Safety tips to consider when working on hybrid vehicles
Regulatory demands for better fuel economy and reduced emissions will continue to drive the increase in hybrid vehicles on the road today and for the future. In fact, by 2020, it is projected that volumes will nearly triple from the 2M vehicles produced in 2012. So there is no doubt we will continue to see an increase in the number of hybrids entering the aftermarket once the warranty period ends. Today’s technician must keep up-to-date on the latest in hybrid technologies so they can effectively and efficiently serve their hybrid customers and provide options for service and repair.
Due to the high-voltage circuits contained in most hybrid vehicles, proper service takes on a whole new approach. Improper handling of the hybrid system may result in electrocution and damage to vehicle components. Whenever servicing hybrid vehicles it is important to closely follow the service procedures found in the approved vehicle manufacturer repair manual. Each hybrid is unique and the proper procedures need to be followed for locating and removing or switching off service plugs and switches prior to servicing the vehicle.
There are a variety of tools required to help diagnose and service hybrid vehicles. First, and foremost, a quality diagnostics scan tool is critical for accurate repairs. Additionally, a Category III DVOM is a must for diagnosing high voltage hybrid vehicle circuits. Meters such as the Fluke 1587 allow for insulation testing as well as performing all the other functions of a CAT III meter.
Step by Step
Always wear high-voltage insulated gloves rated to 1000 volts minimum, Class 0, while diagnosing and servicing hybrid vehicles and systems. Use gloves that are in good condition, as even pinholes can be very dangerous. One method of testing a rubber glove for leaks is to blow into the glove and hold it tight by squeezing or rolling the open end tight. If the glove has a leak it will deflate.
High voltage circuits are typically identified by bright orange cables or wires. The wiring may also be covered by bright orange covers or conduit. When hybrid vehicles are in a shop for service the vehicle may need to be moved. Remember, if you are rolling a vehicle in the shop, with the drive wheels on the ground the motor generator may be providing power to these circuits. To avoid this condition wheel dollies are recommended to move hybrid vehicles around the shop.
Have we met?
Always remove all jewelry including watches, necklaces, earrings, etc. when working on a hybrid vehicle. Metal objects conduct electricity and could be a hazard if they inadvertently contact a voltage source. Wear the appropriate protective clothing (high voltage rubber gloves, face shield, insulated boots, protective coat or apron) when servicing hybrid vehicles.
Re-set The Vehicle
During diagnosis, do not drive the vehicle in this “Service Mode” as it may damage the transmission or other components of the hybrid system. To re-set the vehicle, shut the vehicle off and restart.
Disable "Smart Key" System
If a hybrid is equipped with a “smart key” system the technicians need to be sure the system is disabled prior to performing any service on the vehicle. When in “Ready Mode” the engine can start at any time, which could create a safety concern if this occurs during vehicle service.