Mechanics offer more options for hybrid repair
Sharing the information
Efforts are under way in several states and Congress to force automakers to share technical information with independent garages.
The move is supported by most of the large aftermarket parts suppliers and opposed by automakers and the Automotive Service Association.
Find a hybrid mechanic
Start by searching "auto service" on Angie's List. Then, ask them if they have experience with hybrid vehicles.
by Liz Vernon
He may not drive to work every day, but Ernest Dun still spends plenty of time behind the wheel of his 2002 Toyota Prius. "Because I'm semiretired, I drive my [two teenagers] around a lot to sports and school activities," says the Angie's List member in Hockessin, Del.
Between those trips and, until his semiretirement, his 40-mile commutes to and from work, Dun, 66, has logged more than 100,000 miles on his Prius. What's more,he hasn't had any battery or mechanical problems. "I've just had regular maintenance done - new tires, new brakes, tune-ups," he says. "I do whatever the service manual says."
Prius owners who, like Dun, have reached the end of their 100,000-mile warranty must decide between sticking with the dealership or taking their business to an independent garage. Dun chose the dealership, highly rated Newark Toyota World in Newark, Del. Hybrid owners looking for independent mechanics should ask them about their comfort level with the technology. Automotive Service Excellence, a professional certification group, doesn't yet offer hybrid certification, and car makers train only dealership mechanics.
Joe Turk, service manager with Newark Toyota World, says he's seen more and more Priuses in his shop. With the growing popularity has come more training for hybrid technicians. "They need special training to diagnose the battery system," he says. "Most independent owners don't have the specific training, and you have to be very careful."
Joe Boyle, owner of highly rated Boyle's Auto Repair in Havertown, says he's seeing more hybrids in his shop. He has no formal hybrid training, but he's comfortable working on them. "There's a lot less you have to do to them, but [the repairs aren't] really any different than on conventional cars," he says.
A few schools nationwide offer hybrid certification. For about $2,400, mechanics can attend a weeklong workshop at the Automotive Career Development Center in Worcester, Mass. Craig Van Batenburg created the program about four years ago, and more than 100 mechanics have taken his class. "It's very extensive," he says. "When a technician is fully trained on a conventional car and wants to learn hybrid technology, they come to [me]."
Victor Langelo, an Angie's List member in Millbourne, will look for an independent mechanic for the 2004 Honda Civic hybrid he shares with his wife.
The couple bought a house in Topsham, Maine, about 450 miles away, and now he travels occasionally between the two cities while their Millbourne home is for sale. A new home will mean a new shop for the Civic. "Our approach is probably going to be to find a good, reliable mechanic, and we'll take it to the dealer when there's something [the mechanic] can't handle," he says.