Fix It, Don't Fear It

High-voltage wiring in hybrids is becoming a common shop concern.


"So far the orange cable is for anything roughly over 50 volts, which is considered high voltage—Saturn has come up with a lower-voltage system and they've gone with the blue cabling, but I still respect 36 volts," he says. "Many of us have sparked a wrench or a screwdriver across 12 volts before and jumped back at the big flash that gives us, so if you short across 36 volts, think of the damage that could do, and heaven help us if we short across a 500-volt battery pack. Being aware of electricity and high voltage and what you're dealing with is really going to pay off."

MASHING THE MYTHS

Of course, the big concern about anything high-voltage is the danger of electrocution, but Castiaux says he has not heard of anyone getting injured so far from working on high-voltage hybrids.

"You just need some knowledge if you're going to work on a high-voltage system," he says. "So far everything is in bright orange wiring that is high voltage, and that's really nice. You've got to be cautious around it, but don't be afraid of it. The manufacturers say avoid touching the orange high-voltage wiring, and it's a common sense thing—if you don't have to touch it, don't touch it."

Some emergency personnel are leery about dealing with high-voltage systems, so Castiaux also helps educate them—more than 2,500 so far.

"We start with the basics—how these cars are put together, and what they need to do to be safe around them," he says. "They just need knowledge more than anything."

What does concern Castiaux is the chance someone without the knowledge or patience to figure out about high-voltage systems could make a potentially fatal mistake.

"It's not so much technicians and emergency responders responding to accidents, but in the future, our young people—if they don't get training on these things and they buy some of these hybrids on 'Cheap Charlie's Used Car Lot' and try to hook up a new stereo system," he says. "I hope the day never comes one of them with no electrical understanding tries to splice into the orange high voltage wiring and hook up his stereo, because that's when we could have a problem.

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