Battery Problems on First-Gen Hybrids

From the first days when hybrids hit American roads in 2000, consumers have worried about expensive battery replacement costs. But reported cases of hybrid battery failure have been almost impossible to find. Suddenly, in the last couple of days, there were two posts in the HybridCars.com discussion forum from hybrid owners with battery woes.

Kayhud wrote, “I have 150,000 miles on my 2001 Prius and now need a new hybrid battery as well as the battery that controls the computer. The price is $4,000 – $5,000 in parts and $1,000 in labor.” Kayhud is considering the payment, if new batteries will buy another 150,000 miles for the six-year-old Prius.

StuckeyC37 wrote, “As I was driving home the other day, the IMA light came on my 2003 Civic Hybrid. I took it into my local Honda Dealership. Of course, they said the battery pack needs to be replaced at a cost of $4,500.” StuckeyC37 is leery of the dealership, which doesn’t have a great reputation for honesty and for correctly diagnosing problems. (We’ve reported on some dealerships which replaced the entire battery pack rather than fixing the faulty battery connections.) MSantos, a regular contributor to the HybridCars.com forums, wrote, “It is almost common for first generation Honda Civic Hybrids to undergo a battery replacement as they approach and exceed the 100k mile.”

Toyota offers a 100,000 mile warranty on emission components and the hybrid battery pack, and Honda offers an 80,000 mile warranty on the same. In California, warranties on the hybrid batteries are extended to 150,000 miles.

The real-world experiences of owners with first-generation hybrids—now clocking mileage into six-figures—will be the real test of the longevity of hybrid batteries. And the commitment from carmakers and dealerships to respond to any bona fide problems.


  • michael a.

    I have a 2002 Prius with only 30k miles on it. Saving Earth requires not just using more efficient technology, but also consuming less and driving less. Based on the info in this post, I’ve got another 10-15 years before my Prius batteries need any work. That’s a nice payback on the ownership cost of my car.

    Expensive repairs aren’t unique to hybrid cars with high miles. ICE cars need them too, ie transmission etc.

  • FL_P_D

    Had my 2001 HV battery replaced under warranty. I have had two Camrys that eventually had their engine blocks crack after about as long. An HV replacement is a much better problem to face than an cracked engine.

  • Jesse Rudavsky

    I have a 2002 prius with 322,000 miles and counting on the original battery and still no problems. Car is just a quick as ever. Still get 50 plus mpg.

  • Peter Bowler

    Don’t forget that your hybrid will need the same level of other repair costs for the other systems like brakes and transmission as most ICE cars. If you are an early adopter of new technology you must expect some of these unanticipated consequences. Personally, I’m sticking with inexpensive, reliable, predictable cost ICE vehicles whose fuel economy approaches hybrids at a fraction of the cost to our family. I continue to follow the developments with great interest but am not ready to go with it yet.

  • electric motor in the wheel

    put the electric motor in the wheel and a diesel generator under the hood. Battery in trunk.
    would this work for speeds up to 65mph?

  • Mark

    Peter, I’m with you. I think I’ll take the plunge when a plug-in hybrid comes out. But until then the added cost, both in purchase price and maintenance costs, will keep me from pulling the trigger on a hybrid.

  • Tom Slemko

    Peter:

    Obviously you haven’t been following hybrid car developments very well. With regenerative braking, the actually brakes are used very little and will last for much longer than a conventional car. Also, the Toyota system does not have a transmission! So there are no expensive parts to replace.

  • Jerry

    To add to Tom’s point. The ICE of a hybrid like Prius only runs at some of the most efficient speeds; highway and not under hard accelerations. I would be willing to bet the engine reliability will be above overage over the long term as well.

  • Angelo

    Hidden costs, as well as problems are an upset to any purchase whether it be a $2,200 big screen DLP TV that requires a $300 bulb every 3-4 years, or a $22,000 hybrid car that may require a battery $3,500 pack replacement sometime after 160K miles. The difference between the TV and the hybrid car is that I will have more than saved 3x that much on gas and maintenance over a standard ICE vehicle.

