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Practical hybrid service tips

Your shop might not be prepared to service the hybrid components, but there still is a lot of service opportunity on a hybrid car.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - 14:12
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Hybrid vehicles are here to stay; almost every vehicle manufacturer announces additional hybrid vehicles each year. Why is this happening? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sets Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations as directed by the president of the United States. The CAFE standard for automobiles is set to just over 35 mpg by the year 2016 and then to just over 54 mpg by 2025. Currently there is no other technology that can meet or exceed these requirements, so expect to see a lot more hybrids in your future service work.



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The most numerous hybrids on the road today are made by Toyota followed by Honda. There are also many Fords, General Motors, and others in smaller numbers. Regardless of the brand, there are many common maintenance items for all of them.

The following hybrid maintenance items are easily completed, but you must follow the proper procedures to avoid unhappy customers and vehicle damage.

Lube, Oil and Filter Service
One of the most difficult things to get used to when driving a hybrid vehicle is the idle stop mode. Many hybrids shut off their internal combustion engine (ICE) when the car comes to a stop. Further, most hybrids can propel themselves on battery power at low speeds. When you pull a hybrid vehicle into your shop for service work, don’t forget to turn off the power to the vehicle. Some vehicles use a power button while others still use a traditional key. Make sure the “READY” light on the instrument panel is off.

You might think that turning off the vehicle power would be a no-brainer, but the car is so quiet in the idle stop mode that it is easy to forget to turn off the power. I have owned hybrid vehicles for the past six years, and I still forget to shut off the vehicle power at times when I park my car. If you forget to turn off the power, the engine can start on its own without warning while you are performing service work.

If you have just drained the engine’s oil and removed the filter, it can cause quite a mess and also cause engine damage. Some hybrids have a hood switch that prevents the engine from starting when the hood is opened. If the engine starts when you opened the hood, you need to shut off the vehicle power switch or the key switch. On vehicles using “smart” keys, it’s best to store the key well away from the car while performing routine service.

After changing the engine oil, you will need to start the engine to make sure the oil filter does not leak. Check your service information system for the proper procedure. Most hybrids do not start the engine when you turn on the vehicle power again. To force the engine to start on some models, turn the heater control to full hot or full cold. If you have a factory scan (or capable aftermarket) tool, you can enter the inspection and maintenance mode and force the engine to run continuously. Don’t forget to reset the engine oil life indicator.

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