• 24
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid – Click above for high-res image gallery

Until the past year or so, the Civic Hybrid had been by far the best selling gas-electric model introduced by Honda. However, the second-generation model introduced in 2006 has not been entirely problem-free. There have been several lawsuits against Honda claiming that the Civic doesn't meet its advertised mileage claims. While those sort of claims are often dubious given their dependency on factors like driving style, climate and terrain, premature battery failures are not.

According to the Los Angeles Times, it appears that 2006-2008 Civic Hybrid models are suffering an abnormally high rate of battery failure at relatively low miles. The nickel-metal-hydride batteries are evidently prematurely losing their ability to hold a charge – particularly in hot weather areas like Arizona and when used in a lot of stop-and-go traffic. The Civic Hybrid has a dual compressor air-conditioning system with an engine driven primary compressor and a smaller electric compressor to keep the system going when the engine is shut during a stop. Using the air conditioning will cause the battery to go through more charge cycles, eventually wearing it down. Read on after the jump for more on why the battery might be failing and how Honda is attempting to address it.

Update: Honda spokesman Chuck Schifsky let us know that the software updated for the 2006-8 Civics is based on the changes that were introduced for the refreshed 2009 models. The 2009 models apparently also got an updated battery but obviously that change isn't going into the older cars. The original 2006-8 models would spend a lot of time during hot weather use with the A/C on which apparently caused the charge cycling rate to increase wearing down the battery.

Update 2: Honda confirmed that the battery pack did change from 2008 to 2009 but its not clear exactly what was updated.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / AOL

[Source: Los Angeles Times]

Having the battery die prematurely during use in areas with a lot of stop-start traffic is particularly problematic, as this is the duty cycle where hybrids provide the most benefit. By utilizing regenerative braking and idle-shut-off, hybrids can dramatically reduce fuel consumption in an environment where cars often register significantly worse fuel efficiency.

Of course, all rechargeable batteries eventually degrade over time – especially if they are overcharged or over-depleted. Automakers deliberately cycle these batteries only between about 35 and 85 percent charge in order to ensure they last at least through the eight year warranty mandated by the state of California. For its part, Honda has not revealed the root cause of the apparent problems with the Civic. It's possible that the Japanese automaker went with a new chemistry for the second-generation Civic hybrid or expanded the battery operating range in hopes of getting better EPA and real world mileage numbers.

Because batteries heat up when being charged, it's also possible that this is an issue with the battery cooling system. The Civic, like all current hybrids uses an air-cooled battery and and it's possible that in hot environments, it's simply running too hot. Whatever the cause of the premature degradation, Honda is apparently reluctant to replace the batteries.

While Honda won't reveal its cost for the Civic battery pack, the retail price is $2,100, which would be a significant hit to Honda's bottom line if it had to replace all 100,000 Civic hybrids built during those three model years. For now, at least, Honda has sent out a letter to owners and is re-flashing the software in these vehicles – but that's not without its problems as well.

Honda has not revealed details of the changes to the software other than to note that it limits cycling of the battery. Some owners are claiming that the revised software has cut both performance and mileage, in some cases by up to 20 percent. While this is clearly making some drivers unhappy, it has also caught the attention of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) because the battery is considered to be part of the emissions control system.

According to CARB, more than four percent of Civics in the state have had batteries replaced which automatically triggers an investigation by the agency. Apparently no other hybrid has ever had such a high replacement rate. It's not at all uncommon for other hybrids to run well past 100,000 on the original battery and Ford Escape hybrids operating in New York taxi service have gone over 175,000 miles without battery problems. CARB is also concerned about the effect on the vehicle emissions if the hybrid system is shutting off the engine less frequently or using less electric boost. If CARB is not satisfied with Honda's response to the issue, the automaker could be forced to recall and replace the batteries or find another solution anyway.

As this is written, Honda has not yet responded to our request for more information on the root cause of the problem, or what sorts of changes are in the software update. We'll keep you in the loop if/when we hear back.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have a 2008 hybrid, before battery update, there was no problem, used to get highway 46-47 miles, 39-4- city, until the update, after that I get 29 city and 33 highwaywhich to me is not acceptable, dealer is trying hard to find a solution, but in my opinion, I don't think that Honda Motor is trying to solve this problem.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I wrote an article in Home Power mag on refurbing your own IMA pack. This is appropriate for any NiMh but specifically aimed at the '03 - '05 HCH's. This info will be helpful for the DIYers out here and save your MPG's and avoid Honda's BS update crap-ola too. Checkout Home Power issue 137.

      rob and sherrie
      • 1 Year Ago
      We found out several things about the 2008 Hybrid. The tires are also a big part of the gas mileage, we were told that by a mechanic at the Honda Dealership when we did not buy our tires from them. he told us we needed a buy special tires to keep up the gas mileage, we did not listen and sure enough the gas mileage went WAY down. This car has not been the same since the update was done it holds less of a charge and now needs to be replaced. I would never buy another Honda let alone a Hybrid!! Should have stuck with American made cars shame on me!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm black so I was taught that batteries recharged by putting them in the freezer. That's all I know lol.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm black, and I just buy new batteries.

