What They’re Not Telling You About New Cars

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Did you know that some (and soon, probably many) new cars don’t rely entirely on an alternator to generate the electricity needed to run accessories and – critical thing – keep the battery charged?BMW lead pic2

And that these are not hybrid cars?

BMW and Mazda were the first to graft hybrid-esque regenerative braking technology onto non-hybrid cars. The idea being essentially the same: To recapture (and convert) some of the kinetic energy of motion into usable energy (electricity). Rather than an engine-driven alternator (which places a load on the engine; more on that in a moment)  the energy of deceleration (braking) that would otherwise be lost as heat is converted into electricity, which powers (or helps power) accessories, as well as keeps the battery topped off.

A freebie.

Well, in theory.

In reality, problems have been cropping up.

Owners who don’t drive enough – or in such a way as to generate enough electricity via regenerative braking – have been experiencing premature battery failure resulting from excessive discharge and inadequate recharge cycling.BMW regen braking graphic

Normally (in a non-hybrid car) the 12V battery only has to start the engine. This depletes it slightly each time, but as soon as the engine is running, no more is being asked of it. The alternator is now making the electricity which powers all the car’s accessories. It is also maintaining the starter battery’s charge so that next time you go to start the car it will… start.

Well, hopefully.

But if the battery is relied on to provide juice while the engine is running (to help power accessories) or not being “topped off” adequately with electricity after each start-up, it will lead a hard (and short) life. In a hybrid, there is (typically) a large, high-capacity (and 200-plus Volt) Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMh) battery pack designed to be repeatedly discharged and recharged. A non-hybrid car’s much smaller – and lead-acid – starter battery was never meant to operate in a hybrid or quasi-hybrid capacity; to routinely power other vehicle systems with the engine off and without being kept topped off with electricity by an alternator. Mazda system

So why are some car companies (not just BMW and Mazda; Ford’s looking at it, too) using hybrid-esque systems in non-hybrid cars?

To wring out an extra MPG or two. Maybe not even that much.

Well, it’s not much per car.

But on a fleet basis – the total number of cars a given automaker builds in a year – it’s enough to matter. Not to the individual car buyer (a 1-2 MPG difference either way being pretty trivial) but to the car company, which must find ways – any way – to even slightly up their fleet average (CAFE) fuel economy numbers.

Next year (2016) the minimum bar is 35.5 MPG on average. Any passenger vehicle – car or truck – that gets less than 35.5 MPG will be subject to “gas guzzler” fines, which will be passed on to buyers in the form of higher sticker prices.

And – as here – more frequent battery replacement costs.

But wait, there’s more.auto stop pic

In the name of fuel-efficiency uber alles, many new cars have another hybrid-esque feature: The engine automatically shuts down when you come to a stop. Once again, in order to save a fractional amount of fuel per car, to help pump up the fleet average fuel efficiency numbers.

In a hybrid, the battery pack and electric motor takes over running the car’s systems when the gas engine shuts down. But in a non-hybrid, there is no battery pack or electric motors to take over. So, while the engine’s off, the poor 12V starter battery is tasked with running whatever’s electrically powered. Including (in some cases) the AC but in all cases, the lights, audio system, power windows and so on. This places loads on the 12V lead-acid battery that 12V lead-acid batteries were not designed to handle.

So, they live harder – and shorter – lives.BMW lead pic

Probably also the engine – and starter.

The engine – because it’s constantly being cycled off and on (most wear and tear occurs at start-up and these stop-start systems trigger potentially dozens of start-stop cycles per day vs. the typical two or three). The starter – because it’s being used much more frequently and the more often you use something, the sooner it will wear out.

A growing number of new cars also have electrically-boosted power steering – once again, to eke out a slight MPG improvement by slightly reducing parasitic drag on the engine (by eliminating the engine-driven power steering pump).

But – Thermodynamics 101 – there  is no free lunch. You can source energy from different places; convert it, etc.

But it’s never without cost.

The question at hand is whether the costs being imposed (remember, we’re not given a choice) are worth it. Arguably, they are not. Which explains why we aren’t given the choice. Would you – if it were optional (and the extra cost fully disclosed) buy a new non-hybrid car equipped with a hybrid-esque regenerative braking system, knowing it would likely kill your 12V battery in two or three years (at a replacement cost of $150) vs. four or five in order to “save” you $50 worth of gas over the same period of time?

