Problems With Toyota’s Hybrid Cars (5 Known Issues)

When we say hybrids, we usually refer to gas-electric or diesel-electric vehicles.

However, before the modern hybrid era, Toyota had already worked on a gas-turbine hybrid project.

Since they’ve always been pioneers, it’s no wonder they eventually produced the world’s first mass-produced petrol-electric hybrid car.

So let’s discuss modern Toyota hybrids and the problems they may develop.

1. Batteries Unable to Stay Charged

There are growing concerns over Toyota’s hybrid vehicles involving their batteries.

Hybrids usually have a 12-volt battery, much like the one you’d find in regular cars. This powers accessories in the vehicle and helps handle some burdens of the main high-voltage hybrid battery.

The problem is that it isn’t always able to do so because it can get flat sometimes.

What happens is that hybrids like the RAV4 can get flat batteries if they’re not driven for a few days. This problem can cause cars to become temporarily immobile since the 12-volt battery helps start the car.

We have more here on general problems with hybrid SUVs.

While this is common in regular cars too, until recently, it hasn’t been a typical problem with Toyota hybrids.

Also, under normal conditions, one would expect functioning batteries to last a couple of weeks before losing power.

Still, it’s important to note that even high-voltage batteries in hybrids lose their power if left alone for long periods. This is because electrical energy is difficult to store.

With this in mind, it’s best to keep your hybrid up and working often.

Symptoms

These are symptoms to look out for when your 12-volt or high-voltage battery becomes problematic:

  • Grinding engine noises
  • Delayed start
  • Decreased fuel economy
  • Dim headlights

2. Poor Fuel Economy in Cold Weather

The great thing about hybrids is that they’re the balance between gas and electric cars. This usually means they consume little fuel because their engines have a helping hand. Some hybrids can deliver over 50 miles per gallon on a regular day.

The Toyota Corolla hybrid may even deliver as much as 54 miles per gallon under ideal conditions.

However, when there’s a problem with their high-voltage batteries, the engine does most of the work and burns more fuel. This occurs more often in cold weather; let’s explore why that is.

Cooler temperatures affect battery functionality because cold slows down chemical reactions.

For this reason, batteries have to work extra and this causes strain and reduces performance. As you know, when the engine does most of the heavy lifting, it consumes more fuel.

Hence, in the winter, drivers can expect to spend more on gas.

Poor fuel economy in winter is common with the Corolla hybrid. Many Corolla owners have complained and expressed their disappointment over the car’s fuel economy in cold weather.

3. High Oil Consumption

No one enjoys driving a car suffering from high oil consumption. It’s an expensive problem that’s subtle at first but may be one of the most dangerous problems for your engine. Why’s that? Well, it leads to scarier problems like engine damage.

The Camry hybrid is known to be a glutton for motor oil. This is quite ironic given that hybrids are supposed to consume less oil than regular gasoline cars. You know, less work required from the engine means less maintenance should be needed.

However, the Camry hybrid is oblivious to this, and from reports, it is best to avoid the 2008-2011 models.

As expected, oil consumption doesn’t just rise for no reason.

The engine pistons and rings can wear off prematurely and this can cause oil leaks. Another major cause of excessive oil leaks in the engine is the drain plug.

So, it’s not always a direct case of excess consumption. Instead, it’s mostly because of leaks that may occur in different parts of the engine.

This is why it’s difficult to fix oil leaks without replacing major parts. That’s because there are many engine components a leak can emanate from.

4. Accelerator Pedal Failure

A car that won’t speed up is a terrible problem, but a car that speeds up on its own is a nightmare.

Unfortunately, this is the case with some Toyota hybrid models that may speed up even when you don’t depress the gas pedal. Also, stepping on your brake pedal might not be enough to bring the car to a halt.

This is by far one of the deadliest problems drivers can face in their lifetime. One highly reported model is the Camry hybrid, and it majorly affects its first-generation and second-generation models.

Another scenario is where the car speeds up by itself immediately after it’s disengaged from ‘Park’. Some models of the Toyota Highlander hybrid may suffer from this problem.

Usually, occurrences like this are seen as either coincidences or a result of driver error. However, with these vehicles, the frequency of complaints was too much to ignore.

Most times, the faulty accelerator pedal inevitably led to crashes. It’s easy to see how this problem can easily lead to injury or even loss of life. Ultimately, Toyota had to recall several vehicles across different models to correct the issue.

