How reliable are hybrid cars?

By | February 24, 2024

How reliable are hybrids?SimonSkafar – Getty Images

With environmental concerns mounting and aggressive emissions targets looming, it’s no surprise that most manufacturers are rushing to bring more and more electric cars to market. But EVs aren’t perfect for everyone. If you have to drive a long way, can’t charge at home or simply don’t want to spend that EV premium, you might want to consider a hybrid.

The modern hybrid has been part of the American market since Honda broke the mold with the original teardrop-shaped Insight. Toyota followed closely with the Prius. Since then, they have made significant gains in both power and efficiency. (And, in the case of the Prius, the style too.)

But what about reliability? Could all the extra electronics and batteries of a hybrid possibly make for a more reliable car?

Let’s dive into the details.

Hybrids vs. plug-in hybrids

Before we tackle the reliability question, a quick note on what differentiates hybrids from plug-in hybrids.

A hybrid car is any car that supplements a combustion engine with some kind of electric motor. That engine is typically used to help the car accelerate from a stop and slow down to a stop.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe

Jeep

A plug-in hybrid is the same basic concept, but generally with a more powerful engine (or engines) and a larger battery pack. These cars also come with an eponymous plug, so you can charge them on battery power alone and drive short distances.

The larger battery packs typically used by PHEVs also come at an additional cost, but the ability to drive as much as 50 miles in zero-emissions mode (as in the case of a Range Rover P550e) can deliver significant fuel savings.

Batteries

If you’ve read our in-depth guide to hybrid batteries, you know they’re sophisticated, complex things. There have certainly been a lot of sophisticated, complicated things that have gone terribly wrong in cars over the years (remember Ford’s PowerShift transmission?), but when it comes to batteries, that complexity is actually a good thing.

While some hybrid batteries use similar chemistry to the battery in your cell phone, the batteries in a hybrid or, better yet, a plug-in hybrid, offer much more internal redundancy. In other words, while a year-old smartphone might struggle to get through a single day on a charge, batteries in hybrids can last much longer.

engine, machine, trunk, luxury vehicle, car engine part, personal Luxury Car, automotive air manifold, kit car, propeller,engine, machine, trunk, luxury vehicle, car engine part, personal Luxury Car, automotive air manifold, kit car, propeller,

Porsche

How long? In 2017, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) developed a simulation to predict damage to hybrid batteries based on usage conditions. In the team’s worst-case scenario, a simple plug-in hybrid without battery cooling in a fire area (Phoenix, AZ, their test case) would still provide 80 percent of its battery capacity after seven years of abuse.

However, most hybrids today have built-in battery cooling to help mitigate damaging temperatures. According to CMU estimates, this feature will extend the life of a battery pack up to 15 years, even if you’re in Phoenix. Do you live somewhere more temperate, like San Francisco? Count on 18 years before your package loses 20 percent of its capacity.

Still skeptical? Take solace in the 100,000-mile warranty that most hybrids have on their packaging. Toyota goes even further, with a 10-year, 150,000-mile warranty on their packages.

Brake lifespan

Hybrids use their electric motors not only to accelerate, but also to brake. This process, called regenerative braking, uses the electric motor to convert momentum into electrical charge. That charge goes back to the battery and is used when the light turns green again.

brake padsbrake pads

making_ultimate – Getty Images

This is not only good for your fuel consumption, but also for your brakes. A 2022 diary entry from SAE International looked at several studies on the use and longevity of regenerative braking, which showed vastly reduced wear and tear on any car with regenerative braking. The conclusion was an estimated brake pad life of 300,000 kilometers.

General reliability

Brakes are relatively affordable and easy to replace on most cars. Replacing an engine is a lot more difficult, but with hybrids it is also easier.

Because even the most basic hybrids rely on electric power to get up to speed from a stop, many of the demands of stop-and-go traffic are eliminated. And since plug-in hybrids can often handle an entire commute on battery power, these engines may only be turned on on special occasions.

land vehicle, vehicle, car, engine, auto part, city car, hood, hatchback, subcompact car, compact mpv,land vehicle, vehicle, car, engine, auto part, city car, hood, hatchback, subcompact car, compact mpv,

Michael Simari – car and driver

But whether that results in greater overall reliability varies. The most recent Consumer Reports Reliability results show that hybrid cars have an average of 26 percent fewer problems than their gasoline-powered cousins.

The news isn’t so good for plug-in hybrids. On average, their more complicated systems did not perform as well and proved less reliable than regular internal combustion cars.

Hybrid for the win

There are many reasons why a hybrid is a smart purchase for many shoppers. With a hybrid you not only put less strain on many mechanical parts of your car, but you also save money on fuel and regular maintenance.

When it comes to plugins, they tend to fare worse from a pure reliability perspective. However, the added cost and fuel savings make them well worth the risk for many buyers.

You might like it too

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *