With essentially two powertrains under the hood and a number of additional electric components, gas-electric hybrids are without a doubt complex vehicles. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re prone to breaking down.
“Conventional wisdom holds that the ‘more parts there are, the more likely it is for things to fail,’” says Michael Karesh, creator of TrueDelta.com. “Following this logic, hybrids should be more troublesome than regular cars, as they essentially have two powertrains, plus come complicated electronics. Not only should they fail more often, but when they do fail they should be more difficult to fix.”
Hybrid Cars vs. Gas Cars
TrueDelta, like Consumer Reports, polls car owners monthly in order to get an up to date resource of reliability history and other statistics including fuel economy. “The reality though,” says Karesh, “is that hybrid repair frequencies tend to be at least as low as those for regular cars, and lower in some cases.”
Karesh isn’t the only one with this information; other publications including Consumer Reports and J.D. Power are revealing similar statistics. Even with all those extra parts, hybrids are quite reliable.
“Hybrids are doing very well compared to traditional gasoline powered vehicles,” says Renee Stephens, Vice President of Automotive Quality Research at J.D. Power. “On average, a hybrid sees about 99 problems per 100 vehicles, compared to gas vehicles’ which have a rating of 133 problems per 100 vehicles.”
Stephens points out that this information is based on J.D Powers’ three-year dependability survey, where hybrids also experience 11 fewer engine and transmission issues than gas-powered vehicles, with 15 per 100 versus 26 per 100.
The data from Consumer Reports helps confirm this trend, but also brings up a few other discussion points about hybrid car reliability.
“Hybrids are generally more reliable than their gas counterparts because hybrids are often built on a proven reliable gas-powered platform,” says Anita Lam, from Consumer Reports’ Automotive Data team. “Hybrids built by Toyota and Lexus are the most reliable.” But not all hybrids are created equally.
Which Hybrids are the Least Reliable?
“According to our survey data, the previous generation (2006 – 2011) Honda Civic Hybrid has had many problems with the hybrid battery,” she says. Thirty percent of the 2009 and 2010 model year Honda Civic Hybrids have undergone a costly hybrid battery replacement, although Consumer Reports states most of these services were performed while the car was under warranty. Replacing an out-of-warranty Civic hybrid battery at a dealer would cost about $3,000 not including labour. Fortunately, newer models of the Civic Hybrid are faring much better.
Lam also said reliability for the Ford C-Max Hybrid is 80 percent below the average for new vehicles. The Ford Fusion, which uses the same gas-electric powertrain as the C-Max Hybrid also has a less than average expected reliability rating.
Which Hybrids Are The Most Reliable?
Determining the reliability of a new car isn’t an exact science; it’s more like an educated guess or a prediction. It should come as no surprise then that the hybrid versions of Toyota and Lexus models are predicted as the most reliable hybrids. Lexus models top the hybrid reliability ratings at Consumer Reports. The Lexus CT200h is predicted to be 73 percent more reliable than the average car, while the Lexus ES 300h is expected to be 71 above average. The Toyota models aren’t far behind. The Prius c and Toyota Camry Hybrid are pegged at 66 percent more reliable than average, and the Toyota Prius is at 46 percent. Even the bigger Prius v is rated to be 44 percent more reliable than the average car. The regular Toyota Prius was Toyota’s least reliable hybrid car, but still sported an expected reliability rating of nine percent above average.
Looking at Toyota and Lexus’ reliability history and this shouldn’t be a surprise. The company has a reputation for building dependable vehicles. The company is also seen as a leader in the hybrid segment, with over seven million hybrids sold globally and a hybrid offering in practically every market segment.
But other automakers are catching on. Honda, for example, seems to have gotten the bugs out of its hybrid powertrains, with the Honda Accord Hybrid featuring an above average rating for expected reliability. The Subaru XV Crosstrek and the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid also have high marks. And it’s not all imports with the good ratings, the eAssist equipped Buick LaCrosse is a good bet if you’re looking for reliability.