4 Things To Consider When Buying a Used Hybrid
By Tom Catuosco
Hybrid cars have been on sale in this country since the late nineties. Hybrids provide the benefits of having two different propulsion sources in one vehicle - electric motors and a traditional internal combustion engine. These vehicles, which were once something of a novelty, are now mainstream. Initially aimed squarely at economy car buyers, various car manufacturers are now offering hybrids that range from basic compact economy cars to full size family sedans, SUVs, and luxury performance vehicles. For the past few years, new hybrid car sales in the US have been close to half a million vehicles per year. With so many hybrid cars sold over the years, used hybrid cars are now commonly available for sale.
The chief reason people buy a hybrid car is the improved fuel economy over regular, gas only cars. New hybrid models often cost thousands more than regular versions of the same vehicle. This means you’ll be driving the car for a few years before the greater fuel economy negates the extra money spent buying the hybrid. A used hybrid can be a good way to save money on fuel without shelling out a premium during your initial purchase. As with any used car, there are things you should check out on the vehicle before buying it, and there are some things specific to used hybrid cars you should be aware of.
Battery Life - A hybrid car’s electric motors are powered by its battery. These batteries are generally warrantied to last 8 years or 100,000 miles, sometimes even longer. If you’re buying a used hybrid car that’s only a few years old with low mileage, then the battery will probably last for a long time. If the hybrid you’re considering is older or nearing the 100k mile mark, you should consider the cost of a new battery that you may need to buy soon. Brand new replacement batteries can cost between $1500 to $4000 depending on the vehicle. Besides age and mileage of the car, condition and maintenance history are big factors. The battery in a hybrid will last longer in a car that’s been maintained and driven carefully than in a car that’s been abused and neglected.
High Voltage - The battery used to drive the hybrid’s electric motors (and other systems, like air conditioning) is a much higher voltage than a regular car’s standard 12 volts. While the high voltage system is sufficiently insulated to prevent accidental shock during normal use, you should be careful if you’re evaluating a hybrid car for purchase. Most people examining a used car will look under the hood and sometimes disconnect wires, etc... to check their condition. With a hybrid, disconnecting random plugs under the hood could lead to a bad shock if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Hybrid Driving Experience - If you’ve never driven a hybrid car before, the first thing you may notice during a test drive is how quiet a hybrid car is - at least in electric mode. Some hybrids are propelled only by their electric motors when driving at low speeds, with the gasoline engine kicking in for higher speed driving. When a hybrid car is in electric only mode, it is very quiet. People used to driving regular gas only cars sometimes find it too quiet. The transition between electric and gas driving modes also varies on different makes & models. Some hybrid models
seamlessly transition between propulsion modes, while other hybrids make the transition more noticeably, and annoying, to drivers. Many people love driving hybrids, but it’s not for everyone, so make sure you enjoy it before buying.
Usual “Regular” Car Items - In addition to the battery / electrical items specific to hybrid cars, you’ll still have to evaluate all the other items that hybrid cars have in common with regular vehicles - the gas engine, tires, suspension components, etc… Those components all wear the same and have the same failure modes as they do in a regular car and should be checked before purchasing the car. As with any car, it’s best to get a pre-purchase inspection by a qualified mechanic. In this case, you want to have the PPI done by a mechanic who has experience working on hybrids.
Hybrid cars are basically regular cars that have electric motors in addition to their gas engines. While there are some differences when compared to regular cars, evaluating one before purchasing isn’t really harder than checking out a regular car. After all, it’s still a car, not a spaceship designed in another galaxy. Just be aware of the differences and do your due diligence when buying one used.