, a replacement hybrid battery costs anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 to replace — and that’s if you purchase it from a dealership. There are third-party battery retailers and manufacturers to look into as well, but drivers are still unhappy, and understandably so. This dissatisfaction was, in part, what led to Honda pulling its Insight hybrid model (the first hybrid ever offered for sale in the U.S.) off American markets earlier this year.

These Honda Insight battery problems are seemingly unique to Honda alone, as Toyota’s longstanding Prius model doesn’t report any sort of malfunction after the same amount of time on the battery. That suggests that the question of the future might not be what cars have the best MPG, but rather, which hybrid cars can go the distance without losing battery functionality. It appears that only time will tell.

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