Probably not.auto stop 2

It was the same with air bags. They were offered – but not bought – because most people didn’t consider the cost worth the benefit.

So they made air bags mandatory.

Now, they’re force-feeding us regenerative braking, auto-stop/start and more to come, surely. They’re not formally mandated in the way that air bags are. But the government’s fuel efficiency mandates amount to the same thing. The government doesn’t dictate how new cars will manage to  average 35.5 MPG by 2016.

Just that they do.

With the cost (and hassle) passed on to us.

If you value independent media, please support independent media. We depend on you to keep the wheels turning! 

Our donate button is here.

 If you prefer to avoid PayPal, our mailing address is:

721 Hummingbird Lane SE
Copper Hill, VA 24079

PS: EPautos stickers are free to those who sign up for a $5 or more monthly recurring donation to support EPautos, or for a one-time donation of $10 or more. (Please be sure to tell us you want a sticker – and also, provide an address, so we know where to mail the thing!)EPautoslogo


  1. Hi, everyone!

    I need help from people on this site.
    I live in Europe for 5-6 months every year. I would like to buy a car, but dont know what is the best choice. I am a violinist and have little knowledge of cars. I found this site thru Lewrockwell.com. Can you guys give me some advice as to what cars I should look for. I am thinking about a used car that is fuel efficient. Thank you.

    • Hi Diana,

      This is a tough one for me because the European market is (as I’m sure you know) very different. There are numerous cars available there that are not available here. What’s your price range? Do you have any specific needs/wants?

      • Hi Eric.thanks for replying. I am looking at european cars since shipping from US would be expensive. Also my price range would be 3000-6000€ for a used car of course. Would be great if the car is economical (gas or diesel). Thank you!

    • Diana, if your question is about US cars, press 1. For information on European cars press 2. If you wish to speak to a representative, please press 0. All representatives are currently busy. Your estimated waiting time is………

  2. I believe that the _real_ big picture here is the foolish beliefs of the so-called upper class that college educated people are smarter and more knowledgeable than an average mundane that also has natural and rational talent. Please note that I have nothing against the college educated people who really are intelligent.
    Even back when I was a pro-CONstitution Statist soldier with the nearly non-rank of Private E-1, I noticed that newly commissioned college-(mis)-educated officers lacked common sense! In later years: I as a mechanic repeatedly fixed vehicles that were designed by so-called educated engineers who made vastly more money than I did simply because they went to college.
    For example: In the early ’90’s, some brilliant dumb-ass at Case-International decided that previous designers made an error when they placed a spring in the clutch pedal that would keep the throw-out bearing from spinning unless the clutch pedal was depressed. Oh no!!!! He designed new tractors to have the spring forcing the bearing to spin constantly! When the bearing overheated and failed: His solution was to have it encased in plastic to insulate it from heat!!! Yet this guy made far more than the $9 per hour that I was then making.
    I later found many other design errors that were made by a semi-truck manufacturer which could have been fixed at no or low cost.
    I invite everyone here to try to envision methods of solving todays so-called political problems while maintaining individual liberty. I bet that most of you can do that with only a little effort!
    The tyranny we are experiencing today is intentionally made by sociopaths who are college-educated and who also wish to dominate others regardless of actual intelligence.

    • Brian – I think you are on the right track. But the elites – TPTB – know that the average college graduate is not that smart. Why do you think they came up w/the jobs program known as the Public School System? And when that was not enough, pushed ‘consolidation’ to the point that there are now more administrators and support staff on GIC payrolls than there are ‘teachers’? It’s so that the ‘educated’ can feel themselves superior to Joe 6-pack and not be so easily upset that they aren’t in the upper echelon.

    • Corporations have made engineers fungible human resources. Also there are good at school engineers who never have taken anything apart or serviced it. A big corporation has no issue firing someone with decades of designing clutching and hiring some freshout from India to replace him. An engineer is an engineer is an engineer and this 22 year old from India is way cheaper than the 55 year old guy they just downsized. Through H1B visas and other interferences wages haven’t kept pace for inflation and other careers pay much better for the best and brightest. Furthermore don’t discount the pointy haired boss or some cost pressure.

      Furthermore there were obviously some issues with design reviews and such not being done for such a thing to get out the door if it came from the bottom and not as a result as dictates from the top.

