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Toyota: Reconditioning Can Extend Hybrid Battery Life

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Toyota Prius NI-MH Battery

The replacement module must be harvested from a battery pack out of a vehicle of about the same age and mileage.

Long before the first Prius left the showroom more than a decade ago, Toyota developed a detailed procedure for recycling hybrid vehicles' nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries. In the years since, Toyota also has developed a way to postpone recycling by keeping hybrid batteries in service longer.

To the consumer, recycling the battery from a Toyota hybrid is totally invisible: Owners don't have to take any action or pay anything. For hybrids that wind up in a scrap yard, there's a toll-free number on the battery pack: Callers learn they'll get a $150 reward for bringing the unit to a Toyota or Lexus dealer. Toyota then ships the battery pack to a single recycling center. Every component-from plastic to precious metal-is recyclable. With nickel prices near all-time highs, it's likely a large portion of recycled batteries will quickly become part of other products.

Toyota batteries are designed to last a long time. It appears this goal is being achieved: reports that two '01 Prius taxis Human each accumulated more than 200,000 miles. That's more than double the warranty, which is eight years or 100,000 miles (or 10 years or 150,000 miles for states that follow California regulations).

When the rare issue occurs, packs that are still under warranty are replaced with all-new units. According to Jim Gatzke of Toyota's National Alternative Fuel Vehicle Service and Support group, the problem is usually with only one of the 28 modules that comprise the battery pack. For vehicles no longer under warranty, Gatzke's team has developed a process to recondition battery packs for maximum life.

“The module must be replaced with one that matches the chemistry of the other 27 modules,” says Gatzke. To match the chemistry of the battery pack being reconditioned, the replacement module must be harvested from a battery pack out of a vehicle of about the same age and mileage. With the module replaced, the battery pack should last another half-dozen or more years, Gatzke says.

While Toyota Hybrid batteries are expected to last the entire life of a vehicle, a reconditioned pack costs about a fourth as much as an all-new unit, which should make Toyota hybrids attractive to used-car buyers, according to Gatzke.