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Buying a Used Hybrid in 2022: Your Complete Guide

By Michael O'Connor | March 19, 2022

As gas prices go up and people become increasingly ecologically minded, hybrid vehicles are more popular than ever. Unlike just a few years ago, there are more used hybrids on the market and your chances of finding a previously-owned hybrid vehicle in good condition are much better. Even if you are new to the hybrid car world, chances are you have thought about the benefits of these vehicles and how you can save yourself some money on gas and help the environment.

When thinking about purchasing a used hybrid, it is important to understand the differences and similarities with the buying process. By knowing what to expect and what to look for, you can find a car that will serve you well for many years and save you money in the process.

What to Consider When Buying a Used Hybrid:

There are similarities between buying a traditional used car and buying a hybrid. However, there are differences that you need to keep in mind as you go through with your purchase. Understanding the extra considerations can help you make sure that your hybrid will end up saving you money instead of costing you more. By ensuring that you know what to look for, you can get the best deal and end up with a car that serves you well.

Just like with any vehicle, you will want to consider the mileage before you make the purchase. While no set number of miles is too many for a used car, the upper limit for a traditional vehicle is around 150,000 miles. This is around when most cars start to experience serious mechanical issues and component failures. However, for a hybrid, this number is going to be much less.

In general, a hybrid that has between 30,000 and 40,000 miles on it will still have plenty of life in it and shouldn’t pose any extra problems. However, once they get above that, the battery pack may start to lose some of its storage and efficiency. You must do some research for the specific hybrid model you are looking at to see what kind of life you can expect out of the battery.

Battery Replacement:
No matter how well you keep your used hybrid maintained and serviced, at some point you will need to replace the battery. Just like with a traditional car battery, hybrid batteries lose their storage ability and will fail to keep a charge after a certain amount of time. When this happens, your only option will be to replace it.

Depending on the type of hybrid you buy, battery replacement will vary in price. For example, a new battery for a Honda Civic hybrid costs around $1,700. However, a Nissan Altima hybrid has a battery replacement cost of upwards of $5,000. This is important to consider and work into the actual cost of ownership when you are thinking about purchasing a used hybrid.

Battery Pack Warranty:
While hybrid battery replacements can be expensive, battery warranties from manufacturers are fairly long and should cover the cost. Many battery packs come with an eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty, which should be more than enough time for a battery to live out its life. In fact, many hybrid batteries last only six years. This means that you will be covered as long as the current battery in the used hybrid you are looking at is still under warranty.

As hybrid vehicles age, many manufacturers are even extending the warranty on the battery packs. Toyota, for example, has recently extended its hybrid battery warranty to 10 years or 150,000 miles. This gives you a longer period in which buying a used hybrid will still be a good idea.

Avoid Some First-Generation Hybrids:
One thing to consider when looking at previously-owned hybrids is what generation it is from. Automakers use generations as a marker for advances in the design and manufacturing of the car. As you get into later model years, the generations will change as well.

As with any used vehicle, it is a good idea to avoid the first generation. Manufacturers typically use the first generation of a vehicle to work out certain kinks and issues. As you get into the later generations, you will find that the cars are perfected and more advanced in their design. This is particularly important with hybrids as potential issues with the hybrid system, fuel efficiency, and electric power will be less prevalent in the later generations.

Plan to Pay More:
When you are looking for a used hybrid vehicle, you should plan to pay more than you would with a traditional used car. The fact is that hybrids are a more complex mechanism and this requires extra manufacturing costs and parts for the technology. Because of this, you need to expect a higher cost, even for a used hybrid.

While it may cost more to purchase a previously-owned hybrid, there are a lot of savings available with fuel costs. Because hybrids get such great gas mileage, you can end up paying for the extra cost of the purchase with the savings at the pump. Most late-model hybrids will get around 55 mpg combined city and highway. Even if you typically don’t drive that much or only drive around the city at low speeds, you can still save a lot on gas.

Check Service Records:
Any savvy car buyer knows that you should always check a vehicle’s service records before you decide to make a purchase. Service history will tell you what kind of maintenance has been performed on the car and whether or not it has received any major repairs. This is a great way to determine whether or not a car is in good enough shape to be considered a good deal.

Many times, an owner won’t keep detailed service records for a car. In these cases, it is very helpful to get the VIN or license plate number so you can check on them yourself. If you are buying the car from a private seller, ask if they have a specific mechanic they usually go to in order to get the car serviced. By contacting them, you can find out if there have been any major issues with the car and what kind of maintenance schedule has been kept.

One of the major considerations with a used hybrid purchase is the fact that they hold their value much more than traditional vehicles. A used hybrid will lose its value slower than a traditional car, which means you can sell it for more should you choose to do so down the road.

