September 27, 2009

Car Talk

What long-term environmental impact might result from used hybrid batteries?

Syndicated columnists

Dear Tom and Ray:

In looking at "green" options for the future, I have a question about the environmental impact of disposing of hybrid car batteries. We live on the Big Island of Hawaii, and currently -- to our knowledge, anyway -- they do not have a site here that will accept these large car batteries when they are used up. So the question is, Will hybrids really help the environment, or are they just creating another mess of a different kind? I would be very curious about your take on this one. Thank you, and love you guys! Aloha.
-- Ginny

Tom: It's a good question, Ginny. Based on what we know, hybrids appear to be a net positive for the environment.

Ray: The best hybrids get 50 percent to 100 percent better mileage than nonhybrid cars, and the battery packs seem likely to be recycled.

Tom: So far (and it's still relatively early), hybrid battery packs appear to be lasting the life of the average car. But when one has to be replaced, Toyota, for example, will sell you a new one for about $2,300 and give you a couple hundred dollars for your old one.

Ray: I don't know many people who will say, "Nah, I think I'll keep my old one and toss it in a landfill instead."

Tom: And even when the car is junked, my guess is that the casing, electronics and other elements will have some value.

Ray: Right. Even plain old lead-acid car batteries have value when they're dead. So, automotive dismantlers make a point of pulling them out before the cars get crushed. And I would imagine that there will be at least as big a market for the larger, more complex hybrid battery packs.

Tom: Now, will there be an occasional one that slips through the cracks and gets crushed along with a car? Probably. But we don't see it becoming an environmental disaster, Ginny. You know, like leisure suits.

(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk Web site.)

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