By on August 16, 2010

Honda’s Civic Hybrid has always been something of an afterthought in the marketplace, as Honda’s “mild” hybrid system consistently fell behind the Toyota Prius in terms of mileage, electric-only range and green street-cred. Then, late last year, Honda settled a class action lawsuit alleging that the Civic Hybrid couldn’t hit its EPA numbers. And though the weak-selling Insight has replaced the Civic Hybrid as Honda’s problem hybrid of the moment, the Civic Hybrid woes are still piling up. The latest bad news comes from the LA TImes, which reports that Civic Hybrid batteries have been dying before their time, and that Honda’s software “fix” for the problem reduces mileage from 45 MPG to 33 MPG. Since the standard Civic is rated at 30 MPG, a number of Civic Hybrid owners are wondering why they paid extra for what amounts to a 3 MPG improvement on the highway… and they’re accusing Honda of refusing to replace batteries under warranty. In other words, this looks to be one of the first major battery warranty-related fiascos of the hybrid era… and it’s shaping up to be a nasty one. Electric car makers, take notice.

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20 Comments on “Honda’s Civic Hybrid “Fix” Doesn’t Fix The Customer Problem...”

  • avatar

    One thing to realize: Honda seems to settle class action suits more readily than other manufacturers. This might invite more such suits than other manufacturers.

    They also seem to be more generous with out-of-warranty assistance.

    When they do buy back a car, they include a confidentiality clause.

    With all three practices Honda puts quite a bit more effort into maintaining its reputation.

    • 0 avatar

      This just can’t go without a reply. WHAT?!?!? Maybe they settle because the cases have merit? Maybe other companies quietly fix problems *before* they get sued (Volvo XC90 transmission comes to mind). I heard people with lots of problems with their last gen Pilot transmissions and a Honda that was impossible to deal with. Your post doesn’t make sense. They built and sold a crappy vehicle that can NEVER deliver on its promise, dies long before its useful design life and KILLS resale value. They should guarantee residual value or be forced to buy these cars back. Anything less is not customer support but a middle finger raised high in the air.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to disagree with you here.  I have a 2008 honda civic hybrid that I bought used in May, 2010.  The car had 23,000 miles on it and was “Certified”.  I traded in my 2002 Prius for it.  My Prius had 211,000 miles.  The only problem that I ever had was it needed a new Cat Converter at about 200,000 miles.  About 4 months later some woman hit me, and the car wasn’t worth fixing.  Since my Toyota dealer didn’t have any used Prius’ on the lot, he sent me to their ‘sister’ Honda dealership to get the civic hybrid.  About a month after I bought the car, the drivers window came majorly off track.  The service center at the dealership replaced the regulator, the track, and the motor at no cost because it was still under warrantee.  About 2 months later, the car was recalled for the hybrid system reprogramming.  About two months after that, my passenger window has the same problem as the driver side did.  This time however, the dealership wants to charge me, saying the car is out of warrantee.  (It just broke 37,000 miles – warrantee ends at 36,000).  I did some research, and found that this has been a common problem for civics since 1997!!  I’ve owned the car for 5 months.  It has been in the shop 3 times, on a Honda Certified vehicle.  How does this represent Honda’ generous out of warranty assistance, their effort to maintain their reputation, or the quality of their product if they haven’t solved the window mystery in 13 years?  Next time, I’m back to Toyota.

  • avatar

    I’d like to know if the Prius – which has the real hybrid market volume – has experience similar complaints. If not, this is a Honda problem.

    As for pure EVs, battery range claims will always be a problem, no matter how conservative the manufacturer tries to be.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a 2005 Prius with the original battery and 76000+ miles. From all of my reading on priuschat there aren’t many battery failures with the Prius.

      In the few cases where a battery has bad cells prius owners have found that they can get cells replaced effectively returning the battery system as a whole back into the shape it was in the first year.

      I’m thinking this Civic Hybrid situation is very different than the Prius/Camry HSD situation.

    • 0 avatar

      I also have an ’05 Prius, and haven’t noticed much of a mileage decrease over time, other than replacing the skinny hard goodyears with some 60 series michelins knocked me down from 55mpg to 52mpg.

  • avatar

    Should it really come as a surprise when a celebrity fashion accessory hybrid car over-promises and under-delivers? It seems that the real progress these days is being made in GDI, auto transmissions, and other “conventional” technologies.

    The sad part is that Honda used to excel at simple, baked-in efficiency rather than tacked-on glitz.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Well done gasoline engines almost equal hybrid fuel economy at much less overall cost. If you really want to do something for the environment buy a competent gasoline model and insulate your house with the saved money.

    • 0 avatar

      Well done gasoline engines almost equal hybrid fuel economy

      Not in the real world. I have 40mpg hwy conventional cars and a Prius. I was in a 5 mile traffic jam north of Boston two weeks ago in one of the 40 mpg cars and only managed 6 mpg. The Prius would have been at least 40 mpg. Last week I went between Boston and Burlington Vt. with a loaded Prius and 4 passengers. I managed to get 51 mpg on a route with a lot of route with a lot of hills. The 40 mpg cars barely manage 32 on the same route with just me and not loaded.

