Basically, it involves computer-aided testing of each of the battery modules -- in the case of the Prius' nickel metal hydride battery, there are 28 -- and then a series of discharges and charges of the modules that Quarto has likened to exercising. In promotional videos on The Hybrid Shop's website, he describes a "resistive barrier" that has built up in older batteries, inhibiting the ability of its cells to generate energy.
"In the case of conditioning, we typically cycle the battery 2 or 3 times to break the barrier down to get the capacity back again," The Hybrid Shop website states.
It touts the service as environmentally friendly as well, by alleviating the need to manufacture a new battery to replace an old one.
So far about 10 repair shops in Arizona, California, Texas, Virginia and Puerto Rico have signed on as franchisees for the technology.
"We're seeing 30 percent gas mileage increases" from the reconditioning services, Matt Curry said. The increase comes because the car can rely less on its gasoline engine and more on the battery, which is recharged through energy captured during braking.
The Andertons, who met Curry at an auto trade show last year, pay royalties to his company for every battery conditioned at their Virginia Beach shop. Just as in the beginning with hybrids, the Andertons are seeing a lot of tire-kickers for their service, but not many buyers.
Diane Brown is a good example.
When the Beach resident came to their shop recently for routine service on her 2007 Prius, the Andertons showed her their new equipment for battery refurbishing.
She said she appreciated hearing about it, but has been thrilled with her car's performance thus far.
"I got it for the gas mileage, and I've been very pleased with it," Brown said. "It performs beautifully."
That's a common refrain heard at Priority Toyota in Chesapeake.
The dealership's general manager, Nick Mumejian, said Prius owners rarely complain about major problems with battery performance. "Usually, those batteries last for a long, long time," he said.
Still, Mumejian didn't rule out battery reconditioning as a viable alternative and said it's possible that at some point Toyota may recommend the service itself, possibly offering its own technology.
"If the factory recommends it, we'll do it," he said.
Joint venture offers service package for dealers and auto repair shops.
The National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium, a program of West Virginia University, is launching a newly developed training program to help bring information to automotive instructors across...