More drivers are switching to hybrid vehicles to get better fuel efficiency but, like all cars, they require regular maintenance and repairs. You can take them to a regular mechanic for routine work, but hybrid-certified mechanics are essential for more extensive work, especially related to the high-voltage electrical system.
"Even in our dealership, only certified mechanics can work on these cars," says Joe Schlueter, service director for Toyota of Tampa Bay in Tampa. "From time to time, we have safety classes to bring them up to speed. If you're not certified, not only can it hurt you, it can kill you."
Schlueter says work on hybrids at the dealership has been minimal. "We do get some cars that have issues, but mostly they're repairs from accidents," he says. Of the hybrid-related repairs, battery replacement is likely the most costly, he says. If your car is not covered under warranty, "you can spend $2,700 to $3,000 on the part alone."
Angie's List (www.angieslist.com), which provides local service company ratings to its members, turned to its highest-rated auto repair specialists for advice on how to keep the hybrids running smoothly. Here are their tips for hybrid auto repair:
• Find a technician who specializes in hybrid repair before you need one: Doing your homework and developing a relationship with a specialist will help you avoid being rushed into a last-minute decision. You'll also be first in line for emergency service and cost savings.
• Check licensing and certification: Most mechanics are ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified, but a majority of independent mechanics are not certified in hybrid repair. Hybrid dealership technicians, on the other hand, are required to complete the monthly and yearly certification courses and are up to date on the latest innovations.
• Never work on the electrical system yourself: Unless you are a hybrid-certified mechanic, leave the electrical and battery repairs to the professionals. They are trained to work with high-voltage components.
• Don't be late with tire rotations: The electric engine creates more torque than a gasoline engine and can wear out tires faster.
• Charge that battery: Regularly charge your 12-volt battery if your hybrid has plug-in capability. Hybrids that don't plug in use regenerative braking energy to self-charge.
• Keep up with routine maintenance: As with traditional fuel vehicles, staying current on your regular maintenance will extend the life and preserve the resale of the car.
• Warranty work: Most hybrid warranties cover eight to 10 years or 100,000 miles. Determine if your warranty requires you to use a specific repair center. If you use another source, keep all receipts in case your warranty coverage is questioned.