2015 AWD Cars: Subaru Outback and Legacy Impress

Shocking failure rate makes this a used green car to avoid

Published: February 26, 2014 10:00 AM

While most hybrid gas/electric cars have proven reliable, our latest reliability survey found what might be called a shocking failure rate for the 2009 and 2010 Honda Civic Hybrid: Almost one in three owners told us that their car’s hybrid battery had needed replacement within the last 12 months.

Our previous (2012) Annual Auto Survey had found that the 2009 Civic Hybrid battery was failing at the rate of almost one in five, while the 2010s were conking out at the rate of one in eight. That was bad enough. But in our latest survey, the replacement rate had jumped to 30 percent for 2009 models and 32 percent for the 2010s. If that sounds like a lot, it is. The equivalent for the rival Toyota Prius was less than one percent.

Most of those Civic Hybrid batteries were probably replaced under warranty, which in most states runs for eight years and 80,000 miles. (Warranty protection was 10 years and 150,000 miles in the eight states that followed California emissions rules in 2009 and 2010.)

Civic Hybrid batteries needed replacement at a rate of at least 12 percent for every year from 2003 through 2007. Replacing an out-of-warranty Civic hybrid battery at a Honda dealer runs about $3,000, plus installation. But regardless of whether an owner has to foot the bill or not, any car with a trouble rate that high—especially on a major component—is one to avoid.

We don’t have long-term data yet on the newest Civic Hybrids, which have all-new technology starting with 2012.

For the first time we’re getting a sense of the lifespan of a Prius hybrid battery. Our latest survey sees 12- and 11-year-old Prius batteries (2002s and 2003s) with a replacement rate of 5 and 4 percent, respectively. Swapping out one of those at a Toyota dealer would run about $2,300 plus about four hours’ labor; figure something under $3,000 altogether. That’s a lot of money, but no more than someone might pay to replace an automatic transmission on an old car.

Despite these findings, don’t let the older-generation Civic Hybrids color your perception of hybrid vehicles. After all, the Prius remains among the most reliable of all cars.

Replacement rate cited by 2013 survey respondents
Model year Civic Hybrid (%) Toyota Prius (%)
2002 5
2003 21 4
2004 18 1
2005 17 2
2006 14 3
2007 12 1
2008 8 0.5
2009 30 0.3
2010 32 0.1

Based on the 2013 Consumer Reports Annual Autos Survey.

Gordon Hard

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