Ted Ings: My Top 5 Tips for Dealing with Hybrid Vehicles on the Service Drive

 
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By Ted Ings, Customer Experience Expert #CX

If you cringe every time a hybrid pulls onto the service drive, you’re not alone.

Although these vehicles are everywhere nowadays, they’re still a mystery to most service advisors. The good news is, you don’t need to be a subject expert to offer first-rate customer service to hybrid owners. You just need to know a few basic tips.

Tips for dealing with hybrid vehicles (and their owners)

In many ways, hybrid vehicles aren’t much different than traditional cars. They still have all the basic systems (steering, suspension, brakes, etc.) plus, one or more electric motors. The following tips will relieve some of the anxiety next time one of these electrified vehicles pulls up for service.

1. Understand hybrid vehicle safety

What’s the one crucial difference between conventional vehicles and hybrids? The high-voltage electrical system, of course. While regular cars have 12-volt electronics, hybrid drive systems require hundreds of volts. Obviously, this presents a great safety concern.

Technicians use special insulated gloves and tools when working on hybrid cars. They also make sure the high-voltage system is discharged before digging in. You won’t have that luxury out on the service drive, which means, you need to know what not to touch.

To stay safe, keep your hands off of the hybrid system altogether. High-voltage electronics use orange cables, and are often peppered with all kinds of cautionary labels such as: “Warning! High voltage, you could be killed”. Take heed and stay away from these components.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that a hybrid vehicle’s gas engine could kick on at any time (as long as the vehicle is in “ready” mode). Stay away from rotating components, such as the fan and drive belt.

Finally, remember that many hybrid vehicles, such as the Prius, have an all-electric “stealth” mode. These cars can silently sneak up on you and customers. So, be cautious.

2. Remember – hybrids aren’t that different from traditional vehicles

Now you know what not to touch beneath the hood of a hybrid, but don’t worry, you needn’t be afraid of everything. There’s still a regular gasoline engine under there as well. If part of your walk around routine involves checking fluids, go for it. Most hybrid electric vehicles allow easy access to the engine oil, engine coolant, and brake fluid. You can also check the 12-volt battery (although it may be located in the trunk or some other unusual area). Like conventional vehicles, these items must all be serviced on a regular basis.

3. Look up the manufacturer maintenance schedule

Hybrids offer some unique service opportunities. For example, the high-voltage electronics often have a separate cooling system. Periodically, the coolant needs to be replaced. On older Prius models, this is performed as part of the 30K service.

Look up the maintenance schedule for every hybrid vehicle that comes in to ensure you’re not missing anything.

 
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4. Know the operating modes

If a hybrid owner flips you their keys (or fob), you want to be able to drive the vehicle into the shop. To do this without looking like a fool, it helps to know operating modes.

Off (not ready): Both the gasoline and electric motors are off. Make sure the vehicle is in this mode before exiting, otherwise someone could get seriously hurt when the gas engine fires up out of nowhere.

Accessory: This mode is the same as it is on a conventional vehicle. It provides power to the vehicle’s accessories (radio, power windows, etc.) but not the gas engine or electric drive.

Power on: This is the same as the key-on position found in conventional vehicles. In this mode, power is available to the vehicle’s electronics, but not the gas engine or electric drive.

Ready: In this mode, the vehicle is prepared to drive under gasoline and/or electric propulsion. Remember, just because you don’t hear the engine running, doesn’t mean the car isn’t on. It may be operating in electric mode.

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5. Ask hybrid owners about their vehicle

It’s helpful to ask hybrid owners about their vehicle. How has it been running? Have any warning lights popped up recently?

For example, most hybrid owners are very Intune with their vehicle’s gas mileage. If you ask them how their car has been performing, they may mention having to fill up more often than before.

A significant drop in fuel economy could indicate a declining high-voltage battery. In many cases, a technician can easily check the battery’s health on a scan tool. Data such as state of charge (SOC), delta state of charge, and individual battery block voltage can paint a clear picture.

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In this scenario, you and your service team may be able to help a customer pinpoint a wayward hybrid battery, saving the day.

Stay up-to-date on the latest technology

You may think that because you’re on the service drive, and not back in the shop, that you don’t need to stay up-to-date with vehicle technology. But that’s not the case. Keeping up with the latest automotive trends will make your job easier. It also goes a long way towards increasing customer satisfaction.

 
Josh Unger