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Tech: How Long Do Hybrid Batteries Last?

And Are They Expensive To Replace?

Most gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle drivers will at some point ask these questions: How long do hybrid batteries last? Are they expensive to replace?

Short Answer: It depends on the make and model of your car, whether you have a warranty, whether you can get cash or credit for recycling your hybrid battery and, importantly, what type of hybrid battery is it—nickel-metal hydride or lithium-ion?

Nickel-Metal Hydride Hybrid Batteries

Hybrid & Plug-in hybrid batteries

When hybrids appeared most used nickel-metal-hydride batteries

Hybrid vehicles have been on American roads since 1999, and early adopters took a risk with the new technology. The lifetime of the new nickel-metal hydride batteries (the standard battery for the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight that introduced hybrid technology the U.S.) and their replacement cost was unknown. After all, standard car batteries only last a few years at best.

Although hybrid cars have been breathtakingly dependable, there is a limit to the life of nickel-metal hydride battery packs. While some hybrid vehicle owners had to replace batteries at 70,000 miles, others have gotten as much as 200,000 miles out of their original units. Toyota has said even 300,000 or 400,000 miles on one set of Prius batteries is possible.

Consumer Reports has also tested to see if Prius batteries degraded and lost effectiveness over a long period of time.

In 2011 their editors said, “We hooked up a 2002 Toyota Prius with nearly 208,000 miles on the clock to our testing instruments and compared the results to the nearly identical 2001 Prius we tested 10 years ago.”

“We found very little difference in performance when we tested fuel economy and acceleration,” they concluded. “Our testers were also amazed how much the car drove like the new one we tested 10 years ago. We were also surprised to learn that the engine, transmission, and even shocks were all original.”

“So is an old Prius a still a good value?” asked the editors. “We think so.”

OK, What’s The Replacement Cost?

Depending how long you’ve owned or how many miles you driven your hybrid vehicle, you may have to pay nothing or very little to replace a defective battery. That’s because car manufacturers provide a generous hybrid battery warranty of eight years or 80,000 miles.

California residents and those who live in states that have signed on to follow that state’s emissions mandates get an even better deal — a battery warranty of 10 years or 150,000 miles.

Just because instrument panel warning lights indicate battery failure doesn’t necessarily mean the battery has died. There’s the possibility that a simple fix to the battery pack is all that’s needed, such as cleaning corrosion on a few internal connectors.

If your hybrid is outside the warranty and the battery is indeed dead, the replacement cost isn’t as daunting as was first thought back in the early days. Depending on the vehicle, expect a replacement cost of $1,500 to $3,500.

For example, Toyota is currently charging $3,650 for a new first- or second-generation Prius battery pack. However a $1,350 “core credit” for the old battery reduces the cost to a more reasonable $2,300. For the 2006 to 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid, owners should expect to pay around $2,000 for a replacement pack.

There are less expensive options for hybrid battery replacement. In markets with high hybrid vehicle penetration, reputable independent shops can install reconditioned batteries for about half the above costs. Most of these small businesses will warrant these replacements from six to 18 months, and many will come to your home for the switch.

The last avenue for battery replacement is looking at automotive recyclers or Ebay for battery packs pulled from salvaged vehicles. While the cost may be as low as $500, you will need a professional to do the swap and you will have no guarantee of its reliability.

Lithium-Ion Hybrid Batteries

Hybrid & Plug-in hybrid batteries

Lithium-ion batteries have become the new standard.

Over the past decade and a half, consumers have overcome unfounded fears about the longevity of batteries in their hybrid cars. But the newly trusted battery technology, nickel-metal hydride, is being replaced by lithium-ion. Some auto companies employed lithium batteries from the very beginning of their hybrid vehicles, pointing to the advantages of more energy and power in a smaller package.

Tesla Motors brought some awareness of using lithium-ion batteries in a vehicle with its 2007 battery electric Roadster model. The big breakthrough for lithium was the 2011 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid with a T-shaped battery pack.

The Volt’s battery pack is comprised of three lithium-ion modules that can be serviced individually. Module replacement costs range from $2,900 to $4,900. The good news is modules rarely need replacement.

The bad news is other components of the Volt’s battery pack can fail, and, while most parts are inexpensive, the pack needs to be dropped, which is a big labor cost.

It appears that lithium-ion battery packs for hybrid cars are as reliable as the nickel-metal hydride packs. What’s unknown at this time is how long will they last, but those numbers are starting to come in.

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About Author: Larry Hall

Larry E. Hall is the Editor-At-Large at Clean Fleet Report. His interest and passion for automobiles began at age 7, cleaning engine parts for his father, a fleet manager for a regional bakery. He has written about cars and the automobile industry for more than 25 years and has focused his attention on “green” cars and advanced technology vehicles. Larry’s articles have been published by Microsoft’s MSNBC.com and MSN Autos as their alternative vehicles correspondent, and is currently the Senior Editor at HybridCars.com. His work has appeared in metro and suburban newspapers as well as business publications and trade journals. He is the founding president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association and a member of the Motor Press Guild. Larry lives and drives in Olympia Wa. with his wife, Lynne, who shares his passion for cars.

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