Hybrid Service: Not as Elusive as Some Say

Jan. 1, 2020
LAS VEGAS - Some approach hybrid repair like one would encounter a dangerous, exotic animal: with elements of apprehension, confusion and fear. But working on a hybrid vehicle is actually a pretty easy process ...
TRAININGHybrid Service: Not as Elusive 
as Some Say
LAS VEGAS - Some approach hybrid repair like one would encounter a dangerous, exotic animal: with elements of apprehension, confusion and fear. But working on a hybrid vehicle is actually a pretty easy process, according to Dave Scaler, director of the Mechanic's Education Association (MEA). In fact, the most important rule of thumb is to steer clear of the thick bright orange wires, says Scaler, who presented "Opportunities in Hybrid Vehicle Service" at the recent Automotive Distribution Network Fusion '07 event. Scaler says a lot has happened to make techs gun-shy, not the least of which are media reports of the electrocution that can occur when a technicians comes into contact with a hybrid's electrical system. He partly blames media outlets for painting hybrid service as a dangerous endeavor when, in fact, many of a hybrid vehicle's components are similar to those found in a standard automobile. For the most part, working on a hybrid is not much different than working on its purely fuel-based counterpart, says Scaler; its high-voltage electrical aspects are clearly confined to the orange wires running throughout the vehicle. Although safety and familiarity training is required, "you do not have to be a hybrid 'guru' to perform conventional service work, which is by far the majority of the work that hybrids need at this time," he says. "You should be gearing up for the ever-increasing popularity," Scaler adds. "We haven't seen that many [yet] because of their relatively low volume levels, but hybrids will increase - not decrease - in popularity."Getting them into the shop Having an independent tech work on a hybrid also does not void warranties, assures Scaler, who adds this is a myth perpetuated by dealerships to retain hybrid maintenance business. He counters this notion by noting how "we can all do the scheduled maintenance and maintain the warranty. All these vehicles have conventional gas engines. They truly are more similar to what we've been working on, but that is not the common perception." He goes on to observe that "a shop can do much more on these vehicles than what they believe. It doesn't require a full understanding of the electrical components in order to take advantage of the maintenance and service opportunities that are out there. There is very little work needed on the electrical side." The engine system of a hybrid is just like any other car, and the independent technician still has an opportunity when it comes to brakes, filters, gaskets, timing belts, and the like. As a comparison, Scaler points out how "you can do transmission work without being a 'transmission guy.'" That being said, however, hybrid training is a must for any repair operation, as is access to the precise materials necessary to complete the job. "The most important thing for the parts provider is to have the parts on hand for the service provider they're servicing," he says. Hybrids also use a battery; it's just a little larger than those found in other cars. The vehicle works to protect the battery in an extremely controlled environment, and hybrid batteries, though costly, have so far not had any reported failures, says Scaler. Techs should have the right filters and fluids, he stresses: "The hybrids are very specific about the oil grades and coolant that they run. We will have issues with the car if we don't run the exact grade. Sometimes a parts center doesn't carry a 5-30 or 0-20 oil; often they will have 'around that,' but these cars are pretty particular." And hybrid owners can be particular, too, which is why the technician has to be fluid with the functions and terminology. "We want to show them that we have confidence to take care of their cars," he says, adding how these customers are likely to have higher incomes. "People who purchase hybrids can afford many cars in that [price] category, but they chose to buy a hybrid. They're making a statement about what they think about the environment and what they think about gas economy - so they'll know a little bit more about them than the average person." Some features are unique Hybrids are efficient as long as a vehicle is operating at less than 25 mph. "As long as the gas engine's running, you're not going to get the reputed fuel economy," Scaler explains. To understand how to service a hybrid, one should consider a golf cart, a vehicle that does not idle when at rest - a term Scaler refers to as "idle stop." A tech taking a hybrid for a test drive might mistakenly think the vehicle has stalled when in fact it's only stopped. Another hybrid-only feature, he says, is regenerative braking, an activity that saves electricity for the battery when the brakes are applied. When working on hybrids, a tech should be familiar with smart keys, which do not need to be in the ignition to operate the vehicle. One tech found out about smart keys the hard way when he had a car on the lift, and after the drain plug and oil were removed, the vehicle started up on its own - another example of the car protecting its battery at any cost. "A hybrid will run on its own, even if it feels like it needs to charge the battery," says Scaler. Technicians can disable the smart key under the car's dashboard, which can prevent the vehicle from starting on its own. Most hybrids also start by pushbutton rather than a key-operated tumbler, which may be foreign to techs, but it's a feature that's easy to adapt to, comments Scaler.

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