  3. If you factor in the energy consumed to make the (faster to fail now) batteries and starters, the net savings are probably a wash and likely negative. Not that the morons making these regulations would think these things through. On the other hand, if BrentP is correct, then this is exactly how to slowly squeeze human-controlled cars out of existence and push us into self-driven Googlemobiles and mass transit.

  4. And let us not forget that Elon Musk of Tesla has received over $5B from the government! He’s not sucking on the fiat currency Federal Reserve tit, is he?

  5. If they really wanted to ring out some extra mileage they would simply take the ethanol out of our gasoline and let us buy real gas again.

    The alcohol actually reduces the fuel efficiency by as much as 3.3% – more than they gain with their latest hybrid features boondoggle.

    Oh wait, no. That would mean that our government parasites that were elected to represent us would have to stop taking payoffs from the corn lobby that the ethanol is produced from.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if this new hybrid features shift isn’t being paid for by the companies that make 12-volt batteries.

  6. ….all to “save fuel” and “fight Global Warming” I have a few Ideas this corrupt POS government can do… How about HEMP !!!!! The CAR and FUEL grown from the ground as Henry Ford said. ONE acre of HEMP can produce BARRELS of oil and dozens of other things/products left over from the stalk. Another Idea how about this bloated, wasteful, military that uses more fuel in a year then the whole countries of Denmark and Sweden combined. Remember 40 ton tanks get yards per gallon.
    ……I forgot ISIS/ Al-CIA-da/ Saddam/the Russians/The Chinese/ the Klingons/ the Gamilons etc…. will get us if we don’t use a 4.6 BILLION gallons of fuel a year.

  7. Love the way these gunvermin a-holes are so full of themselves they think they can overrule the laws of physics; kind of harks back to king Canute commanding the tide not to come in. I second PhiliptheBruce’s recommendation to abolish all the alphabet agencies and the rest of the parasites sucking the life out of the rest of us.

    • While most of these ignorant a-holes don’t understand physics the ones that do are intentionally making it impossible to build affordable cars.

    • Interesting thing about King Canute – his command to the tide was actually facetious, to demonstrate to his people that he was not omnipotent.

    • The wife rented a Buick Encore today. Without the govt. it would probably be a decent car. I flipped the rear seats down and removed the passenger front headrest. Now you can sorta see out of it except the rear window is so high and small there’s not much to see. She said it was sorta like driving a big rig(as a former big rig driver she should know) with only the mirrors on sides to see anything. It really is a hazard. You can see a bit from either side window but trying to look back you see only headrests. The rearview shows not much of anything since the rear glass leaves you looking at an angle up(no hope of seeing a car behind you, maybe some tall SUV or pickup or big rig). Good to see the night sky I suppose. Shit, what a drag. And Buick would never give you that sort of view if left alone. Some of the best views I ever had were with Buicks and Olds. And the old safety bullshit is just that, bullshit. It makes the car much less safe. Yep, soon we’ll be passengers riding in computer controlled vehicles. I’m curious to see how that works out with one ton pickups jerking 25,000 lbs of trailer. Computer, don’t wreck us. Si Senor.

  8. So now these auto makers want to dump the alternator???? Pretty soon we will have hamsters running in the engine bay. Taking out the alternator is just dumb. Just like how they hardly got any MPG gain by taking out the power steering pump system. I bet it hardly made any drag on the engine anyway. What is next? Regressing to the Flintstones and using our feet to power the car and brake???

    • CAFE law is about controlling our choices and automakers are trying to still offer us automobiles. People don’t realize how vicious american control freaks are. The first of them were essentially kicked out of Europe and England for their control freak ways and they ended up here. In Europe the powers that be just made displacement and fuel taxes and left it at that. But in the USA that was too good, we would still be able to choose vehicles the control freaks didn’t approve us mundanes of having so they invented CAFE to take them off the market by punishing manufacturers for making them in the first place.

      • BrentP, I’m afraid you’re dead on correct. Ok, I know you are. But there’s another factor here. So many have no SKILLS, none, whatsoever. So they tend to gravitate to the gummint sector. I know how it goes.

        Cindy says Oh, I need a job to help out and Brenda says Well, there’s about to be an opening at the courthouse since Linda is dying of breast cancer. You should be a shoe-in for it, nothing but putting figures into a computer system and it has great benefits.

        I won’t even go into the other aspects of it that have everybody salivating for a “gummint” job. Of course they don’t see it as such. They’re just wanting one of those good jobs at the courthouse.