It’s noteworthy that the infamous accelerator pedal problem affects non-hybrid Toyota models as well. So it’s a good thing that modern Toyota models are free from the dreaded faulty accelerators.

Causes

Initially, the problem was thought to be caused by floor mats that caused the pedals to get stuck.

However, this theory was not widely believed as drivers removed the floor mats in their vehicles. As you’d guess, it didn’t exactly fix the problem.

While driver error is a possibility, the numbers are too high to blame it entirely on car owners.

5. Possible Inverter Malfunction

Inverters convert energy in hybrid and electric cars. The inverter is a major component that may even rank next to the battery, motor, and engine in importance.

Hybrid and electric cars store energy as Direct Current (DC) in their batteries. However, the catch is that their electric motors use Alternating Current (AC) to operate.

This is where the inverter comes in, because it converts the DC to AC for the electric motor to function.

You can see how the inverter would affect the entire hybrid system badly if it becomes faulty. However, the bright side is that a faulty inverter does not immobilize a hybrid car, unlike an all-electric vehicle.

So in hybrids, when the electric motor stops working, the engine steps up.

Still, when the inverter malfunctions, it affects hybrid fuel economy because the engine is left to do all the work.

The hybrid inverter assembly in some model years of the Toyota Prius, including the 2010 to 2014 models, may malfunction.

However, when compared to other problems on the list, inverter malfunction can be said to be the least scary. This is not because it’s less severe, it just doesn’t occur so often.

General Pros and Cons for Toyota Hybrid Cars

Before buying a Toyota hybrid, you should know about all the pros and cons of owning one. Most often, one outweighs the other. The idea is to be sure that buying a Toyota hybrid is ideal for your driving habits.

We’ve listed the pros and cons to help you with making a good choice.

Pros

  • Reduced emissions
  • Modern safety features
  • Reliable engine
  • Lower cost of routine maintenance
  • Relatively low purchase prices

Cons

  • Low highway gas mileage
  • Weak batteries
  • Acceleration pedal failure
  • High oil consumption
  • Requires regular usage

Related: 24 Affordable Plug-in Hybrid Cars (With High-Range)

What Do the Reviews Say?

Based on information from Car Complaints, the worse problem with Toyota hybrid vehicles are engine related. Other common problems are related to brakes, airbags, and transmission.

Overall, the Toyota brand has a reputation for reliability. So it’s no surprise that Toyota has a reliability rating of 4.0 out of 5.0 on RepairPal.

The Prius gets a 4.5 out of 5.0 rating from RepairPal. Hence, we can say that the Toyota Prius’ reliability is higher than that of the average Toyota.

The 2021 RAV4 hybrid also gets an impressive rating of 80 over 100 in quality and reliability from J.D. Power.

From these ratings, Toyota’s top hybrids seem to do great as individual models.

Related: Hybrid Cars Problems: 9 Known Issues (Explained)

What’s the Resale Value of Toyota Hybrid Cars?

Here are the resale values across various models:

Model Approx. Mileage (Miles) Price ($)
Toyota Corolla Hybrid 9,887 28,999
Toyota Camry Hybrid 81,000 19,000
Toyota Venza 13,630 46,940
Toyota Prius 69,265 17,500
Toyota Sienna 35,347 43,000
Toyota RAV4 61,447 30,961
Toyota Highlander Hybrid 16,178 44,536

Final Thoughts

The relief about problematic cars is that car brands constantly improve them. As we’ve observed, this has been the case with Toyota, since recent hybrid models are more reliable.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean you should avoid doing your research before buying a hybrid. Instead, the opposite is true.

Also, if you’re interested in hybrids because of their impressive fuel economy, consider the effect of regenerative braking. Hybrids ‘gather’ the energy used to slow down or stop the vehicle to power their batteries.

Interestingly, drivers brake less often on highways, so on highways, you’d get poorer fuel economy. However, in traffic or in the city, your fuel economy gets improved because of regular braking. Ironically, this is the opposite of regular gasoline cars that have better fuel economy on highways than in the city.

If fuel economy is your top priority, you’re better off with a plug-in hybrid. The RAV4 plug-in hybrid and the Prius Prime are excellent choices in this segment.

Related: What Are The Best & Worst Years For Toyota Prius? (Explained)

Sources

Toyota Problems | Car Complaints

Toyota Reliability | RepairPal

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