Toyota Prius Gas/Electric Hybrid
By Craig Van Batenburg, AAM
Are hybrids worse than 'normal' cars to service?
As I learn more about hybrid service procedures, it only makes sense to compare the early Prius to the new Prius - and then hybrids in general - to conventional, "gas-only" cars, with which you are already familiar. The Prius is the best-selling hybrid in the United States.
If you are new to this column, what we are engaged in is to see if car designers put technicians into their design minds. I will not let my bias change the real story, but as most of you know, I am sold on hybrids.
So far we have reviewed Japanese, American, Korean, English and German offerings. We are back to Japan once again.
My sincere thanks to Ford Motor Co. for getting into the hybrid market with its own offering (see sidebar). My company, ACDC, owns a 2004 Prius - and Mark Seifried, the minister at my church, owns a 2001 Prius. ACDC has serviced both of these cars extensively.
Let's compare a '01 Prius to the all-new '04-'05 model.
One look under the hood of the 2001 Prius, now known as the Classic Prius, will scare you. Precious little room is available, so little that the 12-volt battery is in the trunk. The internal combustion engine (ICE) is a de-tuned Echo and has the usual needs of any other 4-cylinder engine. Oil change intervals are extended beyond what most techs (including me) would agree with, so continue to suggest frequent oil changes to your hybrid customers. Air filter, spark plugs, coolant and most fluids are reasonably assembled for ease of service. Brake jobs are conventional at the wheel ends; exhaust systems still look like exhaust systems.
In general, hybrids service a lot like conventional cars. Unless you are getting near an orange cable, plug or high-voltage connector, the rest of the car is 12 volts (with a few exceptions) and the techniques you have developed for service remain the same. If in doubt about hybrid safety, get training before you get hurt.
The 2004-2005 Prius underwent a complete redesign. It is bigger, faster and more popular. The fuel economy went up a few mpg in the process. Service is very much the same as the classic. One special note: Toyota offers "Smart Key" as an option. You can recognize a smart key system by the small black button on the outer front door handles.
Before servicing Smart Key-equipped cars, find the "disable button" (just below the steering column) and disable the system. This action makes you the only one who can start the car, not your buddy in the next bay. Don't forget to push the button when you are done so the owner is not inconvenienced.
Did Toyota make the new Prius easier to service than the classic? I would have to say no. Removal of the NiMH battery is more time consuming. More electronics make it more efficient and safer, but easier? Not at all.
This new Prius is surely a look at the future. Simple has gone away, most likely never to return to passenger cars again.
Are hybrids harder to service than conventional, gasoline-only cars? Yes, to a small degree, but not like moving from an in-line 6 to a V12. It will take getting used to, more safety precautions, and 1,000-volt rated equipment and gloves. But more importantly: a willingness on your part, the in-service technician, to embrace hybrid technology as a means of reducing our dependence on oil and make a transition away from carbon-based fuel. This is step one, with many more steps to follow.
Remember: It is harder to fix them than it is to design them.
Craig Van Batenburg, AAM, is the owner of the Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC), www.auto-careers.org, and delivers management and technical seminars nationwide. He formerly owned Van Batenburg's Garage Inc. in Worcester, Mass., for more than 25 years. Van Batenburg is ASE master and L1 certified, with advanced skills in hybrid drive systems. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com
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