October 2

2021 Ford F150 Hybrid Not Starting

Ford

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Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert. I'm here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, Vancouver's best auto service experience. And we're talking cars. How are you doing, Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So today we've got a bit of a mystery 2021 Ford 150 hybrid that was not starting. What sort of testing and diagnosis did you do with something like this?

Bernie: Yes, so this is an interesting issue. The vehicle was brought to us. The owner had run the vehicle out of gas, driven it on the hybrid battery for a while. Then the vehicle died, wouldn't start. And so he had it towed to the Ford dealer. And they charged the 12 volt battery.

So I'm just telling you what other people had done. Charged the 12 volt battery, found some codes for low battery voltage in the hybrid battery. The vehicle would not start and gave him an exceptionally high quote, in the thousands, to remove the battery, recharge it. And you know, get the vehicle going again. Obviously the owner wasn't too happy with that. Brought it to us to look at, cause we do charge hybrid batteries. 

Mark: So because this is a hybrid. What's different? Couldn't you just plug it in? 

Bernie: Yeah, so this is not a plug in hybrid. This is a, I'll just call it a self contained hybrid vehicle. So some hybrids are plug in, others, there's just a hybrid for the extended fuel economy, lower emissions and all the benefits that you get from a hybrid. But the system is self contained, the battery is charged by the engine or the regenerative braking system. So there's no option to plug this vehicle in. And by the way, you did ask what testing and diagnosis we did. So I guess we should talk about that.

Mark: Well, let's not spill that too soon. 

Bernie: Okay. 

Mark: So why would it be so difficult like they have to take the battery out to recharge it? Why is that? That's not normal. EVs charge easy. Why is it that way? Is it because it's self contained? 

Bernie: Yeah, well, because the system is self contained and everything, of course, you know, it's high voltage electrical system. There's certain parameters that have to be met to even introduce any electricity in and out of the battery. So the battery has to be opened up. So you can actually get inside the battery and charge it. So this is what needs to be done to do that. So, it makes it a lot more complicated. 

Mark: So then what did you actually do to get it going? 

Bernie: So the interesting thing that happened you know, when it left the Ford dealer, it wouldn't start, apparently sat at the owner's place for a little while before he decided to bring it to us. Towed it in. We hopped in with our diagnostic equipment, our scan tool to see what was actually going on, turned the key and it actually started up, which is very strange. 

So, the question is, you know, why? I won't say anything magic. We didn't do anything. It actually just started. And so we speculated, hmm wonder why? But you know, first things first, before we get into that, you know, we looked at the codes. Then because the vehicle started and was running. There was a huge number of codes in a variety of different modules. We cleared everything. The only code that returned was a camera module code, which has nothing to do with any of the issues. Completely separate item. Everything else cleared because there was a code stored for a hybrid battery voltage.

That was really the key, low voltage for the hybrid battery, that was kind of the key to the vehicle not running. And obviously what was going on with the vehicle. So cleared that, it ran. So from that point you know, the vehicle had some fuel in it. I figured let's get some more fuel.

Just went out for a very long road test. Took it out for actually about an hour and a half, two hours of driving just to look at the scan tool. See how everything was working, what the voltages of the system were. Whether there's any damage, whether the system was charging properly. And it was. Went uphills, downhills, on the highway through the city and took it for a very extensive drive and just verified everything was working fine. 

Mark: So why did this truck get into a state where the hybrid battery was so depleted that the vehicle wouldn't start? 

Bernie: That's a really good question. And I think this is really an issue from Ford's programming, that it would actually allow the hybrid battery voltage to get into such a state that it would not charge the vehicle or that it wouldn't allow the vehicle to restart. It should protect, you know, with the modern technology we have like diesel vehicles where they don't add the diesel exhaust fluid, you know, it won't start after, you know, 100 kilometres. We have you know, protections that are easily set in place. So I think it's a bit of a flaw on Ford's behalf that they would actually ever allow this, you know, the hybrid battery voltage, once it gets below a certain point or state of charge, it should just shut everything down.

Mark: And yeah, you put gas in the car and it'll start the vehicle again. And then away it goes. 

Bernie: Yes, exactly. Yeah. 

Mark: So the gasoline engine charges the battery. And so the gasoline, the worst thing you can do essentially is run the gasoline engine out of fuel.

