Hybrids offer huge potential

Dave McCall looks at hybrid vehicles and asks: 'Why should we get involved?'

Published:  14 April, 2014

By Dave McCall

A hybrid vehicle is defined as combining an internal-combustion engine with one or more electric motors powered by a battery.

In a parallel hybrid, both the electric motor and the combustion engine work together to power the vehicle. The gasoline engine and the electric motor are both connected to the transmission. When fuel travels to the engine or when the electric motor is turned on, the power that is generated propels the car. A controller in the transmission determines when to operate the electric motor and when to switch to the gasoline engine.

In a series hybrid, the electric motor is solely responsible for turning the vehicle's wheels. The electric motor is charged by the battery pack or by the generator, which is powered by the gasoline engine. The gasoline engine in a series hybrid is not coupled to the wheels and does not directly power the car. A controller in the transmission determines how much power is needed to propel the vehicle and whether to pull it from the battery or the generator.

Servicing a Prius or a Honda is fairly straightforward although there are a few special requirements; the Prius uses the gearbox/motor generator as much as possible for regenerative braking so the calipers and pads can have a habit of seizing, these need to be stripped and cleaned every year. The gearbox is water-cooled and needs to be changed at a certain interval. In general, if a garage is proactive in telling his customer he is qualified to service and repair this type of vehicle there is huge potential in specialising. With most vehicle manufacturers announcing new hybrid models this is an expanding market.

It is not mandatory yet for any technician to hold a formal qualification to work on a hybrid vehicle. However, imagine as an employer if you asked an employee to work on a system that is foreign and potentially lethal to the untrained technician. As an employer it is a legal obligation to provide minimum training to be safe when working on any new technology. The batteries on hybrid vehicles range from 100V up to over 300V (Ford Explorer) and this kind level of DC voltage must be taken seriously.

Hybrid vehicles and Stop/Start vehicles must be made safe before service and maintenance can be carried out. These vehicles can start up when battery voltage drops - imagine if one of your staff removes the sump plug then a few minutes later the control system fires up the engine.

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