A study in 2017 revealed that hybrid cars only lost their value by 50 percent in four years as opposed to traditional cars which depreciated by 53.4 percent. Because of this, it may be worth it to spend a little more on a hybrid upfront if it means that you can sell it for more later on.

Possible Higher Repair Costs:
In your search for a used hybrid, it is important to factor in the potentially higher cost of repairs throughout your ownership. Because hybrids sometimes require more specialization from a mechanic, you may end up paying slightly more if something goes wrong with the hybrid system itself.

While repairs may be more expensive, it is good to know that maintenance costs are more or less the same for hybrids as they are for other vehicles. In fact, hybrid brake pads tend to last quite a bit longer than traditional brake pads because of the regenerative braking system. This makes a hybrid a good financial decision based on the maintenance costs as well as the improved fuel economy.

Similarities With Buying a Traditional Used Car:

One important thing to remember when buying a used hybrid is the fact that it isn’t much different than buying a car with a traditional gas engine. Many of the things that you should be keeping an eye out for with any used car purchase will apply when buying a hybrid. You should still be doing your due diligence with the sale and making sure you are covering all your bases so you can get the best possible deal.

Get a Vehicle History Report:
Before buying any used car, you should always get a vehicle history report. These reports pull information from the DMV, police reports, and service records to give you a good idea of what the car has been through and what its history is like. It will tell you whether the car has been in any accidents and whether or not it has been well-maintained.

If you are purchasing your hybrid from a dealership, they will more than likely have a vehicle history report on record already. If you are purchasing it from a private party, you may have to get a report yourself. They can be purchased from companies like Carfax and Autocheck and will require the vehicle identification number, or VIN.

Get an Inspection:
One of the best things you can do when purchasing any used vehicle is to get it inspected by a certified mechanic. Whether the car is a hybrid or not, an inspection can give you a good idea of the kind of shape the car is in and if it needs any kind of serious repairs. It will also let you know what kind of longevity you can expect should you make the purchase.

If you are going to get an inspection of a hybrid, it is best if you have it done by a mechanic who specializes in these types of vehicles. While hybrids are generally the same as traditional cars, there are some things that a specialist will be able to check on that a traditional mechanic might not. These include components like the electric motor and the battery pack, which will need to be inspected just like the other, more traditional parts.

Go For a Test Drive:
When purchasing any used vehicle, a test drive is essential. Taking some time to drive a car around for a while will give you a good idea of how it handles and how it makes you feel. It will also allow you to see if it has any idiosyncrasies or issues that are noticeable right away.

When test driving a hybrid, you will want to get a feel for how the displays work and whether the drivability will take some getting used to. Because many hybrids use regenerative braking, which is a process that recharges the battery using the energy generated by the brakes, the braking can feel slightly different than it does on a traditional car. A test drive can help you get a feel for it and see if it will work for your particular driving style.

Traditional Hybrids vs. Plug-In Hybrids

When buying a used or new car, the type of powertrain is incredibly important. In the world of hybrids, there are two different kinds: traditional hybrid and plug-in hybrid.

Traditional hybrids use the gasoline engine and regenerative braking to charge the lithium-ion battery. These types of hybrids do not plug into an outlet of any kind; their only source of fuel is gasoline.

A plug-in hybrid, or PHEV, uses regenerative braking like a gas hybrid, but the battery can also be charged by plugging the vehicle in. PHEVs can also travel certain distances under electric-only power; the distance depends on how advanced (recent) the powertrain is. Most new PHEVs being sold today have between 40 and 70 miles of all-electric range before the gas engine needs to turn on to recharge the batteries.

Determining whether or not a plug-in hybrid is right for you will depend on a few different factors. If, for example, you are interested in the idea of an all-electric drive car, a plug-in hybrid could be a good option for you. Many models have a short-range that they can drive using only battery power. Many new models of plug-in hybrids are also increasing this range, so you can get the best of both worlds.

Plug-in hybrids are also eligible for state and federal tax rebates and incentives, and in California PHEVs can qualify for carpool lane stickers.

Yet PHEVs are often a bit more expensive than their gas hybrid counterparts.

Final Thoughts

A used or new hybrid can be a great choice for all kinds of people. Whether you are in the market for a hybrid SUV, car, or crossover, there are all kinds of options available to you. Cars like the Toyota Prius, Ford Escape Hybrid, or the Toyota Camry Hybrid are quickly becoming some of the most popular vehicles on the market and with higher-end brands like BMW and Lexus throwing their hat into the hybrid ring, you have more choices than ever.

Knowing what to look for in a used hybrid can help you make the right decision for your purchase. Understanding battery life, emissions, and odometer readings can make purchasing a used hybrid car easy and help ensure that you get the vehicle that works best for your needs.