Psst! Wanna Buy A Used Hybrid?

You can score a sweet used hybrid…just watch out for this one trouble spot.

Hybrids were once the exclusive domain of smug greenies and hypermilers. Trust me, I was throwing my fair share of shade at hybrids until I shut up and actually drove one.

These cars are no longer the Birkenstock sandals of the automotive world. Hybrids now carry broader appeal beyond the trippy-looking Toyota Prius.

The venerable Prius is a longtime hybrid favorite

2012 Toyota Prius

A used hybrid might be a good bet if you’re facing a long commute to work or school, or if you’d rather not contribute to the soaring levels of pollution. Either way, a bum battery pack could leave you stranded if you don’t know what to watch for in shopping for a used hybrid.

Garage Queen no more. Remember all that advice you’ve heard about low mileage cars? About how what a treasure they are due to low wear and tear? Yeah, fuggedaboutit. A low-mileage hybrid has a lower quality battery life due to its limited use. Look for hybrid that’s had an active life, such as a daily commuter.

But not too active: As with standard-fuel vehicles, high mileage and expired warranties can put you on the spot for some hefty repair bills. Hybrids in California and California-compliant states carry a 10-year/150,000 battery pack warranty. Non-California hybrids carry an eight-year/100,000 mile warranty.

If you buy a hybrid with a battery¬† that is out of warranty, you run the risk of shouldering the cost of a new battery pack. Replacement costs are based on the make and model of the car, as well as its size. It’s cheaper to replace a battery pack on a Prius than a hybrid Ford Escape, for example.

Parts/labor for a new battery pack can range from $2700 all the way up to $10,000 depending on the model year of the car. Stick with hybrids with in-warranty batteries whenever possible.

Heat will toast more than the car’s interior. Depending on the manufacturer, hybrids have different systems for cooling the battery pack. The Toyota Prius, for example, cools its battery pack by pulling cool air out of the car’s interior. In doing so, it also draws in dust, cigarette smoke, lint, and pet hair, which clogs and degrades the cooling system if left unchecked.

A quick review of service records can help you determine how well the car was maintained. As with gasoline power trains, be leery of any hybrid that has a spotty maintenance history or has been neglected. There will be a good chance the battery pack is in sad shape with infrequent cleaning.

Other reasons to say “nope.” Infrequent use and declining MPG are reasons enough to pass on a used hybrid. Infrequent use can lead to battery pack failure over time, and declining fuel efficiency is a surefire symptom of declining battery life.

Reasons to say “yes.”¬†Hybrids are equipped with a regenerative braking system. Each time you apply the brakes, the battery is replenished with additional “juice.” Even better, these brakes can go for up to 200,000 miles before replacement.

Lower fuel prices mean more drivers are returning to the standby gasoline power train. The end result? Lower prices and lots of used hybrids to choose from, so choose wisely. With their improved handling, performance and appearance, hybrids are gaining appeal as a viable used car option.

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