The history of the hybrid car battery has involved a lot of experimentation. The first production level hybrid, the Honda Insight, hit showroom floors in December 1999. Toyota would field the Prius a short time later. Both cars, as with the vast majority of hybrid batteries today, boasted an emerging technology with a hit-or-miss track record.
To make matters worse, replacing the earliest Prius battery would have cost a cool $5,500. Fortunately, the second generation Prius overcame the shortcomings of the previous version and produced a better battery system for about $2,000 less [source: Kwong]. The third generation battery pack boasts a price tag of about $2,400.
With the early quirks out of the way -- mainly smaller problems due to battery management systems -- the battery pack became one of the more reliable parts of a hybrid car.
What makes a reliable hybrid car battery, anyway? Craig Van Batenburg, chief executive officer of the Automotive Career Development Center in Worcester, Mass., cites the 2004 Ford Escape hybrid as a model for a winning system. The Sanyo-manufactured pack is managed by sophisticated computer software, and an active cooling system keeps the pack at optimum operating temperature. "It's pretty much bulletproof," he said.
And therein lies the problem of determining what a hybrid battery pack costs to replace.
"It's difficult to pinpoint the exact cost of replacing today's hybrid batteries because so few are being replaced," said Bradley Berman, editor of HybridCars.com, adding that cost also depends on dealership and labor expenses. Toyota estimates their battery failure rate at less than one percent -- and that number is dropping. So, how much can you expect to pay for a replacement hybrid battery? "The best ballpark figure is between $2,000 and $3,000, although battery packs can be found much cheaper in junkyards that have wrecked hybrids," Berman said.
The size of the hybrid can also affect a battery's price. Van Batenburg said a replacement battery for a Ford Escape hybrid SUV can cost upwards of $5,000, though it's unlikely that you'll need to replace the battery before you'll need to replace the vehicle itself. The battery for the Toyota Highlander, another hybrid SUV, will cost about $4,900 to replace, though the company recently was able to reduce that cost by $400 [source: Kwong].
One thing is clear, however: Toyota plans to add a million hybrids to the market each year, so consumers can expect a sharp dip in replacement costs. Since most known hybrids have been on the roads for a decade or more, consumers may see an uptick in hybrid battery replacements in the coming years. They may be reliable and long-lived, but hybrid batteries will, like most car parts, wear out in time.
To learn more about hybrid car technology, take a look at the links on the next page.