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  1. #1

    Cold weather or corrupted battery?

    I bought a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid about four months ago. The car has 92,000 miles and has been operating like a champ except for a few things that lead me to believe I didn't make a wise purchase. It has already been in the shop twice and I'm looking at a possible corrupted battery and failing transmission.

    The car began with a grinding noise that was repaired with a recall from Honda which included burnishing the clutch. The grinding noise has since subsided. The car still "lurches" or "bucks" forward at low speeds, such as at stop and go. This problem wasn't fixed with the clutch burnishing like the grinding was, so I decided to take it into the local Honda dealership again.

    Well, just when I was resolving to take it in again, the IMA light went on. I knew this was not a good sign. The IMA light went on during a particularly cold week in Minnesota in which the windchill was -30 degrees for two days straight.

    I took the car in and they started to do research on the battery problem first. They retrieved the code P1449 or "battery module deterioration," and they told me I needed to replace the IMA battery module completely.

    Well, the dealership was very compassionate and suggested that the cold weather could have been making my computer act screwy. They gave me a software update, something that they should've done as part of the recall when I brought it in the first time for the grinding noise. After restarting the computer, the car's IMA light did not come back on.

    My car is out of the warranty for the battery which is apparently 36,000/3 years. My guy at the dealership called Honda America and spoke with the general manager there about my problem and apparently tried to get it completely covered, because this is only the fourth battery he's every seen fail on a HCH and apparently 3 of those were covered 100% by Honda even though they were out of the warranty too.

    Normally this battery would cost $4100 not including labor. Honda America is willing to split the cost with me at $2000 which would come out to about $2500 with labor and tax.

    Now, my question is--Do I even need a new battery? Is there a way for me to test the battery myself for corruption? The guys at the dealership had never seen that code come up before, and I got the impression they didn't know whether to believe it. He told me to keep driving it and see if the IMA light came back on, which is hasn't. It's been three days and the car is operating like normal, the battery is operating pretty well even though my MPG is down to 37.4. I had it at 42 in the summer but it has been gradually going down since winter started.

    Anyway, this "splitting the cost" deal is only a good offer for 90 days. I am going to sit on the problem and see if that IMA light comes on or if the battery starts acting screwy. I have heard that the software update has helped people whose IMA lights come on randomly--but would it still show that P1449 code if it was really okay? Does anyone know of any other ways I can test my battery? Does that code mean, 100%, that my battery needs to be replaced?

    Even if my battery isn't corrupted, should I still invest in a new one considering the "deal" I'm apparently getting? Will battery prices go down enough in the next few years that when my battery really fails at 150,000 miles, it'll be roughly $2000 or less to replace instead of the staggering $4100? So many questions!! It's a hard call, especially since I'm not getting a straight answer about whether or not my battery is really shot. Plus, this link http://www.hybridcars.com/economics/hidden-costs.html
    suggest that maybe it's not the entire battery that needs to be replaced, but just a corroded connection. Would my dealership even be able to diagnose that--or should I call Honda America myself?

    I am going to take it in again for the transmission because I guess they may have left out a few other recall items. Anyway, so far buying a used hybrid has been a headache. I do love this car for many reasons but I just wish I could get a straight answer from someone who understands the IMA battery.


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  3. #2
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    SupraSugarNation: The NiMH

    SupraSugarNation:

    The NiMH battery pack is made up of individual modules that are monitored by the BCM (battery condition monitor). Each module is made up of D-size NiMH cells arranged in series. These cells are not monitored by the system at all so, it is not really that easy to determine which is bad without disassembling the pack.
    When a single D-cell goes bad the whole module is flagged as faulty and a code is raised by the BCM. More often than not, Honda will have the dealer change the entire pack instead of the faulty module because the individual D cells are not only hard to get to, but then, a perfect and balanced matching cell would have to be found to replace the failed cell. This is beyond the technical capacity of any technician and certainly outside the comprehension of many shadetree mechanics/electricians.

    Besides, the battery pack as a whole poses a serious danger to anyone who is not trained to handle it properly. Even if a single cell is damaged, the other cells are still doing quite well and the whole pack can unload enough energy on contact that is enough to a large mammal. At some point there will be specialized shops that will replace damaged cells for the fraction of the cost of a whole battery pack, but until the expertize to do so safely and reliably permeates into the mainstream, Honda and Toyota will be performing full replacements.

    Can you run the car with a deteriorated battery? Yes, but not for long. Remember that the 12V battery is charged by the charge in the NiMH battery pack. If the BCM puts the IMA battery offline then the car will soon enough be dead since the 12V battery will not be able to power the computers.

    Is it worth getting a new battery for the deal you've been offered? I think so... mainly because the newer battery you would get is newer and manufactured with a newer and much improved process. The newer battery packs have a much, much longer life expectancy and that works well in your favor. However, along with the new battery pack, the BCM should also be upgraded and depending on your VIN, the upgrade will have to be not just software but also a new BCM module.

    A little bit of CVT lurching is natural in cold weather. What i would do is ensure that the CVT fluid is changed more frequently than the recommended maintenance interval. With such a plan a CVT can be quite invincible especially in the hands of a careful driver. Again, in cold days always give the transmission time and do not rush the gas pedal after switching it into D. This will prevent premature damage to the forward and reverse clutches as well as the valves and solenoids.


