Brian Stablyk/Getty Images
It's a fact of life: batteries fail. Laptops can power down during presentations and cell phone calls can drop in the midst of a crisis. Now it seems that you can add cars to that oh-so-21st century list of worries. Hybrid and electric cars are gaining more popularity in showrooms worldwide as gas prices rise and the environment degrades, and these cars use large arrays of batteries as a power source.
Of course, considering (likely) past experience, a potential hybrid or electric vehicle buyer will may ponder a couple of questions, namely, "Will those batteries die like my cell phone?" and more importantly, "How much will it cost to replace one?"
Before we answer those queries, let's happily debunk a long-standing myth first. For the record, hybrid batteries are only very distant cousins to those used in laptops and cell phones, so you don't have to worry about your car dying in the middle of a drive. As for cost, most experts agree a replacement hybrid car battery can range anywhere from $1,000 to more than $6,000, depending on the year and model of car, and without including dealership or independent labor costs.
While this may seem like a big expense, car makers are set on reducing prices. Why would they do that? It comes down to this: Basically, car manufacturers want their products to succeed. Failures in performance hinder that success, so most hybrid car batteries are designed to last the lifetime of the automobile. The state of charge, temperature and longevity in each battery are carefully managed by automakers who know full well that any setback could throw a wrench into the growth of the still relatively nascent hybrid market.
That said, the stage is set for a leap forward in hybrid car battery technology. For the past decade, the vast majority of batteries were made from a nickel metal hydride (NiMH) formula, but lithium-ion -- the new kid on the technology block -- may take over the hybrid world in the coming years. The shift from NiMH to lithium-ion will likely come with a price, both in terms of dollars and experimentation. At the end of the day, though, the questions remain: How much it will cost to replace a hybrid battery now? How much will it cost in the future?