    My previous vehicle was a 00 Cavalier 4cyl that barely got 19mpg. I now have an 07 Honda Civic Hybrid that I am averaging 51mpg. In 5 months I have put 10K miles on it. In 5 months I have saved $875 in fuel costs alone (not to mention saved 307 gallons of gas)… for those that want to know here are my calculations:

    00 Cavalier (275 mile/tank avg):
    36 tanks @ 14 gal / tank = 504 gal @ 2.85 /gal = $1436

    07 Civic Hybrid (600 mile/tank avg):
    16 tanks @ 12.3 gal / tank = 197 gal @ 2.85 /gal = $561

    As far as mpg, I am on the higher end of the scale at 51mpg avg. Most get 42-46mpg. I truly wanted to get the most out of driving this vehicle so I relearned how to drive efficiently. First and formost – it’s all about the driver – don’t blame the car if you’re not getting good mpg!

    Aside from fuel savings, since you’re not putting such an impact on the ICE 100% of the time, oil changes come once every 7,500 to 10,000 miles, versus 3,000 – 5,000 on a conventional ICE. So, figure 1/2 the oil changes.

    As Tom said, with regenerative braking, you’re using the actual brake pads maybe 20% of the time, so they will last 80% longer! Many people are saying 60-100K before they’ve had to replace their brakes. So, you’re looking at 1 brake job on a hybrid in the time you’ve had 2 or 3 done on your standard ICE car!

    Most of the other fluids are about the same – Radiator flush around 100-125K (most ICE cars are like that now), transmission and brake fluid change every 30-60K miles.

    So, figuring in all these savings over 5 years I will save at least $10,000. If the battery pack failed every 5 years, and had to replace it to keep the car going for another 5 years I would have no problem with it. Right now they run $3,500 – $4,500. I’m sure in 5 years, like everything else, the price will come down by 50% or more, or refurb batteries will be available at 1/3 the cost, or a better type of battery can be put in for longer life and better performance (Li-Ion maybe).

    While it’s nice to save money by owning a hybrid, the biggest reason I have one is to hopefully make a difference for my children and my future grandchildren. I may make the minute fraction of difference, but 100,000 hybrids… 1,000,000 hybrids and more on the roads WILL make a difference in pollutants, gas dependency, and our energy crisis that is just around the corner. Gas prices are only going to go up and up and up. Oh sure, they’ll tease you by dropping the price of gas 10-20 cents over 2 months, then jack it up 30 cents in less than a month and think you won’t notice! I’m not a treehugger environmentalist staging protests. I just care about our future and want to do what I can. If I can save some money in the process, well then all the better!

    Truly read ALL the articles here at hybridcars.com. Read other hybrid forums as well. Desspell the misconceptions of hybrids you think are true. Don’t take everything you hear in all reports as the hard truth – like consumer reports only getting 26mpg in the Civic Hybrid, or it costs more to own a prius or civic hybrid than it does a Hummer! All propaganda, mostly put out by big oil companies backing the “research”.

    I can say one report is true – it does not have a great 0-60 mph time. But when you’re driving in town , why do you need to jackrabbit start from a light, only to get to the next light that is red and have to stop again. Getting on the freeway up to speed – I’ve had no problems whatsoever, and I just drove almost the entire state of California for a 1,500 mile project that was mostly freeway driving in 3 1/2 days (Sac to San Francisco, to San Diego to Palm Desert, back to Sac).

  • lloyd123

    I agree that hybrids require less maintenance in some areas over ICE only vehicles but there are a few things that require extra or expensive service – at least with my Nissan Altima Hybrid and, I assume, the Toyotas that it’s based on.

    There are two cooling systems in the NAH/Toyotas – one for the ICE and the other for the transaxle. The transaxle coolant requires the dealer to make the change because a proprietary diagnostic computer is required to do the change. The 12V battery requires a special “gas mat” type battery as a replacement – twice the cost of a conventional battery. Also, at least with the Nissan/Toyota hybrid, the transaxle requires a special Type “W” fluid which is not cheap either.

