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Thursday, December 11, 2008


Release Party!
2009 Female Mechanics Calendar
Saturday, December 13th, 4-7p
At Luscious Garage (map)

This week’s picks in both the SF Bay Guardian and the SF Weekly, LG is gearing up for a blast celebrating artist Sarah Lyon and her kick ass activism for female mechanics of all kinds from all over the country. 

imageMusic, beer, and feminism for free
2009 calendars for $20

The whole calendar collection, 2007-2009, $50

Read more:

From Sarah Lyon’s website: 2009 Female Mechanics Calendar

From the culture blog of Malinda Lo: Hot. Female. Mechanics.

From the moto blog of Cecilie Hoffman: 2009 Female Mechanics calendar may be a collector’s item

From the Bay Area Reporter: A new type of calendar girl

From the Weekly: Lady Cab Fixer

From the Guardian: Weekly Picks

From LG’s blog: Female Mechanics Calendar

Carolyn's avatarPosted by Carolyn Permalink Categories: Community »

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hybrid Battery Failure

imageHybrid cars are considered dangerous.  High voltage implies electrocution; initially people feared what would happen in the case of a crash or a service call.  These concerns have been largely dismissed after countless accidents and repairs.  In fact hybrids have proven no more deadly than regular cars.

But high voltage also entails batteries, and another rumor mill has been churning for almost ten years now about the financial threat of battery packs needing replacement.  If you were foolish enough to purchase a hybrid, you were in for a monstrous repair bill sometime in the future (60k, 100k, whatever mileage seems grossly premature).  I often hear HV batteries wrongly estimated at six to eight thousand dollars.

As Prius swarm San Francisco today, it’s clear all this fear mongering has not deterred buyers.  Hybrids are mainstream, and the ownership experience has proven to be an overwhelmingly pleasurable one.  The threat of hybrids is only to those opposed to new technology and/or burning less gas.

But the fate of the hybrid battery is still an important question and entirely relevant as these cars reach middle age. 

As hybrid specialists, Luscious Garage has unique insight into battery failures and the best means of repair.  Not only to do we have the training to service high voltage safely and reliably, we also maintain a network of suppliers for competitive imageprices and continually research best practices for refurbishing depleted packs and/or recycling.

Indeed, replacement packs are neither cheap nor casual to replace, but their prices and procedures are comparable to large jobs common to regular cars.

Thus far we have seen battery failures outside of the factory warranty on two models: Gen 1 Toyota Prius (model year 2001, 2002, 2003) and the Honda Insight (model year 2000-2006).  It’s no surprise that these are also the oldest hybrids on the road.

We have seen one battery failure on a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid, with only 50,000 miles on the clock, but this was an isolated case and was covered under warranty.  We have not seen or heard of common failures on other models. 

Indeed the second generation Prius (2004-2009) battery has proven extraordinarily robust, with vehicles still running on the original pack well over 300,000 miles.  This is a testament to the improvements to batteries as well as the management software on board.  Other late model Toyota products can be expected to demonstrate equal longevity.

Read more detailed information on model-specific battery failures:

Gen 1 Toyota Prius (model years 2001-2003)
Honda Insight (model years 2000-2006) (forthcoming)

Carolyn's avatarPosted by Carolyn Permalink Categories: Repair »

Gen 1 Prius Battery Failure, P3006

(This blog relates to P3006 battery faults; for P3009 battery faults, congratulations, your battery can be fixed!  Refer to another blog here.)

(If your P3006 code coincides with a P3030, or you only have a P3030, congratulations, your battery can be fixed!  Refer to another blog here.)

(LG no longer recommends battery rebuilds.  Refer to Prius Battery Rebuild: Yes or No?)


imageBased on experience within our walls and in discussion with technicians across the country, we can fairly call Gen 1 Prius battery failures “common” and even “predictable.”  The youngest we’ve seen served 130,000 miles, some make it past 200,000 miles.  Overall we’ve found 150,000 miles a reasonable expectation of how long the packs will last.

Note: This is not the same as the Gen 1 Prius HV Battery electrolyte discharge problem, which Toyota addressed with “service campaign” (a.k.a. recall) SSC 40G to reseal the positive battery terminals.

The Gen 1’s Panasonic batteries integrate six 1.2V cells into one “module” (7.2V). The modules are then connected in series, 38 total in the pack, for a nominal voltage of 273.6. (Pic above of Gen 1 pack in the trunk, operating at over 300V. Pic below of Gen 1 pack after sitting for a few months, one module down below 3V.)

imageThe cells are designed to be charged and discharged on a regular basis.  As they age, they are increasingly sensitive to extended periods of rest and will slowly discharge internally.  The situation worsens until the cells are totally compromised; they will not maintain a consistent potential even during use, when the Prius charges and discharges them in normal driving. 

imageThe result is wild swings of voltage within individual modules (seen on the scan tool in pairs, or “blocks”), which makes it very difficult for the onboard computer to regulate total pack state-of-charge.  When the “delta state-of-charge” (or fluctuation of state-of-charge) gets too big, the battery computer (called the “electronic control unit” or ECU) will set a code P3006: “Battery SOC are uneven” or “Battery Levels Uneven”.  (Pic of scan tool reading delta SOC of 58%)  The main hybrid computer (or HV ECU, which is den mother of the car) will set a corresponding code P3000: “HV Battery Malfunction” which simply points to the Battery ECU for more information.

