Honda Hybrid Hiccup

On the show, a woman from San Fran had a hybrid that would roll backwards when going up hills, or shudder under high acceleration.

This sounds to me like the problem a friend of mine had with a Civic HX - the only regular engine that also had Honda’s notoriously failure-prone Continuously Variable Transmission. They literally used a rubber band to drive the car! In her case, it would shudder on every launch. After 5 years of this, the transmission finally had to be replaced.

My CVT struggled after I put larger tires on this vehicle and required an adjustment.
The other question is if autostop is engaged. If so, a brief let up and tap on brake restarts the engine so it is ready to go.

Never play with the tire size on this transmission. The torque change can kill the belt. I would say at best it could be a very unwise experiment, at worst expensive.

The problem, at least as I understand it, is that the car is a hybrid and when she comes to a stop, the engine stops. It rolls back until the engine reengages. I have an Accord hybrid and it does the same thing. I don’t know about the Civics, but mine has a light on the dash basically telling me that the engine has stopped. Civics may not have enough HP to overcome the rollback on a steep hill. The Accords do fine but they’ve got a bigger engine.

I own the same car. Rolling backwards (on a hill) happens because the engine shuts off when you’re stopped, and takes a second to get going. People who drive a stick shift are taught, when stopped on a steep hill, to hold the car still with the hand brake while you move your right foot from the brake to the gas pedal. Hybrid drivers should learn this same little maneuver.

The “shudder” is, indeed, a transmission defect in the 2004 Civic hybrid. There’s a service bulletin on it, so definitely take that one to the dealer and make 'em fix it for free.

I also own the same car and drive the same hills of SF and Oakland.

gsmetz is right that you do need a braking technique when at a stop on hills in a hybrid.

Also right that there is a service bulletin for the transmission. It’s a set of three fixes they’ll try at the dealer. First, they’ll update the firmware or something in the computer and send you on your way. The next step is they’ll drain the transmission and reburnish it, then refill. This removed almost all of the shudder for us. If it’s still shuddering, they’ll replace the transmission.

Why don’t the electric motor(s) start the car rolling forward while the engine is starting?

In all my years of driving manual transmission (I know others have many more) I have never used the hand brake as you described. Simply not necessary.

I’ve heard of dealers trying to give owners the runaround about this issue, in hopes that they’ll just go away. Since she lives in SF, I’d suggest she check with an independent hybrid specialist facility called Luscious Garage. They’re good people and might be able to advise her how to get things moving again if she ends up in an impasse with the dealer. They are also familiar with how these vehicles normally behave on SF hills.

The Subaru Outback 2010 with a CVT has a hill brake,

On a Honda hybrid the electric motor replaces the flywheel and the starter. Motor can not do anything to move the car unless the engine is turning also too. On a Honda if the electric hybrid system fails the car should still be drivable (if you can get it to start). On a Toyota the opposite is true, if the electric hybrid system fails the car won’t move no matter what the engine wants to do. Toyotas don’t have a start/stop lurch as the engine doesn’t have to be running for the car to move.

Then I dare say you have never stopped on a hill and had to restart.

If one is quick with the right foot off the brake and accurately on the accelerator while lifting the clutch at the same time then one can get away without using the handbrake as one’s third foot. Using the handbrake to start when pointed uphill eliminates the critical timing of moving foot off brake and on accelerator. Many to most cars can not hold their position on a steep hill at idle with only the clutch and no extra throttle, but if yours will then perhaps you can get away without using the handbrake.