    I really like my Nissan but there are some extra problems for the “DIY” mechanic – especially with the host of extra electronic control systems that could be a real nightmare down the road. I’d be kind of reluctant to sink $4,000 for a new hybrid battery at 150,000 miles given the litany of other control systems/inverters/rectifiers/computers/sensors/etc dedicated just to the hybrid drive that could also need replacement.

  • BigBearBalls

    Don’t you think as our cars get older, the price of the battery will get lower too. I don’t anticipate a battery replacement on my car for another 5 years. By then, I bet the price of a battery will really plunge. What say you?

  • Jim Carter

    I have about 95k miles on a 2000 Honda Insight that I bought used about 2 1/2 yrs ago. About a month ago the IMA & check-engine lights went on and the IMA quit assisting.

    My Cleveland Hts Honda dealer told me that Honda extended the warrenty on the Insight IMA computer/battery assembly to 10 yrs, so they replaced it entirely for free. The parts guy told me that his cost of that assembly was about $6000, and I’m sure installation wasn’t cheap.

    So I’m guessing that Honda is pretty committed to their hybrids.

  • Mike H.

    Jim, you’re right — Honda is covering all Insight batteries for 10 years or 150,000 miles!!
    I have a 2000 Insight as well and my LIFETIME MPG is 71.4 and averaging 900+ miles on a tank of gas! So name a traditional ICE car that gets CLOSE TO THAT!!!

  • Steve

    I have heard many car companies extending the warranty of their hybrid components to 120,000 mi/10 yrs specifically in California. Is there a California state law requiring extended coverage?
    I also wanted to add to Angelo’s comment earlier. If you take into account his calculations at the conservative $2.85 per gallon and change to a more realistic example of $4.00 per gallon. The fuel savings is $1,288 per year:

    00 Cavalier (275 mile/tank avg):
    36 tanks @ 14 gal / tank = 504 gal @ $4.00 /gal = $2016

    07 Civic Hybrid (600 mile/tank avg):
    16 tanks @ 12.3 gal / tank = 197 gal @ $4.00 /gal = $788

    If you think gas prices will not reach $4.00 a gallon; think again! When the US pulls out of Iraq and the country falls into civil war… $4.00 per gallon will be mighty optimistic. :-)
    I am already paying $3.15 now in the Bay Area. That’s one of the many reasons why I bought a Hybrid.

  • Frank

    I read the first comment from Michael A. and he says that driving less his Prius natteries should be replaced perhaps in another 10 – 15 years.

    I beg to differ because other factors such as the distance one drives at any one time, but more important, the constant or variable tempuratures the car is subjected to on a daily basis can and does lower the life of a battery.

    That said, don’t count mileage only as the determining factor on the batteries longevity.

  • David Steffenson

    I have 101,000 mi. on my 2001 Prius, and no sign of battery failure. But I have had to replace the main computer for $1200 and another acceleration computer for $250. As a low income retiree, if my main batteries go, I am screwed. I have moved downtown so I don’t drive the car much, but now you all have me scared. I want my Prius to last without any more major costs until the plug-ins come out. Or should I sell it now?

  • sharon

    The average cost of $2-3,000 for a new battery pack is the lowest it will go because NiMH has reached the low cost plateau and cannot be reduced further because of high nickel prices.

