Pricey hybrid battery alters repair vs. replace equation

  • Article by: PAUL BRAND
  • Updated: February 3, 2012 - 3:57 PM

At what point do you throw in the towel and replace the car -- when the cost of the repair is about the same as the value of the car?

Q We own a 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid with just less than 100,000 miles on it. The check-engine and IMA [integrated motor assist] lights came on so we took it to the dealer. They said nothing was wrong but to come back if the warning lights came back on. Well, they did two weeks later. They said that the battery needs to be replaced at a cost of about $3,000. It looks like the book value of the car is $4,000 to $5,000, but that doesn't include the battery replacement. At what point do you throw in the towel and replace the car -- when the cost of the repair is about the same as the value of the car?

A The lithium-ion battery pack in your Honda was warranted for eight years or 80,000 miles, except in California and several other states where the mandated warranty was 10 years or 150,000 miles. I'd be inclined to encourage the dealer to ask Honda for some level of customer goodwill help. All they can do is say no.

Looking at your basic question regarding repair cost vs. replacement vehicle, I can't argue with choosing to replace the vehicle when the cost of repairs approaches the value of the vehicle. Repairs do not enhance vehicle value, thus are not recoverable. Putting major repair dollars toward the purchase of a replacement vehicle probably makes more sense in the long run, particularly if you're planning to trade in your older vehicle. In most cases a dealer can repair -- in this case replace the hybrid battery pack -- for less than you can, so the dealer may value your trade a bit higher than someone purchasing it at retail and facing the cost of battery replacement.

Q I have a 1999 Pontiac Montana with 129,000 miles on it. Occasionally the upshifts are hard or harsh. On the next trip, it will be smooth. When it's acting up I baby it and take it super easy on the gas. I'm guessing maybe a transmission solenoid or valve sticks once in a while. Is there any damage from the occasional "thunk" upshifts? I do change the transmission fluid and filter on a regular basis.

A Start the diagnosis by checking for fault codes with a scan tool. If the transmission operates in the "limp" or "fault" mode, hydraulic line pressure is increased to prevent slippage, which will make the upshifts noticeably more firm. Hard or firm shifts may not feel good, but they don't hurt the transmission.

Intermittent harsh shifts could be due to a higher than normal transmission fluid temperature causing limp-mode operation. Another possible cause is dirt or debris in a hydraulic passage, accumulator or the control valve body. I'd try adding half a can of SeaFoam Trans-Tune to help clean and de-gunk hydraulic passages and components.

Next time this occurs, pull over safely, shut off the ignition then restart the engine. If transmission shift quality returns to normal, a scan tool should identify the trouble code related to the problem.

Q Our right turn signal -- front and rear -- quit working on our '97 Buick Park Avenue. No indicator light on the dash. The four-way flashers work. The fuses under the hood look OK. An auto parts store said it could be the flasher units under dash. I'm 72 and physically unable to lie under dash to look. A local shop said it could be a $700 fix. Unbelievable! Any input would be greatly appreciated.

A Your Buick uses a common flasher module for the turn signals and four-way flashers. If the right-hand cornering lamp operates when the turn signal is engaged, plus the fact that the four-ways work, the problem may be in the module or a short in the module harness or connector. If the cornering lamp does not illuminate with the turn signal, the problem is most likely in the turn signal's multifunction switch or harness in the steering column.

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