    Cheers;

    MSantos

  4. #3

    Thank you for the great

    Thank you for the great advice. I think I will purchase the new battery whether or not the IMA light comes on. As for the lurching, it happens even when it's not cold outside--so I will get the CVT fluid changed often. What is the regular interval for this process, and how often should I get it done instead?

  5. #4
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    The original interval was

    The original interval was found to be too optimistic for some owners. While the appropriate interval for your car depends on its operational regime, I would suggest a 2 year or 22K mile interval (on even lower in some cases)... just to be sure. This is especially true if the car is used in hilly terrain or stop and go city driving.

    Cheers;

    MSantos

  6. #5

    MSantos, you've got me

    MSantos, you've got me thinking to do a Continously Variable Transmission fluid change this weekend. We're doing around 20K per year, and the car is just past 2 years. Any idea when the Maintenance Minder might say it's time for CVT fluid change, by comparison.

    The fluid is *not* cheap, around $20CAN per liter from my dealer.

  7. #6
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    Hi Mendel; Honda originally

    Hi Mendel;

    Honda originally claimed a nominal life of 48000km (30000 miles) for the H-CVT fluid, but those are rather optimal figures under ideal conditions. On the HCH-II the maintenance minder will display a (3) sub-item when a CVT fluid change is due. So, once again the mileage may vary depending on the the rigors of daily driving for each owner.

    Unlike the changing of the engine oil, the changing of the CVT fluid is an entirely "different animal" as break-in rules don't really infer on the transmission's life expectancy. In other words, as Honda found out, the state of the fluid is the single most important determinant of the CVT's life and health.

    It is because of this that I have committed to change my CVT's fluid every 20-22 KM or every two years (whichever comes first). I do this mostly because our winter weather places a lot of stress on the CVT and also because I want my CVTs to last as long as the cars. $50-$70 for a CVT fluid change is actually pretty cheap compared to a 2 stage CVT flush or full burnish 3-5 years later.
    By the way, I do the same thing for my Prius' eCVT (PSD) as well. It is all about playing it safe.

    Cheers;

    MSantos

  8. #7

    Hi

    Hi MSantos,

    Regarding:

    "Honda originally claimed a nominal life of 48000km (30000 miles) for the H-CVT fluid"

    I'm actually coming up on that number, kind of frustrating. I'll likely just change it myself, and then have the Maintenance Minder tell me to do the same thing, with my luck.

    I guess it's not the end of the world. Maybe I'll talk to the our service department, see what they say. For sure I'll keep the receipts and log the mileage of the change. I keep an independent log of everything done on the car, up to now mainly by our Honda service department.

    One other thing, I've read something about the CVT fluid being recently reformulated, and requiring a software update when it's installed. This sounds *very* far fetched, what do you think?

  9. #8
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    Mendel, I would not worry

    Mendel, I would not worry too much about it- especially since you've come this far already.

    Most dealers will either not know the exact change interval (because they are instructed to obey the Maintenance Minder) or simply toss out a number (I hate this last part). In your place, I would elect to have them change it simply because you may also get a PCM update with it. PCM software updates are very common, and as an example, so far I've gotten 2 PCM updates on my 2006 and 1 on my wife's 2007.

    Fluid formulation change:
    Somebody asked me that at greenhybrid (I forget exactly who and when). I then forwarded an RFI and TSBR to Honda Engineering soon after. They tersely replied with a "denial" that any such changes had taken place or had even been recommended. Hummm I guess, we'll have to see where this goes... but so far, it looks very unlikely.

    Cheers;

    MSantos

  10. #9

    Thanks, MSantos. I checked

    Thanks, MSantos. I checked with Parts Dep., they have sufficient in stock, @ $19 per US quart, or 946cc, plus they have the drain washer. With a drain/fill recommendation of 2.8 liter, that's virtually 3 US quarts. I have an extra half bottle on hand from a previous top-up, so I should be fine. If I run short they're a moderate walk away

    I also talked with Service re my plan, in particular my concern that the Maintenance Minder *may* ask for this service soon anyway. They said they could just append my service record with a note I'd done this already, if the Maintenance Minder asks for this soon after. Similar to you, the guy was of the mind that more frequent CVT fluid changes are a good thing.

    Over the years I've largely done this fluid changes myself. But with our 06 Hybrid, considering it's near new and under warranty, and to keep in compliance with the Maintenance Minder and to get any software updates (as you often mention), I've stuck with just taking it to the dealer, following the Maintenance Minder.

    We'll likely be in for a minor oil-change-only service in the next few months, so I think I'll do the CVT fluid change myself. One thing I did to set up was to mark an empty 4 liter wiper fluid bottle in 500cc increments. I know from hot and cold dipstick checks that the CVT level is spot-on right now, so, while I will be carefully checking levels when I refill, I think it would be handy to verify exactly how much drains.

  11. #10

    Ok, deed done ;) One thing,

    Ok, deed done

    One thing, it is very difficult to get the hinged plastic under-panel sufficiently out of the way, if you're working with floor jack and safety stands. Looks like it would be worse for engine oil replacement. Plus it just complicates things. I might still give it the heave-ho sometime...

    While I was at the dealer I picked up a Honda pamphlet titled "Canadian Maintenance Schedule". On page three, under the title "Specific additional required maintenance" it recommends:

    Every 48,000km or 24 months: Replace CVT fluid

    There's a fair bit of info in it, regarding specific maintenance. If anyone's interested I could maybe make a pdf of it. Not sure if I could post here. I'll look around first, it might be available as pdf or html somewhere already.

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