        So nah nah nah nah nah to perpetuating stereotypes.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Chiseling on warranty administration is unlikely to impress future Honda purchasers.
      • 4 Years Ago
      To this day, the only hybrids I've thought to be successful are the last 2 gens of the Prius and the 2004-05 Civic Hybrid. I have two friends who own that gen Civic Hybrid and with around 140k by now, they haven't had any issues so far plus they really do get good mileage, 40mpg+ with their relatively aggressive driving style. I wonder what the real change was between the two gens. I know the current gen is heavier (to help explain the worst mileage) but apparently the batteries are also much different.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I would disagree. I consistantly get 50-55 mpg and have even had over 60 mpg on certain trips. I've also had at least (4) 600 mile tanks of fuel and my 2007 Civic Hybrid has a 12.3 gallon tank. When driven properly the Civic can do as good or better than the Prius on highway travel. It will do worse in the city due to the lack of pure EV mode. On highway travel I can perform the limited EV due to Honda's cylinder deactivation while giving electric assist. The last gen Civic Hybrid did not have full deactivation. I have been very pleased with my car, I just hope my battery pack isn't damaged due to the current issue and fix.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Could be that the batteries themselves were overheating, causing the plates to separate far enough that charging was impossible.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The theory is that they're overheating because Honda uses too small of a battery and works said battery far too hard. That will drastically increase the internal heat of a battery, causing it to fail *very* early.

        A bigger pack, programming to keep the battery mid-charge, and some sort of active cooling for temperatures over 100deg. would fix this.

        The solution to this problem is *really* expensive. The crappy part is that Honda has a long standing reputation of not fixing things like this.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "the Civic doesn't meet its advertised mileage claims" ...It's not the manufacturer that determines the mileage figures posted on the sticker, it's the EPA.

      So CARB is investigating these claims??? Let the feeding frenzy begin. Manufacturers may quickly realize that attempts to be green will be met by these liberal greenies with insatiable appetites that cause them to devour their own.

        • 4 Years Ago
        Please take note that: at least according to the L A Times article, owners got mixed results: some got better mileage, some got worse after software update. Not as one sided as Autoblog would like you to believe.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Any new tech has its teething problems, though I suspect this won't be the last we hear of battery issues with hybrids and/or all-electrics.

      And for those of us in parts of the country where most electricity is produced from coal, gas is the cleaner option than electric anyway (expect where regenerative brakes, solar, etc. are concerned).
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have a 2008 hybrid and when I step on the brake, a buzzer goes off. I live in Phoenix and it has been as hot as 115 degrees this last couple weeks and I run the air on high. (It still doesn't cool the car and I will never buy another one.) I took the car into the dealer and they either don't know or are not saying why the buzzer sounds when stepping on the brake. Does anybody know? Could it be the batteries have gotten too hot and are damaged? The dealer claimed and they have never run into this problem and didn't know about the buzzer but it is listed in the car's manual in two seperate places. First, check if the parking brake is on, or it could be the power-assist feature. Has anyone run across this problem?
      • 4 Years Ago
      wow...usually when you think of battery failure, it's COLD weather that comes to mind...I'll admit that I'm not 'in the know,' but does anyone know if Honda's new hybrids use the same system?
        • 4 Years Ago
        Not necessarily. These batteries are NiMH, which are far less sensitive to temperature than Lithium batteries.

        This battery eats itself alive due to Honda's bad programming... :
        • 4 Years Ago
        "These batteries are NiMH, which are far less sensitive to temperature than Lithium batteries."

        That is not entirely true. Lithium batteries use organic solvents as electrolyte, since lithium reacts with water and water starts to dissociate to hydrogen and oxygen above around 2 volts. NIMH use water-based electrolytes, they freeze, and form crystals, which can do a lot of damage to the separator and electrodes. Lithiums going down to -20°C are available, some even go to -30°C but at a very reduced performance levels. Still, it is very unlikely that the battery will be damaged by low temps. On the high temps, lithium rechargeables can go up to +70°C or even more, and these are of course not the crappy batteries you get in your phone or in your laptop. SAFT has some cells with amazing performance, and iron phosphate batteries are pretty good at extreme temps.
    • Load More Comments