Last week, we reported that Honda finally acknowledged a problem with the batteries of the Honda Civic Hybrid by issuing a “technical service bulletin.” This comes after one year of complaints—more than 100 on the HybridCars.com forum alone—about diminished fuel economy and power after a year or two driving, especially in hot weather conditions. Drivers have also complained about a reduction in the battery’s ability to hold a charge.
On July 23, 2010, Honda announced a product update “to
help prevent IMA battery deterioration.”
To address the problem, Honda earlier this month started to install a software update on Civic Hybrids (model years 2006 through 2008). Letters were mailed to more than 100,000 Civic Hybrid owners on July 30. According to the Los Angeles Times, only about 4 percent of the vehicles have received the software change so far.
As the first set of Honda Civic Hybrids receive the software update, the results reported in our forums are mixed.
“My 2008 [Civic Hybrid] purchased new started having these problems about 6 months ago. Now Honda reprogrammed the software. Made it even worse.”
“I took my 2007 HCH with 38,000 miles to the dealer for the software update a week ago. Prior to the update, I had no problems or complaints with my car. I loved it. Just the right combination of mileage, 41 mpg average with adequate power. After this update my mileage has dropped to 35.5 average with a noticeable loss of power.”
Apparently, the software change does not directly address the battery problem—but instead reduces the vehicle’s reliance on the batteries and electric motor. Essentially, the “fix” extends the life of the battery, but turns a Civic Hybrid into a standard hybrid in the process. As a result, fuel economy is reduced from low- to mid-40 mpg, to the level of a standard hybrid in the mid-30s. The change also deprives the Honda hybrid system, known as Integrated Motor Assist, of its ability to “assist” by receiving a power boost from the electric motor during acceleration.
On the other hand, at least one forum visitor reported that the computer upgrade successfully boosted mileage. “If this improvement does not prove to be false I will be very pleased.” There are other reports on the web that the software update reduced problems with the battery, without sacrificing mileage and power.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Honda software updates caught the attention of the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The agency, which complained that it was not properly notified of the modification, met with Honda officials last week to determine whether the changes would increase emissions. “It becomes a potential air quality concern for us,” said John Urkov, chief of CARB’s in-use vehicle branch.
In March 2007, two Honda Civic Hybrid owners filed a class action lawsuit against Honda because their cars were averaging 31 miles per gallon—well below the advertised mileage in the mid-40s. In December 2009, Honda settled the suit by giving nearly 160,000 owners of the 2003 – 2008 Civic Hybrids a small rebate or discount on the purchase of Honda cars.
Ten years after the introduction of hybrids in the U.S., reports of battery failure have been extremely rare. The current issue with 2006 – 2008 Honda Civics could represent the first hybrid battery problem beyond a few isolated issues. There are currently nearly 2 million hybrids on U.S. roads.
It’s not certain if reports of Civic Hybrid battery problems in the past year have tarnished the reputation of the Honda Civic Hybrid or other Honda hybrids. Yet, so far this year, U.S. sales of the Honda Civic Hybrid have dropped by more than 70 percent compared to last year. The current model year of the Civic Hybrid was not included in the software update, and we have not seen reports of battery failure in model years 2009 and 2010.