As hybrid vehicles continue to gain popularity due to their fuel efficiency in an age of rising gas prices, more used hybrids will become available and demand for them will grow. Now might be a good time to check used car lots and online ads for a second-hand hybrid, but keep in mind that selecting one is not simply a matter of kicking the tires and taking it for a test drive.
Benefit from depreciation
While hybrid cars have been able to keep a higher proportion of their original retail value owing to tight supply, they still are subject to deprecation. So buying a used one will enable you to benefit from lower pricing that reflects one or more years of depreciation.
Don’t fret about battery life
Any discussion of the merits of buying a used hybrid inevitably focuses on one key aspect — the main hybrid battery and how many years before it has to be replaced. Many potential buyers fear that battery failure during, say, the first eight years could nullify all the savings on gas from fuel efficiency.
To date, though, the hybrid battery pack has proven far more durable than anyone anticipated. Hybrid manufacturers say their batteries’ expected life is as long as that of the cars themselves, about 15 years.
The San Francisco Taxicab Commission has reported impressive durability for its Ford Escape hybrid taxis: some have passed 300,000 miles (482,803 km) of use with no battery problems. (Also, the Commission found brake life to be three times normal, due to the hybrid’s regenerative braking system.)
Toyota's warranty on major hybrid components (including the battery) covers eight years or 160,000 km. And the warranty protects not only the first owner of a Toyota hybrid but subsequent owners to whom the warranty is transferred.
If the warranty has expired and you have to pay for the battery’s replacement yourself, you’re facing a cost of $3,000 - $4,000 (including five hours of labour and tax). Though a substantial sum, this is no worse than what you might pay to replace an automatic transmission -- and it's less likely to happen. Also, the costs of hybrid batteries have fallen significantly, and will likely drop further as more hybrid cars appear on the road and battery technology improves.
That said, buying a second-hand hybrid is just as risky as purchasing any other used vehicle. You still need to be careful about whom you buy from, its previous history and its general condition.
Be sure to review carefully any available paperwork on maintenance for the vehicle. It will reveal whether the maintenance schedule was followed correctly and will detail what overhauls were done, what components were replaced and what fluids were changed. It's also important to look at the vehicle's inspection report for an indication of its pre-sale condition.
If you're acquiring a hybrid in a private sale, have the car inspected by an authorized dealer of that make. Yes, it will cost some money for the inspection, but it will be worth it. If you are buying a hybrid from a dealer, look for a certified pre-owned vehicle. If that’s not possible, then have the hybrid inspected by an auto shop.
For information about PRUDENT VALUE CARS, visit our web site: www.prudentvaluecars.ca