        I want one of those jobs too, say, elected Judge so I can reign holy hell over my “constituents”.

        Yes, you may bow down to me and I’ll act as if I’m just a regular person with some air of special privilege. Gag me with a fuckin spoon.

  9. My car tastes have always leaned toward the simple, small, and minimal. I owned a 3 cylinder MT Metro hatchback for 11 years, now followed up with a base Yaris hatchback I’ve owned for 8 years so far. I’ve reserved an ELIO, and if they ever make them, it very well could be the last car I’ll ever need to own in my life. If they never make them, I’ll have to replace the Yaris someday (after I drive it into the ground); and even though it’s certainly not a simple car, unless something more fuel efficient and affordable comes along in the meantime, someday I’ll probably buy a used Mitsubishi Mirage – if they don’t make the ELIO.

  10. The Law of Diminishing Return has been repealed by a bunch of spoiled, illiterate college graduates. They stomped their foot as a child and got their way, now they’re of voting/employment age and are “running the country” and using the same tactic except now they have the guns of GovCo to back up their foot stomping.

    Don’t worry, it will all come crashing down on their heads and ours. We can only pray for a soft landing. You can ignore reality but, it won’t ignore you.

  11. This rapid introduction of unproven and dodgy technology to meet political dictates reminds me of the exact same situation the cars of the mid-1970’s faced. They were God awful. Who knows how long it’s going to take to engineer out the complications if it’s even possible. I would love to see how they workaround the problems caused by stopping and starting engines 30 times a day.

    My cousin was raging to me about how dissatisfied he is over his new Ecoboost F150. I told him my 2006 F150 is doing great. I’ll be keeping the 97 Miata and the F150 running as long as humanly possible. I’m glad I can spin a wrench.

  12. Gotta admit that a lot of this technical stuff is outta my league. However, I am all for technological advancement. Tech – tools – are what separate man from animals and, yes, tech also separates some men from other men. As unPC as this may be it is indeed true. I embrace this.

    But I also think my Father was on to something when he used to tell me that you can only get to a certain point of efficiency and that is it. (How many of us have worked somewhere where some idiot with an MBA insisted he could squeeze out an extra .00017% of “widgetry” by doing x or y or z yet it all turned about to be counterproductive?)

    This is not to say that innovation and “thinking outside of the box” should not be pursued. I question as to the manner in which successful innovation can come about.

    PJ O’Rourke once noted that with communism while the Central Committee may order that shoe production must be 100,000 pounds per year this probably resulted in the manufacturing of only one pair of a size 1,000 xxxxxxxxxxxx shoe.

  13. This reminds me of a young lady I worked with about 10 years ago. Very “green” and algorish and other such things. She bought a Civic hybrid and complained it used as much gas as her old Geo Prizm. She seldom drove more than 2 miles anywhere and always in congested city traffic, not long enough to charge the battery pack, much less get the drive train to operating temperature.

    • Civic hybrids were different from Toyota hybrids. They used the electric motor when the vehicle reached highway speeds, in the city driving they were using the gas engine. This is why she saw no improvement in the gas mileage. Toyota hybrids use the electric motor (provided the hybrid battery is charged sufficiently) up to 25mph, then the engine kicks in. Now Honda hybrids use the same technology as Toyota hybrids.

  14. And I am guessing, beefing up the battery and other components of the electric system to handle these larger loads is unlikely. It increases the weight (and expense), zeroing out the tiny gas mileage gain.

    They would only make more changes if it becomes a “major defect” in most peoples minds. But not likely as it would only become a major problem for second, third owners, once the cars are older and out of warranty. Just another reason to junk another 15 year old car.

    Mazda, I know is selling regenerative braking as a system designed to not drain engine power when something like the air conditioning is running, not so much the gas mileage savings.

    I suppose cycling power within the alternator (with a computer most likely), to take the load from the battery when the car is standing still, would only fry the alternator faster. Plus it would add yet even more complexity to a car. If the battery is only drained when the car is moving, it would get the power back as the car was braking. But it would still be charging discharging all the time. And the alternator would still be producing electric as the car stands still, taking more of the “savings”. Ugh…..

    But that is the problem that will never be solved for pure electric cars. Unless you generate electric power as you use it (like a train loco) you have the problem of storage and unstorage. And the reason why almost everyone chose gasoline a hundred years ago, “solving” this problem. It’s hard to reinvent the wheel, and that is what they are attempting (in a very dumb way) to do.

