What if I told you that you could have more than 70 miles per gallon and a manual transmission in a car that looks brand new, with unwavering, rock-solid reliability? Unfortunately, that car doesn't exist. But it can. I'm here to show you how to make the otherwise forgotten Honda Insight into a truly epic gas miser that lasts forever.
Cars made by the Honda Motor Company usually don't have many glaring faults, other than some issues with automatic transmissions. Fortunately, we're focusing on the manual version of the Honda Insight hybrid. The problem? Newton's Second Law of Thermodynamics, or the increase in entropy. What this essentially means (at least in my primitive understanding) is that as time passes, systems gradually become more and more disordered, or in layman's terms - they turn to shit the longer they're around.
How does this affect our hybrid pocket rocket? The way the Insight's electric motors are powered is through a battery pack located in the back - a battery that loses its ability to charge over time. From new, Honda gave these cars 8 year/80,000 mile warranties, but as some of these cars are approaching 14 years of age, they're way past the "sell by" date and as a result, a large number of Insights suffer from bad battery packs, decreasing economy and usability. To replace a battery pack with a new one from the dealer, the labor and parts involved would cost upwards of $5,000.
This is why you can currently find good condition Insights, albeit with high miles, for no money at all - especially for a hybrid. They're cheap because owners fear for the future costly replacement of the battery. Here's a great example:
If you just bought a new-to-you used Honda Insight and fear for the battery calling it quits in the middle of an epic hypermiling run, you have a few options:
Note: Working on an electrical system, even one that doesn't exhibit high voltage can be absolutely deadly. If you don't feel comfortable with dismantling and working on this equipment, consult an expert. Make sure no standing voltage is present when systems are turned off and wear static-free garments and use plastic tools when disassembling sensitive parts.
1. Run Without The Battery Pack
Honda, it its infinite wisdom, has made it possible to have the car be perfectly functional even if the battery pack is completely toast. The 1.0-liter 3 cylinder engine makes more than enough power to move the car at a steady pace, and although you'll be missing the hybrid technology that makes the car so groundbreaking, it beats not having a car. This isn't much of a fix, simply an acceptance that a major component of the car isn't working and living with that. It's not good enough for me, and it shouldn't be good enough for you.
2. Recondition The Existing Battery Pack
To do this, you'd need to first test the state of your batteries using a Super Brain 989 Peak Charger. Then you'd either need to recondition them using the charger over a period of about a week, or just replace the cells with good ones. A great way to do this is to buy a used battery pack on eBay and simply mix and match the cells, or just buy the reconditioned cells themselves. To keep the charge between cells, you can buy a homemade grid charger or just make one yourself. The full tutorial to the disassembly of the components, along with a plethora of other useful information can be found here, compiled by MetroMPG on ecomodders.com.
The price for a Super Brain is around $150, replacing cells costs around $100-300, and the grid charger can be made yourself for around $150, or you can buy one on eBay for $300. Even with a largely reconditioned battery pack, you can't expect it to work at 100 percent of its capacity, but upwards of 95 percent is indeed possible with careful monitoring of the charging over time. Also, this is a 100 percent DIY solution, meaning that a dealer or shop likely won't touch the project.
3. Buy An Upgraded Battery Pack, Install It Yourself
Sometimes you don't want to deal with the DIY home-made solutions and just want something with a functional guarantee. That's where Bumblebee Batteries comes in, with their increased capacity 8.0 amp-hour NiMH batteries. At $2095, they're not the cheapest solution, but they could be the most stress-free if you want a car that you won't have to constantly monitor and tweak.
Here's the full installation procedure:
After the replacement/refurbishment of the batteries, there are certain procedures you should do to make sure the batteries don't get heavily abused and last as long as possible. With these solutions, the Insight should last well into the next generation returning 70 miles per gallon without too much of a fuss.
For more Achilles' heel surgical procedures, check these out:
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.