[UPDATE June 29 2011]: There seem to be a lot of interest on IMA battery replacement. I just called my local dealer, and he said, for sure Honda does NOT offer free replacement of the IMA battery. He was not aware of any service bulletin that offers it. He also said the California State EPA law may extend the warranty for the IMA battery, but not the 2003 HCH. So, unfortunately, for those who still have the 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid, you’ll need to shell out $4000 (plus labor) to get a new IMA battery. Alternatively, sell it and get a regular non-Hybrid car because IMA batteries are just costly to replace.
Every car owner worry about spending money to repair his/her car due to regular wear and tear. An equipment with so many moving parts will require a lot of maintenance work. It’s a necessary evil. With an electric-gasoline hybrid cars, there is an added problem: the main battery. When it’s damaged, it’s going to be expensive to replace. This is what hybrid owners have been dreading, including myself.
Honda does not have an official word on why a Civic Hybrid’s IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) battery might fail. But a technical bulletin to service dealers suggested a similar problem with Honda’s first hybrid cars, the Insight, which used the same IMA technology. The letter said modules controlling the battery charging mechanism, allowed overcharging. However, repeated overcharging could cause overheating and reduce the life of the battery. Combine that with the hot weather in places like California or Arizona, the battery would die even faster.
The letter might explain my situation. For the past few weeks, there have been record high temperatures in Southern California. I noticed my 2003 Civic Hybrid car’s IMA light came on and off, indicating a possible problem with the main engine battery.
Last week, I took the car to a local Honda dealer down the street and had them check it out. They told me that it was possibly due to a false reading in the ECM (Electronic Control Module) device. This should also fix the issue I had with the Check Engine light reporting a catalytic converter failure. They summarily reset both indicators and returned the car to me. This Monday morning, the light came back on! It looks like the ECM software update doesn’t fix anything.
In California, there is a warranty extension for the IMA battery to 10 years/150k miles. However, this only applies to Civic Hybrids with SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicles) specification. For some odd reason, the State only gave my car a ULEV. So I’m out of luck.
Now, I may not have a choice but to replace my IMA battery. I called a few other dealers and they quoted me about $3000 to get a new one! I can buy a lot of gas with that money! Or a down payment for a new car!
I don’t want to give up on my car just yet. In the past few weeks, I watched the battery charge and MPG indicators. I noticed I was down to 41 MPG on a full tank, or roughly 500 miles per 12 gallons. Even with the IMA battery poor condition, I’m still getting a much better mileage than all economy/compact/sub-compact cars out there. So it got me thinking: Do I really need to replace the main battery? My answer, at this point, is no. The car is still drive-able and still saves a lot of fuel.
Some people suggested, after 5 years, the car’s life is at the end anyway, so it might better off for me to buy a new car. It may be true in a cold climate cities when the car goes through adverse weather conditions and salted roads. In Southern California, the weather is moderate and mostly dry. A well maintained car can last more than 10 years in this part of the country. My last Civic was 8 years old when I had to trade it in for a larger car. Similarly, I plan on using this Civic Hybrid, if it lets me, to go beyond 10 years, or at least until 2011 when my car pool lane HOV sticker expires. There’s really no motivation for me to get rid of this car right now.
With the IMA battery still operational in a somewhat limited capacity, the car still getting a quite decent mileage and still in good condition, my hybrid car woe is not too bad. In the meantime, I think I’ll write to American Honda to petition a warranty exception for my car’s battery. I’m hoping Honda has the sense to take care of me, one of their loyal customer. I’ll update this blog when (if) I get a word from them.