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This page is set-up in sort of a blog format. The entries are in reverse chronological order.
Historically, it has been a bit difficult to know how healthy a hybrid pack is. In other words, where in it's life cycle it is. It really doesn't matter to most of us where in the life cycle our hybrid packs are, until they get near the end. Then it is very important to intervene and recondition them or balance them before they fail and need an expensive replacement. (Reconditioning makes them like new.)
The good news for Gen 2 Prius owners is that we have developed a relatively simple test that gives us a very good idea of whether it is time to do the rebalancing or not. We are trying to integrate this new test into our recommendations for regular maintenance. But it is definitely called for if there is any question about the health of the pack. It is also very wise to do when when you are looking at a used car for purchase, along side our regular used car check.
We are working on the same test for the other generations, of Prius, but need more data to have any predictive capability.
Prius Touch Screen Displays
There is a weakness in a circuit board in some touch screen displays that can cause the screen to stop showing data from the car. The screen is there, the framework of icons is there, but there is no information. The touch screen is also called the Multifunction Display, or MFD, (among other names some not so nice, when they go bad...).
Toyota wants as much as $4,000 for a replacement part! Yikes! But, because of our commitment to finding solutions and making as many options as possible available to our clients, we came up with a repair. One of the skill sets we have here at the Foreign Service is the ability to fix microscopic circuits. For this, we need special tools, including magnifying glasses to even see the circuits! They are that small!
We offer the same warranty on the repaired part that Toyota puts on a new one (one year). The last one we repaired cost less than $600 to the customer. Now that's service. Wow.
Late in 2012 Toyota announced the availability of repaired MFDs for hundreds of dollars instead of thousands of dollars. We are still saving our clients money by fixing theirs instead of buying the repaired units from Toyota.
PRIUS BATTERY RECONDITIONING
We've noticed a sudden trend toward battery pack failures in Gen II Priuses. These failures are preceded by a non-seasonal inexplicable drop in fuel economy. In the case of my own '04 Prius, I noticed 41 mpg in July. After I reconditioned my battery pack, the fuel economy meter immediately began rebounding back up into the 51 mpg range. It now reads 54 mpg.
The individual battery modules in the Prius pack (some people call them cells, but they really aren't) become electrically imbalanced. This means that the pack can only be used as hard as the weakest battery module allows, and filled up only as much as the fullest battery module will allow, which is why the fuel economy drops.
Our approach to solving this problem is based on industry standards of balancing, charging, and equalizing battery packs. I feel that the cost of reconditioning a Gen I or Gen II battery pack ($450) is a good investment. The alternative is to wait for the battery pack to fail, and spend thousands on a replacement (a $4000 job to install a new Toyota pack).
We now have a system for analyzing packs to determining their capacity, and the need for a reconditioning. We are working on guidelines for when to do this test. I definitely recommend it before purchasing a used Prius.
We work on all hybrids, but I would like to comment about the Prius models because we work on so many of them. We have been working on Priuses for many years and we have a considerable amount of experience with them. I didn't like hybrids when they first came out, mostly because I saw them as an end run the manufacturers were doing around their legal responsibility to build electric vehicles. (For more on that issue I recommend viewing the movie WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR.) As I got to know the Priuses, I was thoroughly impressed. I bought one and learned all about it by driving aound with my laptop hooked up to the computer and watching all the things happening in real time. Later, I bought a new one in '04, so I have owned one each of the first two generations. I can now say that think it is the best car model I have seen in all of my years working on and owning cars. If you are looking for a new or used car, I strongly recommend a Prius.
You might ask why I think they are so good. I would have to answer that there are many reasons. While they have some flaws, those flaws are heavily outweighed by their benefits. The biggest benefit is that they are exceptionally reliable. This is even more remarkable since they incorporate so much technology that was untested in procuction cars. I have never seen such a bunch of new technology rolled out with fewer issues than even the current technology cars! I do have to admit that they are bad for business. We don't get to do to much more than scheduled maintenance on them--ouch. (Speaking of maintenance... We are aware of at least one of our local dealers who is scrimping on the maintenance, and you, the owner, will pay for that when the engine fails.)
So, how did Toyota pull it off? It was an interesting nexus of culture, politics, and economics that could only have happened in Japan. Toyota is a very conservative company, and was not interested in actually producing a hybrid for sale. They had a hybrid research program, but corporate did not think there was a market for the car. (Just like they say there is not a market for the plug in version now.) The Japanese government ordered Toyota and Honda to produce ultra high mileage cars to cut their foreign oil imports. This morphed into the hybrid program.