Maintaining Your Hybrid Vehicle

White Volvo XC90 mid-size luxury crossover SUV front view.
Sjoerd van der Wal / Getty Images

Hybrids differ little from regular vehicles when it comes to routine maintenance items. Other than the systems that control the onboard storage batteries and the additional electric drive motor, routine maintenance for hybrids follows pretty much lockstep with your father's Oldsmobile. Follow our routine vehicle maintenance schedule to make sure you have all of the basics covered.

Full Hybrid Vehicles

If operated as designed, full hybrid vehicles have the ability to shut off their internal combustion engines and operate on the electric motor only under certain conditions. (e.g. low-speed maneuvering and light cruising). Needless to say, the engine doesn’t work as hard resulting in reduced wear and tear. Hybrids also often employ regenerative braking systems that both charge the batteries and reduce wear on brake components.

Because of the way that the internal combustion engine, the electric drive motor, and the transmission are mated together to work more or less as an entity, a malfunction in one component can affect the way the function of the other. Serious troubleshooting, diagnosis, and repair of this system are best left to professionals.

You can check the transmission fluid, change out spark plugs and fuel and air filters, but delving much deeper does require specialized training.

Sophisticated Electronics

The complex electronic modules that control the electric drive motor for both propulsion and regenerative braking can generate enormous amounts of heat, so those often have their own dedicated cooling systems.

The battery control modules regulate both charge and discharge rates as well as the state of charge of the entire bank. To operate consistently under all conditions, these systems will often employ both heating and cooling systems.

When performing the regular maintenance on the engine cooling system, remember to check the individual hoses, pipes, and clamps as well as any additional filters that may be used on the motor and battery cooling/heating system.

Be Safe and Beware the Orange

Hybrids generally are equipped with dual voltage systems. Though most of the electrical system is safe standard 12-volt, the drive motor and related components operate well in excess of 100 volts. The safety threshold is low and narrow, an electrical shock with as little as 50 volts can prove fatal. To warn technicians and operators of these high voltage circuits, the cables are wrapped in a bright orange casing. To safely maintain and repair these components, the system must be de-powered, a task that is absolutely best left to trained technicians.