Car Repair Costs Rising--Apart From Hybrids, Which Get Cheaper

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2013 Toyota Prius liftback

2013 Toyota Prius liftback

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There was a time when the average vehicle could be expected to go wrong on a fairly regular basis.

That's not the case these days, and in general cars are more reliable than ever--even if repair costs are increasing.

Well, they are for regular vehicles anyway, as a study by CarMD suggests the cost of repairing hybrid vehicles is going in the opposite direction.

According to Auto Week, CarMD's third annual Auto Health Index says car repair costs went up 10 percent in 2012, compared to the previous year. That's despite actual visits to the shop going down slightly.

CarMD attributes the increase in costs to a few different factors. Firstly, the average vehicle is getting older. It's a good indication of just how good modern cars are getting, that even older vehicles are remaining on the road for longer, but it does increase the likelihood of buyers experiencing what the Index calls "catastrophic repairs"--replacement or repair of more expensive, complicated components.

These catastrophic repairs increased a full 24 percent in 2012, perhaps partly down to another contributing factor--a particularly hot 2012. The warmer weather contributes to increased wear and tear on vehicles and could accelerate the demise of components in older cars.

Location also plays a part--costs apparently rose 11.6 percent in the Northeast, compared to an average of 10 percent across the country.

Still, hybrid buyers have something to be smug about--repair costs actually went down.

Part of this is down to an increase in the number of hybrids on the road, which in turn means an increased supply of parts and more technicians qualified to fix them.

But we'd also suggest it's down to the ongoing reliability of many hybrid vehicles compared to their non-hybrid counterparts--and the lack of strain they put on their components.

How is your own car holding up? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Comments (12)
  1. Given the added complexity of a hybrid drivetrain, it is pretty amazing that its maintenance costs are not higher.

  2. It becomes more understandable when you realize that most of the added parts in a hybrid are electric and are much more reliable than anything in a gas engine. Then note that for mechanical parts, reducing the stress on them increases reliability exponentially. When the electric motor shares so much of the peak power requests, the gas engine doesn't have to rev up and down so hard. The electric motor regen also takes a lot of wear off the brake system. Plus, the cars are more expensive in general so automakers are less likely to cut corners in them.

  3. Not to mention the "actual" mileage of the ICE is reduced in a hybrid when the engine is shut off and no more "idling" or low speed creep...

    The regen also add a lot more saving on brake system which is one of the major components of service cost.

  4. Not all hybrids are created equal.. Some are mechanically simpler than normal cars (Toyota HSD and Ford hybrids) so they require less maintenance than a normal car.

    The Honda IMA and other "clutch-IMA"-type hybrids like Hyundais, Infiniti, BMWs, Mercedes, are more complicated than normal cars because they are modified normal-car drivetrains. Since these are nowhere near as popular as Toyota HSD/Ford hybrids (yet), I'd be interested to see how they hold up 10 years from now when more data is available.

  5. @Forest: For the record, Honda started selling its first-generation IMA vehicle, the original Insight, in 1999--so there may already be data.

  6. That hybrids are complex is actually an ignorant assertion (sorry to put it so bluntly, because it is only said by people who never studied hybrid technology).

    The most sold hybrid drivetrain is the Toyota HSD. It is a wonder of simplicity. It has no clutch and no gearbox. Instead, there is a fixed planetary gearset that is connected to the two motor/generators and ICE without any clutches. A modern car has two motor/generators too, but each only serves 1 function. And the starter motor is not continuously connected to the ICE either, but has a sort of clutch of its own - anohter failure point.

    So compared to a standard car you lose the immensely complex gearbox and clutch, notorious for their high failure rate and repair costs.

  7. Question...what then technically happens when you put in neutral on the hsd? Such as for gliding..? Was curious about any negative affects since you know system well it appears. I noticed you can't rev engine either in park or neutral. I have (and love) an Altima hybrid with the Toyota hsd.

  8. When you shift to neutral in your HSD-powered car, the hybrid system electrically disconnects the MG2 electric drive motor directly geared at the wheels, so there is no regenerative braking at all, and neither can it receive power from the battery or ICE/MG1 generator to drive the wheels.

    The HSD hybrid system won't allow you to throttle-rev the ICE in Neutral in order to prevent overloading the electrical system (since the energy from a running ICE that can't be used to drive the car will need to be routed to the hybrid battery, which might already be fully charged and can't accept more energy safely).

    I love the mechanical simplicity of the Prius HSD transaxle. Just 27 moving parts compared to 100+ in a normal multispeed transmission.

  9. "It has no clutch and no gearbox. Instead, there is a fixed planetary gearset"

    Isn't planetary gearset considered as a gearbox? :) Maybe not like an automatic transmission, but it is still a gearbox.

    Also how does the HSD "disengage" the engine in its EV mode then?

  10. 80k miles on our 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid with Zero issues aside from maintenance. Between the batteries offloading stress on the engine and the CVT, I feel comfortable taking this SUV beyond 200k miles.

  11. Not all parts are created equal.

    Electric components have far lower PPM failure rate than those mechanical parts on a per mile basis. So, you might have added complexity and parts to the system, but you have reduced the wear and tear to the high risk components, in results you have lowered the entire system PPM rate...

  12. My 2007 Prius is just approaching 100K miles. So far total maintenance has consisted of oil changes, tire rotations and headlight bulb replacements (3x.) Other than those bulbs, there have been no mechanical or electrical problems with this car.

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