Bernie: Yeah. It's critical to have that for the operation. I mean, you've got a bit of range, but this thing does not have a humongous battery in it. You know, it's as I say, it's not a plugin hybrid technology. So it's just basically there for extra power. They call it a power boost, that's Ford's name for it. You know, it's peppy. So it's got extra power, but it's also got that fuel economy that you get from a hybrid where, you know, you go down a hill, you're actually regenerating the energy back into the vehicle. So it's good in that way, but it's not a plugin. 

Mark: You have some pictures?

Bernie: Yeah, let's have a look at some pictures. So there's our truck. 

2021 Ford F150 Hybrid Not Starting

Here's just a view of what we see in our scan tool. This is an Autel scan tool, but it says Topology. This is just an example. These are all the modules in this vehicle, and I'm not going to go into all the details, but they're all these little lines here, just because it kind of gives you an insight of what we do, you know, what we see as technicians in our business and what we have to look at.

2021 Ford F150 Hybrid Not Starting

These lines here are various different data link networks. If you look down here, it says HS2 can, MS2 can. I won't get into all those details, but you know, these modules are all linked. And so when we do this Topology scan, any module that's green is good. Anything with orange has a fault code and the grey ones basically don't exist.

They're either not communicating or the vehicle doesn't have them. So it's kind of an interesting way to look and see what faults are in the system. So after, of course, got the vehicle running and cleared it and everything was green, except for there was as I said, there was a camera module.

I can't remember which one it was, but this is just a good way to do a quick scan. It kind of gives you an idea of just how complex a modern vehicle is and how one thing will talk to another thing. And sometimes the vehicle won't start for a reason that it seems totally irrelevant but you know, there's a module or something that's taking the system down. That it'll cause some interesting issues. 

Here's an under hood view of the engine compartment. Has some hybrid components. Anything with large orange coloured wires. These are all high voltage components. 

2021 Ford F150 Hybrid Not Starting

And one thing I found interesting on this vehicle was the braking system. If you look at this, take a minute to look at the brakes. There's a number of pipes here, like a lot of brake pipes, modulators, valves, power units. You know, long gone is the typical big vacuum brake booster. Everything's electronically controlled to use with the regenerative braking system and cruise controls that will slow the vehicle down. Basically, the vehicle will brake by itself. So it's got all sorts of electronic controls.

2021 Ford F150 Hybrid Not Starting

A lot of these vehicles, when you push the brake pedal, you're not actually even pushing the brake system like you used to when you're actually pumping fluid. You're just pushing on something electronic. And it gives you the feel of pushing something like fluid, like you would on a normal brake system, but it's all electronic. So very interesting. But I sometimes look at these components and go, wow, when this breaks down. It'll probably last a long time. There's a lot of really expensive stuff to fix here.

Mark: Your heart soars with joy. 

Bernie: Well, you know, the only thing about it is these things don't normally fail until the vehicle gets very old. I mean, we have some old Jags that come to our shop from time to time that have these systems. I remember seeing them when they were new you know, 20 plus years ago, go, wow, that's going to be expensive. And now they're starting to fail and it's hard to get parts for them because they lasted a long time. But the diehards that keep the cars, you know now they need to be fixed. So anyways, it's just some of the complexity of the vehicles we work on these days.

Mark: So basically the message here is, if you have a hybrid vehicle, don't run out of gas because you have a very limited time before things get really bad and really expensive to fix. Is that the bottom line? 

Bernie: That is the bottom line. For sure. I mean, don't run out of fuel. I mean, that's kind of key in any vehicle. But yeah, don't run out of fuel. You know, same if you have a battery electric vehicle, don't run out of electricity because you're going to be stuck on the side of the road. But at least with, you know, a Tesla, you can have someone come by and you can either have a towed, plug it in, you know, have someone plug it in.

I know you didn't like me saying this, but you know, you could have a Honda generator by the side of the road with a plug and charge it. You know, it would be there for a very long time. It would be kind of silly, but it could be done to get you moving again. But the key is, you know, watch your fuel and don't run out of it.

Mark: But I guess the other thing we didn't talk about is why this vehicle started, you know, when it was at the dealer and wouldn't start and they were quoting a lot of money. And, you know, it's not like we have some kind of magic wand touch. I think the vehicle apparently sat for a week. So, I mean, I've kind of picked the brains of a few other people I deal with in the world of EVs and hybrids, just to go, you know, why do you think this happened?

