The historic spike in the price of oil in 2007-08 brought with it a spike in both interest and demand for hybrid cars, previously a niche product in the car market. It also brought with it a host of misinformation about hybrids, and in particular the reliability of their batteries. The truth is that a hybrid's battery, while much larger, more expensive, and of a different design, is at least as reliable as a conventional car battery, and perhaps more so.
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A hybrid is any vehicle that uses two or more sources of power for propulsion. In cars, this most often refers to a Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV), which relies on both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine. This is done in an effort to achieve greater fuel efficiency.
There are three types of hybrid cars. The Petroleum Fuel Engine Assistance Hybrid relies mainly on its internal combustion engine, with the electric motor being capable of only low speeds. Typically, this model will use the electric motor when idling, and then use it to accelerate up to about 20 or 25mph. Then, the gasoline-powered engine will be automatically started and take over for providing propulsive power. The Toyota Prius is an example of this type of hybrid.
The Electric Engine Assistance type uses a lower-power internal combustion engine, geared around maximum fuel efficiency. In order to achieve extra power for things like climbing hills or hard acceleration, the car has an electric motor that kicks in to provide the added power. Honda hybrids work on this principle.
Finally, Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) hybrid models are an attempt to circumvent the limits on a purely electric, battery-driven car. It relies entirely on its battery for motive power during the first several dozen miles of driving. When the battery is exhausted, the internal combustion engine on board is then used to either recharge the battery, or for a short trip to a recharging station.
Unlike conventional car batteries, which are of a lead acid design, most hybrids use either a nickel or lithium ion battery. This is because of the differing needs of the two car designs. A conventional car just needs a sharp jolt of electricity to start the car, which a lead acid battery can provide at minimal expense. A hybrid needs a large amount of sustained electricity (how much depends on the type of hybrid), requiring a substantially larger and more robust battery design.
Hybrid batteries are often warrantied for between 7 to 10 years or 75,000 to 100,000 miles, and can generally be counted upon to last this long. However, certain factors may degrade the lifetime of your battery. For example, the lithium ion batteries used in a hybrid are similar to the batteries used in your laptop, and suffer from similar problems. For example, lithium ion batteries used in cars continuously deteriorate, and keeping them sitting at a high charge level degrades them. The difference between a hybrid's lithium ion battery and that of a laptop is size and composition (the chemistry of a hybrid battery makes it of a higher quality), but the basic characteristics remain the same.
Right-wing and anti-environmentalist pundits like to attack the hybrid by spreading misinformation about the life and cost of a hybrid battery. Conversely, hybrid enthusiasts and environmentalists talk about these same batteries using glowing, golden and often misleading language. The truth is that the batteries will probably only last the life of your car if you intend to keep the vehicle for less than six years. Furthermore, while the battery does not make up 75 per cent of the value of the car, it does cost anywhere from £1,950 to £3,900 to replace.
Look at the original warranty on a hybrid's battery. That warranty was based on data, with the two figures being how long the automaker thought the battery would last and how long the original owner would keep the car. The warranty was set just below where the automaker thought those two bits of data would start costing it money if it set a guarantee to it. Those numbers are kept secret, but a good guess is that if the warranty is for eight years, then you can count on the battery lasting for at least six, probably eight, and maybe even beyond that. In those terms, the batteries on a hybrid car are at least as reliable as any other component of the vehicle. Also, that makes them at least as reliable as (if dramatically more expensive than) the conventional lead-acid batteries used in conventional cars.