In Louisa, most people own “regular” gas-powered vehicles, but the number of hybrid and electric vehicles traversing the county’s roads is growing as the technology behind them improves. Local mechanics have had to adapt to working on hybrid vehicles and anticipate learning how to work on fully electric ones.
While both hybrid and electric vehicles rely on electricity, they do so to different extents. An electric motor (or motors) propels fully electric vehicles 100 percent of the time, according to David Navarre, owner of Navarre’s Auto Service in the town of Louisa, while hybrids run on a combination of battery and gas.
Navarre said that Toyota Priuses, among the most common hybrid vehicles, will run on the electric motor for two and a half to three miles and then switch to the gas motor for three to four miles before switching back to the electric one for speeds under 35 miles per hour. Other hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt, Honda Insight and Ford Fusion Hybrid work differently.
Some local mechanics in Louisa say they’ve seen more hybrid vehicles in recent years. A customer first brought a Toyota Prius to Navarre’s shop in 2018. Since then, he says he’s serviced 16 Priuses, typically for routine maintenance.
Jeff Griffin, owner of Tires Unlimited in Louisa, says his shop also sees quite a few hybrid vehicles and that working on them requires specialized training.
“The hybrids have been on the scene for a while,” Griffin said. “But if you want to get into the hybrid repairs, it is incredibly dangerous if you don’t know how to handle it.”
Because hybrids have been on the market for a couple of decades, mechanics like Navarre and Griffin have been able to take classes to learn how to work on these systems. Fully electric cars, however, are newer and require specialized training that isn’t yet available to mechanics in the aftermarket, meaning those outside of the dealerships.
“One thing to be aware of when you do buy an electric vehicle, is that you don’t get as broad of a spectrum of people that can service your vehicle,” Griffin said.
One of the most commonly referenced electric cars is the Tesla, a fully-electric, luxury car. Both Navarre and Griffin said that Tesla owners who need repairs or auto services should go to their dealer for most things. Navarre has only worked on one Tesla, and only to replace its tires. Even the tires were different from other vehicles.
“With there being no engine noise, they actually put a band of foam inside the tire to quiet the tire down, to quiet the ride down,” Navarre said.
When Navarre first saw foam inside the tires, he was unsure why it was there. His questions, however, were answered with a quick internet search.
Because electric cars like Teslas are so new, most of the ones on the street are still covered by the dealership’s warranty. As time goes on and those warranties expire, local dealerships might begin to see more electric cars needing work. Both Navarre and Griffin agree it’s important for mechanics to eventually learn how different electrical systems in cars work.
Some people think hybrids offer the best of both worlds: economic fuel consumption without relying fully on electric charging stations. Others are wary of hybrid systems.
“It’s going to take a while for people to actually get into the hybrid system because they’re scared of the cost of repairs,” said Mike Weimer, lead mechanic at Haymarket Auto Repair in Louisa and Trevilians. “It’s actually less maintenance, but when something does break, it’s a little more involved.”
A common misconception about hybrid vehicles is that their batteries aren’t long-lasting and need to be replaced frequently. While this may have been partly true when hybrids first came out, the technology in hybrids have come a long way.
“When Toyota came out with a hybrid in the first Prius, the battery packs were guaranteed five years max, but now they’ve gotten up to 10 years-plus,” Weimer said.
“I’ve got one customer that has 400,000 miles on a Prius and just now the battery systems are starting to fail,” Griffin said. “That’s pretty impressive. [Hybrids] are actually surprisingly reliable.”
Fully electric cars present pros and cons to owners. Pros include low-to-no emissions, lower fuel costs and a quieter ride. Electric cars also do not need oil changes, but still require maintenance such as tire rotations. Potential cons for fully electric cars include the limited availability of charging stations.
Some electric car dealers like Tesla have their own app that shows where drivers can find charging stations along their route, but this requires drivers to plan ahead of time. Another con, according to Navarre, is thinking long-term about where the electricity comes from that powers electric cars.
“If everybody just gets electric cars all at one time, what kind of impact is that going to have on the power grid?” Navarre wondered. “Because the electricity is still going to come from somewhere.”
While electric cars are often seen as more environmentally friendly in terms of emissions, they require electricity and lithium for their batteries. These minerals can cause environmental harm when they are mined.
The technology within hybrid and electric cars continues to improve and many foresee them as the future of vehicles. Although this technology is new, Navarre said people shouldn’t be afraid of the change it presents.
“At some point, we went from horse-drawn carriages to gasoline-powered vehicles,” he said. “This is just another transition.”