Disabling electric vehicles prior to collision repairs

April 5, 2023
Even an experienced collision tech should seek out training to accomplish safe and effective R&R on a battery electric or hybrid electric vehicle.

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Note from the author: This article is not designed to be a source of training but to be a reference on what to look for in quality collision repair training.

An anecdote

Electric and hybrid electric vehicles are selling at a higher pace now than ever, and I can vouch for this personally.

My wife’s current vehicle is a 2013 Toyota plug-in Prius that has given her over 200,000 miles of virtually trouble-free service, but the time has come for a replacement. We narrowed our choices down to four SUV hybrids or plug-in hybrids, and to our surprise, not only were none of our choices available for a test drive within 100 miles of our home, but we were also told by Toyota, Chevrolet, Honda, and Kia that the turnaround for ordering a hybrid was six months or more for a hybrid, and almost a year for plug-in hybrids. The demand for this market segment is at its largest since the Prius was first introduced in the year 2000. Wow.

With this anecdote on their popularity, it stands to reason that you, the collision repair specialist, should be seeing an increasing number of EVs in your collision repair facility. Due to the uniqueness of their powertrains, even an experienced collision tech cannot and should not “wing” the repair of an EV but should seek out training to accomplish safe and effective R&R on a battery electric or hybrid electric vehicle.

There are many concerns and steps that a collision shop should adopt when addressing EV repair. This article will focus on only one – the proper disabling of an EV for repair, including battery disconnecting and removal. Other issues such as workflow, personal protective equipment, specialized tools and meters, and a secure work area are all also very important to know but are not covered here.

Vehicle disabling procedures

When an EV enters your facility, no matter the flavor (hybrid, electric, or plug-in hybrid), disabling the high-voltage system is PARAMOUNT before beginning any estimating, diagnostics, or repair work. Unlike gasoline vehicles, interaction should not begin before the vehicle has been disabled and the high voltage has been isolated to the HV battery. For most EVs, this is a multi-step process.

Turn the vehicle off with the car’s key. This could be a traditional ignition key, a smart key, or a key fob. It is also a good idea to check the glove box and other areas of the car for a second key, especially smart key fobs. A second key in the vehicle would allow inadvertent reactivation of the EV systems through an accidental pressing of the ignition button. Place the key or keys in a secure, locked area at least 30 feet from the vehicle to prevent the car from being activated inadvertently.

Assure that the vehicle is not plugged into an EV charging station and that it will not be charged at any time until all repairs are made. When a plug-in vehicle is charging, many components of the high-voltage system are activated to allow energy to flow to the battery, re-energizing systems that are normally shut down by the car’s ignition system. It is easy to see where a technician could be put in danger if an already disabled EV was plugged in while being repaired.

Disconnect or remove the 12V battery. High voltage travels through the vehicle utilizing 12V powered relays and removing the battery will give you another level of safety. Some OEMs recommend just disconnecting one cable off the battery, but to be safe, we recommend removing both or taking the battery out of the vehicle altogether.

Remove the vehicle's service disconnect using high-voltage gloves that have been checked for their last certification date and tested by the technician for leaks. The collision repair specialist should also wear other required personal protective equipment when interacting with the service disconnect. The service disconnect is present on almost all-electric vehicles and is put in place by the OEMs to give service technicians the ability to disconnect the high-voltage battery from the rest of the vehicle. It is almost always bright orange in color and can be located through the OEM service information. Once removed, the service disconnect should also be placed in a secure and locked location.

Service information

Although similar, each vehicle manufacturer and model have a unique set of electric vehicle-disabling procedures, which can be found by web search. This information can always be found in the OEM service information, but I like to use the I-CAR OEM Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Disable Search, which lists the factory-recommended disabling procedures for many major makes and models. If you bookmark https://rts.i-car.com/hybrid-and-electric-vehicle-disable-search.html on your computer, you will always have access to the recommended safety shutdown procedures for the EV you are working on. Be warned that some information is located behind an OEM paywall.

It is also a good practice to perform a vehicle check using a scan tool that will give you an idea of what systems have been damaged, but that can also verify that the HV system has been disabled. Scan tool data for electric and hybrid cars goes into great detail on the high voltage system and allows the technician to see the status of the propulsion components. But remember, this vehicle has been in an accident, and all statuses of electrical circuitry should be verified using an appropriate DVOM with high-voltage capability and HV leads. “Live-Dead-Live” testing has become much simpler and safer using a two-pole multimeter. I’m a big fan of two-pole testers that, when used properly, bring another level of safety to working with EV systems.

The high-voltage battery

The elephant in the room for EV disabling procedures is always the high-voltage battery. Unless discharged completely using specialized equipment, there will ALWAYS be energy in the vehicle’s battery, and all technicians repairing a vehicle need to be aware and trained on its presence. The battery can be removed, which we’ll discuss here in a bit, but most collision work can be performed with the battery in place. Once the OEM disabling procedure has been completed and the EV battery has been visually examined and verified with a scan to confirm there has been no direct damage to the battery, work can proceed. However, if the scan tool has shown possible battery anomalies or a visual inspection shows direct damage to the battery or battery case, the battery will need to be removed and replaced.

If an HV battery is damaged, the vehicle should ALWAYS be stored outside and remote from any combustible materials, including other cars, until the battery has been removed. Damaged EV batteries can combust days and sometimes weeks after the initial damage takes place. Therefore, the vehicle should only be in your shop when it is being serviced or after the battery has been verified as undamaged or removed.

If the HV battery was damaged in a collision scenario, or if the collision repair work requires its removal to access the structure around the battery or for painting/curing procedures, the technician should once again consult the OEM battery removal procedures. Hybrid vehicle batteries, smaller and lighter than battery electric vehicle (BEV) batteries, can often be removed by one or two technicians without special lifts or tools. BEV batteries are large, heavy, and are usually only accessible from beneath the vehicle. Most BEV batteries require an OEM lift table or a standard lift table for removal. Be aware that some standard vehicle lifts are too narrow for battery removal. Again, be sure to follow OEM procedures for battery disconnect, removal, storage, shipping, and replacement.

Once all repairs have taken place, a reversal of these procedures will reactivate the electric vehicle systems, allowing for a final vehicle scan and test drive.

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