      In heavy stop and go traffic in large cities hybrids are flat out superior. In addition to the fuel mpg, using the regen braking extends brake life. I think the engines will last much longer in those conditions as well.

      The bottom line is that you cannot use EPA ratings to compare hybrids and conventional drive trains and you can’t assume everyone has a wonderful traffic free highway commute on a flat road. Adding start/stop technology would go a long way towards closing the gap, but current EPA testing doesn’t show the advantages.

  • avatar

    I keep waiting to see a hybrid that:

    A)uses direct injection (for a gasoline hybrid)
    B)is diesel powered,
    C) is built on a simple but well sorted rear wheel drive chassis. (No, the Lexus GS and Infinity M hybrids don’t count, too expensive)

  • avatar

    Lessons for electric car makers are purely in the marketing, PR, and litigation. The battery chemistry is drastically different for a real electric (of course we have Volt to muddy the waters now).

  • avatar

    I wish someone would sell a 4 passenger car for the States that weighs 2000-2400 pounds with a 1.0 liter supercharged (or turbocharged) three cylinder motor that gets 60 mpg on the highway at normal 65 mph speeds with the A/C running. I don’t care if it requires diesel, unleaded gas, or can be flex-fueled with E85. It should have decent contenting. We wouldn’t need hybrids with this car.

    Ford is almost there with the Fiesta, but needs to go smaller with the motor.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry, Ford is NOT almost there with the Fiesta. It would need a jump of 50% better economy to meet your requirement.

    • 0 avatar

      Makes perfect sense. I recall owning a 2100-pound Honda Civic that seemed to get by on mere wisps of fuel, using 1980s technology. As a bonus, it was fun-fun-fun for cheap-cheap-cheap.

      Unfortunately, today’s safety regulations pretty much require all automobiles to be 3,000+ pound tanks. Maybe the safety regulators should be forced to ride helmetless on 50cc scooters until they come back down to bleepin’ planet earth.

    • 0 avatar

      it’s called a ninja 250

      0-60 in 7 seconds
      20 year old design (reliable, parts cheap, insurance cheap)
      $2000-$2500 3 years old with low miles & fantastic condition.v
      250cc engine
      cheap insurance
      usable 9 months out of the year here in Chicago (YMMV may vary in other places)
      faster to 60 than other 65mpg vehicles

      1 passenger
      low cargo space
      ‘ac’ strength dependent on vehicle speed

  • avatar

    Everyone wants a euro style econo car, but no one is going to pay 50k for a slow car here. It’s all about cheapest price, for most of the market, so you won’t see anything but “fast food”. Kinda like airlines.

    I too would buy a turbodiesel minivan or such if it was offered. It is not, save BMW at their price and quality.

    The car makers know slow is cheap because they have made a fortune and trained us to pay for horsepower, which is normally very cheap for them to produce. You think it costs 10k more for them to give you an extra 50 hp. It does not. Most horsepower pricing is marketing bull-sxxx, not cost of production.

    Until gas gets really expensive, this won’t happen.

    Meanwhile, I wish I could buy a turbodiesel station wagon. Not on this side of the pond.

  • avatar

    This is a direct result of Honda never being able to quite figure out the ‘sweet spot’ balance between battery use and longevity like Toyota did with the Prius. The original Insight, although getting stellar gas mileage, did it at the expense of depleting the battery more readily than Toyota, resulting in a much higher battery failure rate.

    Toyota’s hybrid system just doesn’t deplete the battery as deeply as Honda’s. Ironically, Toyota was able to refine their hybrid system so it now gets better gas mileage than Honda’s, as well.

  • avatar

    Nissan uses the same system as Toyota I believe and I also can vouch for the beauty of the design. I don’t have the fancy technology package (perhaps LKQ online can help here) so I only have a simple analog gauge for SOC. The quirk is no matter how I try, I can’t ever get the guage to the uppermost range of full charge. If these batteries are installed and the EPA mileage tests are run with this battery “jammed” full, no wonder the mileage is better in the tests than the real world…

  • avatar

    I have a 2008 HCH that I bought new, and I have never been able to get more than 40 MPG combined. I had the Honda-recommended software update to the engine control IMA system and now get 34 mpg. Honda basically reprogrammed the hybrid propulsion system to rely less on the electric motor and to preserve the life of the battery, which in many HCHs has been failing while still under warranty.
    The new software has also made the car very sluggish. I have a Civic weighed down by the IMA battery that relies primarily on a 1.3l gas engine for propulsion.
    I have tried to remedy this with the dealer and directly with Honda America, but they refuse to acknowledge the problem. This is the last Honda I’ll ever buy.
    Information about the ongoing class action suit against Honda here:

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