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2008 Honda Civic Hybrid. (Honda/Honda)
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid. (Honda/Honda)

You & Your Car

Do your homework before buying a hybrid Add to ...

I bought a used 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid from a friend. I know it is winter and conditions are not conducive to obtaining the best fuel mileage, but I have been disappointed. I live only a few kilometres from work and the commute is at low speed in heavy traffic on city street. I bought the hybrid because I thought I would be able to do most of the commute on electric power without using the gasoline engine. But I can never get the car to run on electric power only, which may be why the mileage isn't what I expected. I don't think there is anything wrong with the car, it seems to run fine. But I can't get it to work on battery-electric power alone. I haven't taken it to a dealer yet, quite frankly I don't trust dealers and that is why I bought a low-mileage used car from someone I know. The fellow I bought it from says he had it checked out by the dealer before selling it to me and it got a clean bill of health, everything was working fine. Can you help? - Larry in Blainville, Que.

More related to this story

First of all, you should have done more research before buying that car if you wanted a pure hybrid. The Honda system is what I call a mild hybrid. At no time is it designed to run on the electric motor alone.

The electric motor is mounted inline between the engine and continuously variable transmission. It augments engine output when needed but cannot provide power unless the engine is doing so as well.

Full hybrids like those offered by Toyota, Ford, Hyundai, etc. have a more complex interaction between the engine and electric motor allowing them to be powered by one or the other or both. That is not to say there is anything wrong with the Honda design, it is just less complex and less costly.

I should also point out that you should not paint all dealers with the same brush. You may have had a bad experience or two in your past, but things have changed a lot in the last couple of decades. It is all but unheard of today to find a disreputable new-car dealer.

Manufacturers keep a close eye on them through internal customer satisfaction surveys, the results of which can be used to "influence" various arrangements between them. The vast majority contribute heavily to community activities and make every effort to keep a clean record with consumers and the Better Business Bureau. Then there is CAMVAP - the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan - which provides mediation between consumers and manufacturers about alleged manufacturing defects or warranty issues.

And lastly, don't forget you are driving a sophisticated piece of engineering that has proven reliable and should remain problem-free for some time. But if an issue does arise, you will need the highly qualified and very specialized expertise of a factory-trained Honda technician and related equipment.

Plastic bumper repair

My husband backed into my car and there is a big crack in the plastic bumper. I'm enjoying the fact he did it and knows he did it and want it fixed. But I know body shops and parts are expensive and while a new bumper would be the ultimate solution, it is going to be expensive. Can cracked bumpers be fixed? Would it still be safe? - Heather in Grand Manan, N.B.

It all depends on the degree of damage. If the crack is on the surface only and none of the elaborate impact-absorbing material and technology behind has been compromised, a fix may be possible.

Today's motor vehicles are designed to absorb the tremendous forces of frontal collisions. Federal requirements call for front bumpers to withstand a 5 mph (8 km/h) impact with no damage.

The plastic cover is designed to deform when struck up to that speed as are some of the materials behind it - popping back into shape afterwards. But in extremely cold conditions, when struck at an extreme angle or by a sharp object, the plastic cover may crack. At speeds above that, there may be some damage to the underlying structure so that should be checked out.

But, if the hit was minor and the break in the plastic cap covering the bumper structure is clean, you can hide it with a bumper sticker or a body shop can repair it, in some cases without even having to remove it.

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