    You got to love how regulators, most of whom never drive, think they need to make business decisions for automakers. Frankly if you want to make changes to the automobile business, you better not work for an actual automaker, you better be a regulator in the federal government.

    Its insane that we allow literally the most uninformed and dumbest people in the world make most of the decisions that we have to live with.

    Getting back to that most regulators are always riders, they have a driver whether it a limo, Amtrak, first class plane flights or whatever. Obama, for example has probably only driven that ten feet in that Volt since taking office. So not only are they making decisions for a business they don’t work for, they aren’t using that businesses dumbed down products personally.

    When the Beast (the presidents limo) breaks down or gets stuck on a hump in a road, its not a problem for Barry. They have several of them, so he is never inconvenienced. He will never miss a round of golf.

    They over-rule a hundred years of car building experience and try to outlaw physics and engineering to boot.

    To be honest, I think its amazing that auto makers actually manage to build anything anyone would want.

    But at some point, that will break down as well.

  15. Humm, that is odd since an alternator has very little drag when not suppling current. IIRC the field current is regulated to control the output. So if I’m driving with no accessories then the only load is the ignition system which naturally is required all the time the car is running.
    This would be a real problem on a long trip because of the lack of regen. And even with just ignition drawing amps I don’t think I’ll be driving to Florida again!

    • The ignition, the computers, the wifi, brake and signal lights, a/c fan and compressor control, etc. etc.

      I long for the old days when a barely charged battery would take you a long way, saved me many times.

      I grew up pushing, rolling downhill and every other way you could start a vehicle that wouldn’t crank. People didn’t give a second thought to pushing you to start. We had BUMPERS and they’d match up well with other bumpers and they weren’t very pedestrian friendly but they were great as intended.

      My first college GF was a lean, mean, muscled, knock-out lookin gal. She and I pushed my old 55 chevy pickup out of the barditch in a very remote region where we’d been fishing, got ‘er rolling and I jumped in and hit second and clutched it, said, Hey babe, grab us a cold one please and away we went. That was good for us, kept us in shape and got our blood up for other stuff. A full gas tank, 2/60 a/c and a cooler full of beer. Life don’t get much better than that. And if we hadn’t got it started, we had plenty fish and bullfrogs to cook and beer to drink.

      • Quite some time back I was in a financial pinch and my Yamaha’s battery was three-fourths shot. I couldn’t afford to replace the battery, but I got by because the bike had a kickstarter. Bumpstarting was pretty much out of the question because the Yammer had a driveshaft, which made pushing it feel like shoving a car through mud.

        As with all the old, useful things, kickstarters are now relics.

  16. It’s time to abolish the EPA – along w/all the rest of the alphabet soup, NSA, TSA, IRS (cue Yul Brinner) et cetera, et cetera, et cetera .

    • Agee and then we need to withdraw all military from the support of the oil supply! Then once oil assumed a Free Market price, consumers could then make a reasonable choice of which mpg car they want.

      • The defense departement protecting the oil supply is self preservation. They are the biggest single user of petroleum in the world. Without it they have nothing to do.

        • Eric_G, I live about 50 miles from the Pride Refinery near Abilene, Tx. Our skies are replete with military planes, all day and all night. Now where I live the county went through a long fight to ban the continual sorties of B-1and C 130 gunships and we have had a bit of reprieve from the noise and near catastrophes(I almost had a B-1 stall at an altitude it was never meant to fly and crash on or near my house…..I watched it out my front door, afterburners in full mode and tail nearly dragging the ground and a blast that knocked me back from the door a bit). They fucked up and this was when they did it on a regular basis, even bringing some in for a landing when one wasn’t planned. I guess you could call it a crash but traveling over Mach 1 and striking the edge of a canyon is a thing crash hardly describes since there’s basically nothing left except fine debris and black ground.

          My point is, they use huge amounts of fuel daily “training” in all sorts of aircraft.

          Don’t worry about meeting members of the Pride family. They wouldn’t be caught dead in this country being of the elite. And this is exactly what military brings, a few have everythings and those who pay for it.

        • General Butler wrote about the real purpose of the US military in the 1930s. He called it “War is a Racket”.

          The US military doesn’t need these foreign supplies of oil to exist, it exists to serve the global corporations and oil happens to be one of the things these corporations are into.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here