Bernie: Because it's kind of odd. And we speculated one of a couple of things. Sometimes batteries will just, you know, through the chemistry of batteries, if they're not used for a while, the charge will build a little bit. So it might be that the voltage just built up just to the threshold the vehicle would start. There's one speculation. 

The other thing is, it might be that the trouble codes that were stored in the vehicle computer when the battery went dead would not allow the vehicle to start. But after a certain amount of time, and maybe a few tries with the key, and more than Ford had tried or the owner had tried, the vehicle somehow the codes went from like a hard code status to a pending code. And that allowed the vehicle to start. So those are a couple of things we speculated on. 

So you know, it's good at the end of the day, because it still cost this client a bit of money for us to look things over, road test it, scan it and do things like that. But it was, you know, certainly much cheaper than having to take the battery out. Dismantle it, charge it, put it back in.

Mark: Right. And just to be clear, the 12 volt battery is what starts the gasoline engine, not the hybrid battery. 

Bernie: No, it's not. Actually, the 12 volt battery does not start the gasoline engine. The 12 volt battery only runs all the accessories and runs the sort of basic electrical system. But yeah, no, the hybrid battery is actually what starts the vehicle.

Mark: Oh.

Bernie: Yeah, we've done ones on Ford Escapes too and Priuses. The actual starter, there's no starter motor. It's not true of all hybrids or some that have starter motors, but these ones have no starter motor. It's actually the motor generator unit that actually starts the electric hybrid motor generator unit that actually starts the internal combustion engine.

Mark: So rather than the gasoline motor turning the generator to charge the battery, the battery turns it the other way to start the engine, in a way. 

Bernie: Exactly. Yeah. It's kind of brilliant. I mean, it really takes away a lot of extra bits and pieces. You don't have a separate alternator. You don't have a separate starter motor. It's just all integrated in one unit. 

Mark: So don't run your hybrid out of gas. Don't try and drive it too long on battery only. You're going to be in trouble. But how are hybrids? What's your opinion about hybrids? These kind? 

Bernie: Yeah, they're good. I think hybrids are kind of overly complicated. I mean, if you have just a straight EV or straight internal combustion engine, you've got like a lot more complication because you've got two systems. But I mean, on the positive note you know, you don't have to worry about range anxiety. Like some people do with EVs, you can drive anywhere and however long you want.

And they generally are pretty reliable. I mean, this is a fault of running out of fuel, which is why we're even doing this podcast. Because generally like Priuses you know, Toyota Prius is very reliable. We do work on Escape hybrids, but the hybrid system really has no trouble. So overall, most manufacturers have made them pretty reliable. So, you know, there's a potential for exceptionally expensive repairs.

But then we have our diesels that we talk about that are you know, cheap on fuel. I mean, diesel is more expensive at this moment while we're doing this podcast than gasoline, but when diesel is say at par with gasoline it's much more efficient. So you save a lot of money on fuel, but you know, you end up having a repair. I'm drifting off here from the hybrid topic. But it's more complex, but generally, they seem to be pretty good. 

Mark: And how do you think these 2021 Ford F150 hybrids are going to be for reliability? 

Bernie: Well, it's hard to know because it is only two years old. Sometimes you don't know for a little while how reliable a vehicle is, but it seems like a pretty well built vehicle. With the exception, of course, of this, you know, I think a software programming flaw, which could be, you know, as we speak right now, could be dealt with by Ford. And you know, if you happen to go in and get some kind of service and they, you know, reflash the vehicle computer, it may not happen again. So yeah, overall, I'd say pretty good. 

Mark: If you're looking for service and you want magical repairs. The guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. 

Bernie: Don't set the expectation too high. 

Mark: Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. You can reach them on their website to book your service or repair appointment at pawlikautomotive.com or you (604) 327-7112. You have to book ahead. They're always busy. Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Check out our YouTube channel, hundreds, well, close to, well, over a thousand videos on there now. We've been doing this for a while. All makes and models and types of repairs. Thanks so much for watching and listening. Thanks, Bernie. 

Bernie: Thank you, Mark. Thanks for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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