Additional codes may follow that pick out which “blocks” are the worst, starting with P3011: “Battery Block 1 Weak” through P3029: “Battery Block 19 Weak”.  (Note that for 38 modules there are 19 blocks.) image(Pic of scan tool showing bad block 7)

To the driver, the only feedback is the master warning (red triangle) and “check engine” lights. Drivers may also notice reduced fuel economy (though there are many things that can cause that) and the battery charge display dithering around more than usual. Sometimes the engine will turn on and off over and over.

If the warnings are ignored and the battery gets even worse, the HV ECU will determine that the battery is unreliable, abandon it, and enter a “limp mode”.  Symptoms are the engine revving at high RPM, low power, and jerky performance. What the computer is actually doing is using the engine to generate electricity with MG1 (one of the motor-generators in the transmission) and then channeling that power directly to MG2 (the second motor-generator connected to the wheels) to allow the car to keep moving. 

The method is not exact and can actually cause severe overcharging and/or undercharging of the battery, stress out the HV Inverter, and potentially wreak further damage.  Also, since the HV battery is out of the picture, the system cannot use the DC/DC converter to charge the 12V auxiliary battery (akin to driving a conventional car with a bad alternator, where the 12V drains down), and the car will eventually shut down.  Many more codes may follow if the 12V system gets low enough.


Diagnosis: $60

Because the symptoms of battery failure are well understood, we only charge a half hour for diagnostics: to hook up the scan tool, confirm the health of the battery, and survey the health of related components to get a firm estimate of total necessary investment.  Note that this diag charge is typically much less than the dealer, another reason to bring your Prius to LG first.

If the car needs is a new high voltage battery there are three potential approaches:

1.) NEW: Replace the battery with a new one from Toyota

Despite prevailing rumor, new battery packs from Toyota are not unreasonably expensive.  While they are a significant financial investment, they can be expected to last as long as originals, as they are brand new and OE grade.  The replacement assembly does not include control components (HV relays, ECU, harnesses) or vent tubes.  imageThus it takes a bit more labor to transfer these components from the original assembly.

Installation: $480
New Battery Pack: $2,299
Tax: $218.41

Total: $2997.41

2.) USED (not recommended): Replace the battery with a used one from a crashed car

When LG first opened we could purchase used battery packs for less than a thousand dollars.  Even in the last year, we’ve seen prices double from salvage yards given increasing numbers of battery failures and dwindling supply of second-hand replacements.  imageIt is hard to find a low-mileage battery for less than $2000, and the prices vary depending on availability.

Used packs do appear on eBay on a regular basis, but it can be very hard to determine the health of such a battery.  It’s quite likely the part is for sale exactly because it’s already gone bad.  As with any salvaged part, it’s likely sat for an extended period and further degraded.  For all these reasons, LG no longer recommends used packs.  If a customer insists on supplying their own, we will install it, with no guarantee, for three hours labor ($360).

Installation: $360
Used Battery Pack: $2000 (may vary)
Tax: $190

Total: $2,550

3.) REBUILT (not recommended): Replace the battery modules with used ones from the Gen 2 Prius

We no longer recommend rebuilding battery packs.  See another blog here.

Installation: $720
Replacement modules: $1,500
Tax: $142.50

Total: $2,362.50

For inquiries on battery diagnostics or replacement, use the LG contact form.

Carolyn's avatarPosted by Carolyn Permalink Categories: Repair »

Gen 1 Prius Common Failures

imageThe first generation Prius is a special car.

The word “prius” means to “to come before” and, indeed, when it debuted in the US market, its technology marked a paradigm shift.  Very quickly the modest car established hybrid appeal and influence, eclipsing its Honda rival, the Insight, as well as the development of hydrogen cars.

For all its good intensions, the Gen 1 Prius also has “special needs”.  It was a sophomore experiment, a rare gamble by a notoriously prudent automaker to compete on fuel efficiency in the midst of the SUV craze.  Not surprisingly, almost ten years later, the early Prius is fraying from the cutting edge.

Three components were exceptionally different from regular cars (even Toyota’s full EVs that appeared around the same time).  These are exactly the large dollar common failures we’ve seen in our shop:

imageHybrid Synergy Drive Transaxle—a elegant liaison between two motor-generators and an internal combustion engine, first of its kind in the automotive market.  The design was patented decades before (by TRW) but it was modern computer control that allowed the “synergy” to work smoothly.

imageElectric Power Steering—though first seen on the 1993 Acura NSX, EPS was a strong candidate to allow steering assist at low speeds (when its most needed) when the Prius engine would be off.  In comparison, the Toyota RAV4 EV uses an electric hydraulic pump for conventional assist.

imageHigh Voltage Battery Pack—38 Panasonic NiMH modules per pack, 7.2V each, for a nominal voltage of 273.6V.  The RAV4 EV and the pre-Prius (a.k.a. model NHW10, sold only in Japan starting in 1997) use different batteries. Though similar looking, the Gen 2 Prius (a.k.a. model NHW20, model years 2004-2009) employs different, updated Panasonic batteries.

Click on the following links for dedicated blogs on each issue (and price of repairs):

Prius Transmission Failure
Prius Steering Rack Failure
Prius Battery Failure

Carolyn's avatarPosted by Carolyn Permalink Categories: Repair »

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