Hybrids bring new opportunities

Although hybrid vehicles currently represent only around 3.5 percent of new car sales, that number is expected to increase consistently in the coming years.

Can I use my shop’s battery charger to charge the battery in the conventional, low-voltage electrical system?

Maybe, it all depends on the capabilities of your charging equipment. Older battery chargers were built for batteries using conventional, flooded, lead-acid construction. However, most hybrids use a single, 12-volt battery using an advanced design known as valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA). Specifically, it could be an absorbed glass mat (AGM) construction. The newest battery chargers allow you to select the type of battery design when setting up the charger, to establish the proper charge rate. To determine if the battery you’re about to charge has an advanced design, look for labels and markings on the battery such as VRLA or AGM. Always make sure you have the proper battery type selected before turning on the charger. Using the wrong type of charger, or the wrong charger setting, could damage some of the newer battery designs.

If servicing a hybrid is mostly the same (other than the high-voltage electrical system) as a conventional vehicle, are there any things I need to be aware of?

As with servicing any vehicle, you’ll always want to have the most current service information at hand. In that regard, service information is a tool unto itself, so make sure you have a current service information subscription to stay on top of all aspects of service—hybrid or otherwise. Although there are numerous subtle differences we could highlight about servicing non-hybrid areas of a hybrid vehicle, there’s one seemingly minor procedural detail that could cause you a major headache in your shop. It involves performing an oil change on the engine in a Toyota Prius. Basically, make sure the READY light is off before you begin. Why is this so important? If you’re not careful and the READY light is on while performing an oil change, the engine could start up to charge the high-voltage battery. If this happens, it could cause major engine damage due to lack of lubrication. It’s a tale of woe you’d never want to experience, and one you’d be too embarrassed to share. To play it safe, make sure the READY light is off and remove the key from the slot in the dash.

If I should encounter a hybrid with a poor-running engine or one that lacks power, what do I need to troubleshoot it?

In this respect, the internal combustion engine (ICE) in a hybrid vehicle is no different from the one in a conventional vehicle. For that reason, a hybrid ICE is just as susceptible to the same performance-robbing culprits. Perform the usual checks with a scan tool, and the appropriate pinpoint diagnostics with tools such as an ignition or lab scope, fuel pressure gauge, and so on. The basics of engine diagnosis apply the same here, so you should be comfortable working on a hybrid in this respect.

Can a hybrid vehicle be jump-started like a conventional vehicle?

Yes, a hybrid vehicle can be jump-started as long as it uses a single 12-volt battery. Jump-starting can be performed with a battery booster pack or with a host vehicle and conventional cables. Let’s start by assuming the battery’s dead or extremely discharged in the hybrid vehicle.

• Connect the cable clamp from one end of the positive cable to the positive terminal on the hybrid’s 12-volt battery.
• Connect the other cable clamp of the positive cable to the positive terminal of the host vehicle (not applicable if using a battery booster pack).
• Connect the cable clamp from one end of the negative cable to the negative terminal of the host vehicle (not applicable if using a battery booster pack).
• Connect the cable clamp from the other end of the negative cable to a good clean ground on the hybrid vehicle.
• Disconnect the cable as soon as the hybrid vehicle starts.

You may find dedicated jump-starting connectors or “lugs” to ease connection during jump-starting. Not only does this keep connections away from the battery, it also saves you from finding the battery since it can be situated in remote locations (like the trunk.)

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