As our appetite for fossil fuels continues to increase, the automobile industry has recognized the need for alternative fuels. Let's explore how to tow hybrid vehicles, the most popular type of vehicle in North America that uses an alternative fuel.
A "hybrid,” as its name suggests, is a combination of both electric- and gas-powered vehicles. Hybrids are fueled in two ways: by a bank of batteries that provide an AC current to a motor, and by a fossil fuel (gasoline or diesel) that provides an ignition source to a combustion engine. Hybrids are everywhere on today's roads. There were 215,000 hybrids registered in North America in 2005. By 2016, that number was 4 million.
Why hybrid vehicles can be deadly
When it comes to providing any service for a hybrid vehicle, from a jump start to a ditch recovery, you need to be informed to stay safe. On average, these vehicles can generate and store 300-plus volts of AC current. This can be deadly. Like anything else, one must invest in equipment, tools, and training to be properly prepared.
The most important thing to remember when servicing a hybrid: ALWAYS ASSUME THE VEHICLE IS POWERED UP.
Equipment and tools
- dielectric gloves1000 volt Class 0 rated gloves. Look for “DVOM rated CATIII 1000v”
- Face shield or safety glasses
- Insulated rubber boots
- Raincoat or rubber apron
- ABC fire extinguisher
Jump starting a hybrid
Hybrids are equipped with conventional 12-volt systems in addition to their HV (high voltage) systems. The 12-volt battery can be jump started in most cases. Since each hybrid manufacturer and model works a little differently, refer to the owner's manual section on jump starting before attempting this service.
Recovering a hybrid
First, immobilize the casualty. Allowing the vehicle to roll could power up the HV system and start the vehicle. If the hybrid is in gear, this could place the vehicle in motion. Chock the wheels, set the brake and place the gear selector in park.
After immobilizing the casualty, the HV system must be disabled. The HV components are easy to identify: they are bright orange in color, heavily insulated and have warning placards on them. The HV batteries are stored in sealed compartments and are also clearly identified with warning placards. All hybrid models have multiple means of disconnecting HV systems, and these are different for each manufacturer and even different models of the same car. Refer to the owner's manual section on HV disconnect procedures before attempting this service.
If an HV battery compartment has been compromised in an accident, disconnect the HV system and neutralize the battery contents by flushing the area with a large amount of water, such as from a fire hydrant or pump truck. The contents of the HV battery are a highly alkaline mixture of potassium and sodium hydroxide that can also be neutralized by using a diluted mixture of boric acid and water or vinegar.
In the event of fire, use a Class ABC fire extinguisher.
Never handle broken or severed HV cables. Treat these as if they were live at all times.
Never cut through high voltage components to extract occupants.
If the vehicle is submerged in water do not touch any HV components while extracting occupants. Do not remove the vehicle until you are sure the HV system has been completely discharged. HV batteries will produce a fizzling, or bubbling, sound when submerged until the HV system has been fully discharged.
Towing and transporting hybrids
Towing and transport of hybrids isn’t too much different than any other tow or transport. Again, first immobilize the casualty, then disable the HV system. Whenever possible, avoid any metal-to-metal contact when securing the casualty by using synthetic wheel straps.
Avoid sling towing unless absolutely necessary.
New makes and models of hybrids are being placed on dealer lots as you read this article. Keep in mind the instructions in this article provide general supplemental information pertaining to hybrid vehicles. Each one is a little different and, as technology improves, recommended procedures may change as well.