Bang for Your Buck: How Long Do Hybrid Cars Last?
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If you’re in the market for a new car, you know that a hybrid vehicle will help save you money on gas. But many drivers shopping for a hybrid car for the first time have questions about the lifespan of hybrid vehicles, particularly in comparison to the gas-powered vehicles they’re accustomed to.
In this article, we’ll look at how hybrids work to answer the question, “How long do hybrid cars last?” Your hybrid’s lifespan is often linked to its battery pack, so we will also look into why hybrid batteries fail, and how you can keep your new or pre-owned hybrid running great for as long as you own it.
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How Hybrid Cars Work
There are two types of hybrid vehicles: conventional hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). Both derive power from a duo of a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric motor. However, the batteries they use and how they recharge are different.
The most important thing to know about HEVs is that they don’t have to be plugged into an external charger to replenish the power in their battery packs.
Depending on their particular design, HEVs can run exclusively on electric power, their gas-powered internal combustion engine, or a combination of both. Some vehicles allow drivers to choose between electric and hybrid power, while others automatically fluctuate between the two power sources without driver input.
The conventional hybrid car battery is charged either by the car’s gas-powered engine or by capturing kinetic energy and returning it to its electric battery in what’s called regenerative braking. The most well-known conventional hybrid car on the market today is the Toyota Prius.
The battery packs in HEVs are much smaller than those found in PHEVs. That’s because although the battery pack in hybrids reduces the car’s reliance on gasoline, the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine still does most of the heavy lifting to power the car.
As their name implies, PHEVs must be plugged into an external charger to replenish battery power. Currently, the Jeep Wrangler 4xe is the best-selling PHEV in the United States. Drivers can choose which fuel source they use while on the road — in some models, they can opt for a combination of the two. When you buy a plug-in vehicle, you’ll need access to a charging station to take advantage of its battery.
Since these cars have greater electric power capacity, PHEV battery packs are larger and heavier than those in conventional hybrids. PHEV batteries can weigh, on average, between 220 and 1,322 pounds, while a conventional hybrid battery pack weighs 60-118 pounds.
How Long Do Hybrid Cars Last?
With proven long-term reliability, hybrid cars generally last as long as their gas-powered counterparts. The major factors that contribute to how an ICE car ages — engine wear and tear, corrosion, fluid leakage, and suspension lifespan — also impact how your hybrid will age. While newer cars tend to age better than cars from previous generations, they’re still subject to weather, rust, and other degenerative conditions.
Ultimately, the amount you drive will truly determine how long your hybrid car will last. A well-maintained hybrid vehicle should last well past its first decade and 100,000 miles, but once vehicles approach 150,000 miles you may need to prepare for hybrid battery replacement.
How Fast Do Hybrid Batteries Age?
Old, gas-powered cars indeed have batteries. But these small, lead alloy batteries are far less critical to the lifespan of the vehicle than the lithium-ion batteries found in hybrid vehicles. When an ICE needs a new battery, you can simply install it. When an HEV or PHEV needs a new battery, you could be in trouble.
The lithium-ion batteries in HEVs, PHEVs, and all-electric cars are the same types of batteries that power your cellphone. So, just as your cellphone eventually fails to hold a charge and slowly loses power over time, the same is true for hybrid vehicle batteries.
However, studies regarding hybrid battery lifespan and their degradation have varied. Research findings by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that today’s EV batteries may last 12 to 15 years.
You can purchase a hybrid or electric car with confidence, however. Federal regulations mandate that automakers offer EV and hybrid battery warranties of eight years and 100,000 miles or more. Your warranty should protect you if you need a hybrid battery replacement due to a manufacturing defect or sudden failure. This is far longer than the standard powertrain warranty of gas cars, which usually tend to be around three years or 36,000 miles.
Why Do Hybrid Batteries Fail?
If you’re concerned about being stranded somewhere due to hybrid battery failure, rest assured such instances are rare. When the car-battery life of an HEV or PHEV is cut short, it’s usually because of tampering or irresponsibility:
- Improper charging: Never try to get your PHEV to charge faster by using an incompatible charger. Improper charging can damage your hybrid car’s battery.
- Unauthorized maintenance: Never attempt to alter, repair, or enhance your hybrid car’s battery to get it to run longer or charge quicker. Be sure an authorized service provider carries out all battery maintenance. Electric vehicles have high-voltage batteries that can be dangerous if tampered with.
- Manufacturing defects: HEVs and PHEVs are subject to the same manufacturing defects as ICE cars. Keep up to date with any relevant recalls from your car dealership and any changes in your advised maintenance plan.
- Collisions or irresponsible driving: Damaging your car due to reckless driving can ruin its battery. Always be safe on the road to avoid accidents.
- Battery cell corrosion: Some battery packs fail before their warranties expire due to the early breakdown of fuel cells.
How to Make Your Hybrid Last Longer
Keeping up on routine maintenance and driving safely can go a long way in lengthening the lifespan of your hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicle. Both HEVs and PHEVs share many maintenance tasks with their gas-powered predecessors. These include:
- Oil changes: By periodically removing the used oil in your engine and replacing it with new, clean oil, you keep vital parts in your hybrid’s ICE from seizing due to wear.
- Tire rotations: Have your tires rotated on a set annual schedule so that they wear evenly. This prevents a loss of traction and can improve fuel efficiency.
- Tire changes: Replace your tires when it’s time to maintain control in poor driving conditions and preserve your car’s fuel economy.
- Fluid changes: Maintain fresh fluids in transmission and braking systems to ensure they function properly and don’t break down prematurely.
Remember, a hybrid vehicle is not an all-electric vehicle, which requires far less maintenance compared to gas-powered vehicles. Just because your hybrid offers more fuel efficiency doesn’t mean it needs to be maintained with less frequency than a traditional ICE vehicle.
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