Hybrids: More Mechanical Trouble? Really?

"However hybrid cars are extremely complex, which eventually will jack up the maintenace bill, since they contain both an electric and a gasoline car system." We want to address this because we hear it often. It might even be a good idea for you to bookmark this post for the next time someone tells you that your hybrid will be "very costly" to maintain. Lets look at the Prius since it is the best selling hybrid: First of all, brushless electric motors are not something that breaks easily and they should last the life of the vehicle. The transmission is a relatively elegant planetary gearset CVT design; it should outlast most automatic transmissions and doesn't have a clutch that wears out like a manual. The starter of the car is one of the two electric motors, so it is very powerful and can spin up the engine to much higher speeds than weaker "normal" starters, and it does so only after the Prius has established oil pressure, something that gasoline-only cars don't do, so there's a lot less wear at ignition.Also, the "regular" brakes get used a lot less since most of the stopping power required in everyday driving comes from the electric motor through regenerative breaking. The brakes only engage during hard braking and under a certain very low speed (I've even read somewhere that a mechanic said that the original brake pads of the Prius could last the life of the car is driven carefully enough). As for the gas engine, it usually revs close to optimal speed and stays there thanks to the CVT transmission and electric motors. No constant revving up and down and changing gear.

Most of the low speed power (where gas engines are at their less efficient) comes from the electric motor which has gobs of torque and delivers it from basically 1 RPM (electric motors have a very flat power-band, no need to wait a few thousands RPMs before there's useable torque). We've already covered the batteries and talked about the fuel economy and emission benefits elsewhere...

What else is there to say but: "Things might not be as simple as they look. It is common sense that tells us that a hybrid contains more things that could go wrong, but it is also common sense that tells us, at first, that the Earth is flat. We have to look a bit farther than that." Hybrids (I'm especially talking about "full" hybrids like the Prius, Escape hybrid, Highlander/RX400h, etc - "mild" or "assist" hybrids have some of the same benefits, but not quite to the same level) can have mechanical problems like any car - and they do have some downsides like price and availability - but they also have many mechanical advantages over "regular" cars.

You can read about a Vancouver cab driver who loves his Prius and puts lots of trouble-free kilometers on it. And if the Prius is not for you, the Honda Civic hybrid, the Ford Escape and Mariner hybrid and the upcoming Toyota Camry hybrid are all fuel efficient hybrids that look more like "normal" cars.

We're not saying that repairs on a hybrid can't be problematic and that (at least until most mechanics are familiar with them) you won't have to go to you dealer to fix things because other places might not have the expertise. What we're saying is to be careful when people tell you bad (or good) things about hybrids. Take the time to think about it and do your own research if you have to. Too many people will try to shoot down unfamiliar things without a fair trial (the same thing constantly happens with electric vehicles).

Yes, hybrids are complex. But lets not forget that gasoline-only cars are extremely complex too - we just take them for granted. You might end up paying more for some things (initial cost), less for others (small repairs, fuel), but whatever you do, keep in mind that nobody buys a car to save money (otherwise small cars would be really popular in the US) and that the current over-rationalization of every last dollar spent on a hybrid starts to look downright silly when you ask someone how they monetarily justify their engine upgrade, moonroof, subwoofer or mag wheels. We'd rather people paid more for a car that is cleaner than for a car with lots of chrome and a big wasteful engine. But that's not even true; sports cars and huge SUVs usually cost more than a Prius, yet nobody asks people if they makes financial sense the way people will ask you if your hybrid makes business sense...

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