Hybrid Battery might be dying? Or just laid down for a nap?

Hello! You guys were very helpful to me with an earlier problem, so I hope you will have some good thoughts again. It’s going to be a log post, as I have no idea what matters. I have a 2012 Honda Insight (middle trim level - I forget the name, color is Truffle Pearl aka brown), with 118K on it. I bought it new, and mostly have been very happy with it. I have maintained it well. I’d like to keep driving it - I find it comfortable and perfectly adequate for my needs. Never had an accident.

3 times over the last couple of months it has started from the conventional starter, rather than starting off the IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) battery. I can tell because the IMA start is quiet and instant - the conventional start cranks a couple of times and then catches, just like a regular car. NEVER did this before in the first 9 years of its life. When I look immediately at the info screen, the IMA battery shows no bars - completely discharged. Never saw that before either. Upon driving, the IMA recharges just like I think it usually does, and then I’m good for another few weeks. No warning lights at all, ever. I probably wouldn’t give this a second thought if I wasn’t so familiar with the car. I am certain this is entirely new, but nothing else in my driving has changed recently. Like many people, I drive a lot less post Covid, 5 or 10 mile trips, normally couple of days, mixed with some longer occasional trips. But that’s been the case for almost 3 years now.

Something happened in the fall that might be connected, since this first happened around that time. Several times I went out to start the car and it was completely dead - no lights on the dash, no sound on turning the key. Had the 12 volt battery jumped, and it started off the IMA, just fine. A few days later, same thing would happen again. Eventually I learned that all I had to do was shake the car, and then it would start. Long saga involving a mechanic who couldn’t figure out what was wrong - I did not go to the dealer, since I had the perception that it was a small battery issue and at that time didn’t understand how complex the electrical systems on this thing are. And a dealer involves a ferry ride, and there is nothing worse than being the car that can’t start and blocks the ferry lane. I feared the social disapproval :). Eventually it turned out that a battery cable was broken - fixed that, replaced the stressed 12 volt battery and everything has been great, except this intermittent starting issue.

The manual says that the IMA battery indicator is not a direct measure of the battery status - it’s more of an estimate based on measured voltages, etc. I’m not sure what that means or if it helps. The manual also says that cold temperatures or high altitudes (I’m at sea level) can cause the car to use the conventional starter. And that the indicator can read no bars because it is in the process of some type of periodic error correction. It has been cold (for here) recently - the overnight low was in the mid 20s and the car had sat for about 2 weeks in the garage before this latest occurrence (letting it sit so long is not typical, but it has happened before, and still started off the IMA).

The closest dealer suggests I bring it in for a $175.00 diagnostic check. A second dealer says this isn’t abnormal, and shouldn’t be a worry, but can’t really explain why I never saw it before.

This all seems like a tempest in a teapot, even to me, but I’m 2 months exactly from battery warranty expiration. My question for you is: should I be worried that this is the beginning of the end, and trying to engage the dealer in such a way that I might be able to swing a replacement under warranty? Any suggestions about how to do that? Or just not worry unless the IMA warning light comes on? My googling suggests that a dealer isn’t normally going to act unless the IMA light is on. And it is a 10 year old car - if this IS the beginning of the end, but I get 2 or 3 more years out of the battery, even with this continuing to happen occasionally, that would be great.

Thanks for the hour of your life you spent reading this!

If this was my car, I’d be in the dealer with $175 in my hand tomorrow morning on their doorstep when they open to have the IMA checked.

I suspect the IMA battery is on its way out and this is the only way you (and Honda) will know know if it is or not.

If you wait, you will surely have to argue with Honda or pay for it yourself.

This is not the time to be cheap.


You might find an answer here:
Honda Insight Forum (insightcentral.net)

I’d also pay the dealer for a diagnosis.

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Good to know - I have an appointment next week, but just wasn’t sure if it would be a waste, with no warning light showing. I have spent some time on the Honda Insight forum and didn’t find anything that seemed to have the same symptoms. If I learn anything interesting from the dealer, I’ll report back! Thanks.

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You won’t know if it’s a waste until the appointment is over. Even then, you registered your complaint and within the warranty. Make sure you get a receipt for the visit and that it explains your problem well enough that they can’t say you didn’t bring it to them in time for the warranty.