  • Graeme Harrison

    If you go to the Yahoo Group for Mk1 (NHW10) Prius owners, which is:
    http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/Mk1_Prius/
    You will find that this Japan-only pre-export Mk1 Prius is still doing well. Many were exported to other countries, mainly UK, Oz, NZ, SA etc. and the users report batteries still running fine on almost all 1997-99 Prius models, and still great mileage.
    However a couple of batteries are now reporting errors, but on pulling down, the individual sticks of six D-cells can be refurbed by testing voltage to find the one(s) with a sick/dead cell and then just replacing that particular D-cell with a NEW Matsushita(Panasonic) one that is from same manufacturer as original. Indeed, Matsushita’s patent recommends only replacing the failed cell in their patent on how to refurb these HEV batteries. The cost of the cell is about around US$15ea and many battery places have the Miyachi-Unitek pulse-welding equipment to weld the stick together again, using the same technology as used by PEVE (Toyota-Matsushita JV) in its original manufacture. People have successfully swapped sticks from crashed Prius, to keep going, and no-one has done cell-welds yet, but we expect to be able to report success soon. And that will mean these over 10yo hybrids will be able to be kept going at very low battery refurbishment costs, essentially forever.
    And for newer hybrid owners, the issue is to not ever let the HV battery get too low through ‘self-discharge’. So miles driven is less important than making sure you don’t leave it unused for more than a few weeks. In fact NiMH with the controlling computer is best suited to regular use. And the other tip for Prius is to not use it in ‘B’ battery/stealth mode, as opposed to ‘D’ drive, as forcing it to go as far as it can on batteries alone means you are giving fuller cycles to battery, whereas Matsushita design for long life (10,000+ cycles) is based on using shallow cycles only… ie keeping it more or less in middle of battery meter, rather than full ups and downs… And finally, if ICE does not start within a few seconds, do not drive off on batteries alone, as early Prius will not later start ICE (or maybe air intake is dirty or new spark plugs are needed etc) so it will allow you to discharge HV battery too much, and if you have an ICE problem, you need to get it fixed promptly, so HV battery does not sit too long at low state of charge.
    Graeme

  • Jjake

    I am looking to buy a 2001 prius with only 20,000 miles on it. However I am leery of buying it because even though the warranty covers up to 100,000 miles or 8 years, and that 8 years is almost up. Do the batteries deteriorate over time without racking up many miles? I would say you are in the same position as I am unless you have a new battery.

  • jane carmody

    We have a 2003 civic hybrid and just had to replace the IMA battery at 96,000 miles. Because the battery is a part , it is under warranty for 12 months. That news really has disappointed me.

  • bob1234567890

    Too bad that coal fired plant down the steet is still going to be pumping out the CO2 pollution for the plug in hybrid at a much higher rate than burning the fuel in the gas hybrid…

  • p elliott

    I have a 1998 NHW10 Prius (Japan Market model) which has 140000km which is still running fine with no battery issues. My sister has the same year model with 115000km and it too is still fine. Unless something untoward happens I am looking forward to more years of driving in this car. As it is a grey market import here in Australia I intend to run it into the ground so to speak as parts and service information on this model is limited. I have read a lot of articles that mention fixing the cells in these early model Priuses when they fail and wonder if there are any articles on the web that actually outline this process or show it being done.

  • Mikeoo17

    Not to take anything away from what you’ve written, but you would get 500% more life from your brakes if they received 20% of the wear. 100%/20%X100%=500%

  • Bernadette

    I have a 2003 Civic Hybrid. My malfunction and IMA lights have been coming on intermittently and my gas mileage is down significantly from the average that I had been keeping – 42 mpg in winter/48 mpg in summer. I took it to a honda repair garage and they told me the IMA battery is dying and needs to be replaced. My understanding is the warranty is 8 years/80,000 miles. I’ve had the car for seven, but the mileage is 95K. I’m I out of luck?

    What happens if I don’t replace the battery? Can I continue driving the car?

  • leekshuster

    Hi,

    I’m a newbie here and have a 2004 HCH Manual that just turned over 85,000 miles. I bought the car in 2006 with 53,000 miles, from a local Honda Certified Used Car dealer. The car has seen mostly urban driving cycles the past 2 years, with the occasional bi-monthly highway trip. A/C does see seasonal use in May-Sept.

