The Battery Saga (Part One)

My primary car that I drive (our family has two) is a 2000 Honda Insight which I purchased used a few years back. Mid summer after some heavy rainfall I drove through some deep water and tore a plastic panel off the underside of the car. Two months ago the “IMA” and “Check Engine” lights came on. IMA is the term for the Honda hybrid system, the acronym IMA means Integrated Motor Assist. Thus begins the battery saga.

So … I took the car to the Honda dealer with which I had previously been taking the car for checkups and tuneups. They informed me that the panel could be replaced but that three units related to the IMA system cause the IMA light to trigger. They said the MCM, BCM, and the big NiMH battery pack all needed replacing and that would come to about $6.8k. The two control modules would came to about $4.4 and $2.2k for the battery pack in the cost breakdown. I had them replace the panel and told them I’d “think about” the other repairs. 

It so turns out that an active parts dealer on eBay sells good condition used MCM and BCM modules for in the neighborhood of $300 (a lot less than $4.4k). There are two sites on the net which deal in refurbishing hybrid batteries, for about half the cost of a new one (on average). Here is the one I’m employing. The cost is “averaged” because cost depends on how much work and how many cells are needed to refurbish the battery pack. I contracted with one of them and a padded case was shipped to me with links to instructions for how to remove it.

However, and this is the part that lends the “saga” to the title above, a week or so ago (recall the hotel internet problems?), I was driving to nearby city (South Bend from Chicago) for a startup. We were scheduled to be on site first thing on Tuesday morning. The drive is about two to three hours. At the start of the drive two warning lights lit up, the generator light and the brake light. Both came on at the very same time. My suspicion was that there was a common cause to this problem and that two unrelated sensors did not fail. I pulled over, turned the car off and restarted. The lights went away but returned five minutes later. I repeated the exercise. This time it took 20 minutes for the lights to return. While I was traveling I was on the phone and my wife was googling for Insight issues that might have been reported that were similar. She found that some people reported this sort of error occurred with a DC-DC converter. Some people reported driving for months with those indicator lights. So I pressed on. After stopping for a bit of food, when I restarted. The indicator lights did not return for almost an hour. Things seemed to have settled down. 

Then … when pulling off the expressway into South Bend … the power steering stopped working. And, a mile down the road the ABS light came on. It seemed to me that the problem wasn’t the big hybrid battery but the little 12V (half sized) in the front of the car. So I decided that needed replacing. The next day a co-worker and I obtained a battery and that evening went to put it in. And …. the hood release was corroded shut. We couldn’t get it opened. The next day we returned at lunchtime having purchased WD-40 and other lubricants at a truck stop. That didn’t help. I tried starting the car and it started right up (it was really really not wanting to restart Monday night). I drove and he followed me to a service station which agreed to try to replace my battery. They were successful, and that’s were the story gets a bit more interesting. 

All the electrical problems (Check engine, IMA, ABS and so on) were gone. The battery charged and the hybrid IMA system was on line and working. So. What had happened. Well, as near as I can tell, the 12 V battery was the original battery purchased for the car. This battery is now 11 years old. Because of the big NiMH battery pack the 12V battery doesn’t get used to start the car normally. But it was starting to fade. With an unstable or low 12V reference the computer electronics in the car were starting to malfunction in unusual ways. The Honda dealership had missed a big one when they jumped to almost $7k repairs to fix what was a $100 problem. 

This remains “part one” because, I’ve decided to refurbish the battery anyhow and as well, have gone the extra mile and purchased the MIMA system from this site and plan to install that after my battery comes back. That should push me into regularly into the 90+ mpg range on the highway and probably safely into the 70+ city. Plus the joystick and extra control will make the “mileage game” I play while driving more fun. 

5 Responses to The Battery Saga (Part One)

  1. This doesn’t make me want to buy this type of car very much at all.

  2. Boonton,
    It’s 11 years old. Engine runs fine. The battery that was replaced was also 11 years old, which lasted quite a lot longer than the standard battery, eh?

  3. I’m mentally ok with say a $2K transmission or engine job on a car I had for 11 years but a $7K battery job? Tie this to the fact that these cars are already $10K or so more I’m wondering if the savings on gas really offsets this even if the long run price of gas is $4-$5 a gal.

  4. Boonton,

    The battery replacement would have been $2.2k. The two modules listed as “failed” was an error. They are similar the the engine control computers in ordinary cars and rarely fail (and they didn’t).

  5. I guess you’re right, I have a 97 Toyota Paseo convertible, which seems like an efficient car considering that its small and feels good on gas. http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/sbs.htm, though, is telling me that my average fuel cost is like $1600 and your’s should be around $800. So saving $800 a year for ten years is $8000 which is a fair bargain even if I do have to worry about doing a $2K battery replacement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>