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Automotive Technicians Need Not Fear Hybrids!

Some technicians and shop owners approach Hybrid vehicle service with fear, confusion, and apprehension as if they were facing dangerous, exotic animals. This results in a "steer clear" approach, or, a "we don't see them" attitude.

John Cannell
Dave Giles

By Dave Giles, D.A.T.S. Training Ltd, (photo left), and John Cannell (photo right)

What does a Hybrid look like? From trucks to motorcycles it's difficult to distinguish between a conventional vehicle or a Hybrid.

Certainly, you have the obvious ones, such as, Toyota Prius, or Honda Insight, but what about the Camry, Civic, Accord, Vue, Aura, Dodge Ram, Chevrolet 1500, 2008 GMC Yukon, Lexus SUV, Nissans, and others? In the next few years Hybrids will proliferate and become very commonplace on our highways. So, I repeat, what does a Hybrid look like?

Are they identified only by labels or badges on the back of the car? If so how would you identify them from your bay as they drive right past your shop to a dealership for their 8000km oil change, coolant flush, brake work, tire replacement, suspension work, and many other services which you are already able to provide?

Certainly, there, are many important things you need to know when working on Hybrids. For example it is crucial that technicians should be familiar with smart keys which do not need to be in the ignition for the vehicle to operate. A Hybrid can run on its own, if it feels the need to charge the high voltage battery. One tech found out about smart keys the hard way when he had a car on the lift, and, after removing the drain plug and oil, the vehicle started up on its own. This could have been even worse if he was replacing a timing belt!

Familiarity with the special service requirements of Hybrids can help eliminate problems that may arise from smart keys, high voltage batteries, and safety factors built into the vehicle to prevent injury.

Collision technicians need to know the same safety procedures as well. If a hybrid vehicle needs repair, the technician must be fully familiar with high voltage system to prevent further damage to the vehicle or, indeed, personal injury.

If you offer towing services as part of your business, please remember, Hybrids require special procedures, even if using a flat deck tow truck. Tie down points and pulling points are specified in the owner's manual and must be followed precisely. Recently a Hybrid vehicle was towed from a mall, to a local dealership because the owner had lost his keys. The tow truck driver was not aware it was a Hybrid, or that special procedures were necessary. He attempted to "pull" it onto the deck, which resulted in damage to the lower control arms and the engine cradles, plus a massive repair bill.

A few of the many different characteristics found in Hybrids compared to a conventional vehicle are idle stop, regenerative braking and electric steering . Idle stop can take some getting use to, because, as the vehicle comes to a stop the gas engine may turn off. Pressing the gas pedal restarts the engine by way of the high voltage system and its MG1. Regenerative braking is another feature, which converts waste energy from braking into electrical energy. This allows captured energy from the brakes to partially recharge the batteries from the electrical motors when the brakes are applied.

The electric power steering and air conditioning are also unique, as the conventional pumps and drive belts have been eliminated. Upon looking under the hood of some Hybrids you may also notice there is no belt-driven alternator for conventional charging.

When it comes to hybrid service, manufacturers have been doing a good job making techs "gun shy." Media reports of possible electrocutions which, they say, could result when someone comes into contact with a Hybrid's high voltage electrical system tends to make one nervous! Of course, it seems unlikely, these reports are intentionally routed from manufacturers to the media in order to re-enforce the need for "Dealer Only Service," however, the result is the same. This publicity portrays servicing a Hybrid as a dangerous endeavour when, in actual fact, most components are similar to those found on a standard automobile.

For the most part, working on a hybrid is not much different than working on its purely fuel-based counterpart. High-voltage is 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 (oil, fuel, MVI etc.), which will be, by far, the majority of the work required at this time.

Now is the time to be gearing up for this new, hi-tech market. Presently, only a small percentage of current vehicle sales are comprised of Hybrids, but day by day, popularity and sales levels are growing. Do not stand on the sidelines and wait for the dealers to take over the market. This is a sure way to help reduce the number of independent service stations, and diminish your share of the business.

Having an independent tech work on a hybrid vehicle for routine services does not void warranties. This is a myth perpetuated to retain Hybrid maintenance business through the dealer network.

A trained technician can do all the scheduled maintenance requirements and maintain the vehicle's warranty. All these vehicles have conventional gas engines and many other aspects similar to those we work with everyday. The engine system of a hybrid is just like any other car, a gas powered I.C.E. (Internal Combustion Engine). The everyday technician still has the opportunity to service spark plugs, brakes, filters, gaskets, timing belts, etc.

Escape Hybrid NY Taxi
Your shop can perform many more functions on these vehicles than you might think. It doesn't require a full understanding of the electrical components in order to take advantage of the maintenance and service opportunities available. There is very little work, if ever, on the high voltage electrical side. Advertise your ability to service these vehicles. Be sure that your customer base is aware that you are at the forefront of this bold new technology. Even if 99% of your customers have yet to sit in a Hybrid, the mere fact you have announced your ability to service them, should bolster their confidence in you and deliver the message that "You are ready!"

Are you and your technicians ready? If a Hybrid rolls into your shop today will you be capable of ensuring that the oil service, MVI, tire rotation, exhaust, tune up, coolant and any other service required is done safely and to the high standards demanded by your customer?

D.A.T.S. Training conducts training sessions all over the Maritime Provinces. Through the Automotive Trades Association, we can offer you a special Hybrid class, on how to safely and properly service Hybrid vehicles. In fact D.A.T.S. Training owns and operates Hybrid vehicles and have currently added a 2007 Toyota Prius to our fleet. The Toyota Prius is one of the most popular Hybrids on the market today.

For more information on a training session in your area, contact the ATA office at 1 877 860 3805 or local 1 902 466 7516 or visit our DATS Training website at for outlines and dates.

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