    On a side note: I recently replaced the under-hood 12V battery (this was NOT really necessary, I just wanted the peace-of mind with winter fast approaching),

    And as far as I know the IMA (144V) battery module has never been replaced. The car performs well and typically gets an indicated 38 – 42 mpg in city use and close to 50 mpg highway. (We do live at 5000 ft ASL, which reduces mileage and power.)

    About a week ago the IMA and CHECK Engine lights came on. (P1600 and P1433). At the time they come on the SoC dropped from 75% to roughly half that. Throttle response becomes noticeably sluggish, but the REGen/ASSist meter still works. And the SoC gradually moves up and down. The most I have seen it come back to is about 67 % when the codes are thrown.

    When I clear the codes, I observe the following: REGen/ASSist immediately at idle shows (GREEN) charge and the SoC rapidly comes up to 100% within a couple of minutes. When the car is driven, throttle response is crisp and instrumentation shows “like-new” REGen/ASSist and SoC behavior in urban driving.

    Then, usually with a day or so (usually less than 20-miles) the same codes return (P1600/P1433).

    To the best of knowledge, the ECM has NOT been re-flashed or “Upgraded” by Honda.

    1) Is there a way to determine the ECM Version level? Especially, from the factory built original version?

    2) If a Honda dealer flashes the ECM, will it potentially mask the P1433 code? Making AH less likely to replace the IMA battery of DC-DC converter under warranty?

    3) What is actually happening when the P1433 code is thrown? It seems to put the system into “LIMP” or “LAME” mode? This obviously affects the performance (Power and fuel economy) and places greater wer and tear on the ICE powertrain?

    4) Does anyone have experience with Honda’s Certified Used Car POWERTRAIN Warranty or Third-Party Warranties, with respect to premature IMA failures? I still have mileage and time remaining on my AH Certifed Used Car POWERTRAIN Warranty. Is the IMA Battery considered a POWERTRAIN component, or excluded because it is a battery?

    5) Have any other Honda Civic Hybrid owners here joined the Class Action Suit against American Honda? See: http://www.hchsettlement.com/default.htm

    Any advice (or dare I say Insights?) would be greatly appreciated.

  • Yvonne Lucas

    Hello there,
    I wonder if anyone can help me. I’ve been to an official
    Toyota dealer here in Valencia Spain, where, to no effect they changed the main battery in my first generation, 10 year old Toyota Prius and charged me €3000. iI don’t know how to explain this in technical terms, but basically, now and again – especially in summer when the car is in the sun, when I swiitch on, the the warning lights come on and the battery level drops so low that sometimes I think the car is going to stop completely. After driving for a bit the battery level comes back up and when I switch off and back on again the warning lights disappear. Apart from this, the car still goes like a dream. Any ideas?

  • Thunder

    I have a 2001 Prius.I hit a sign and rolled it end over end 2 times.After towing the car out of the ditch all 4 tires were up and 3 of the doors opened and closed as good as new.The roof was pushed down to the dash in the middle.I only had a bump on the head and a sore neck,this car is amazing.The car started up and I drove it to the garage shut it down,it runs great.The next day I purchased a 2002 Prius that didn’t run,the owner said he had a Toyota tech test the battery and said it needed to be replaced.I have a real problem believing that all them cells can go bad at once,I don’t believe them.I have replaced the battery with my battery out of my wreck.The car started up ran bad for about 20 seconds then shut down,now it won’t do anything.One at a time with a donor car I have changed the high voltage ecu,ecm,immobilizer,main relay,hybrid control unit,and the 12 volt battery,and the inverter unit.Still nothing.Codes p 3004,p3000,p3001,c2799. 01-d9,01-dc,01de.Sub codes 190-01-2,190-48-2,1c6-75-3.OK if you are not scratching your head like me and have any ideas please comment.Im so confused.

  • Thunder

    I had one more question,how do I change the cells in the high voltage battery?I can check each cell individually,can I mix and match the best cells?

  • Christine J

    Hi can anyone send me a complete wireing diogram of the prius 1998 model Help pretty please