Since hybrid vehicles were first introduced in America in 1999 more than 2.1 million conventional hybrids have been sold. Of those vehicles nearly half of them have been resold at least once and there are nearly 400,000 used hybrids on the market at any given point in time. Just like any other vehicle, hybrid cars depreciate as they age, primarily because the underlying technology premium which made them expensive initially has diminished as new technologies been developed. While there are many similarities to traditional used-car shopping, there are also some special considerations which need to be kept in mind when buying a used hybrid vehicle.
What Type of Hybrid Are You Looking For? Mild vs. Strong
The first thing you need to do is decide what type of hybrid you are looking for. Excluding the plug-in hybrids, there are two basic types of hybrid cars – mild and strong. A mild system is one in which the electric motor all is the secondary power source and augments the gas engine. It will provide a noticeable boost in the car needs to accelerate. There is also what causes the gas engine to instantly start when the vehicle is idling. This built-in, automatic stop-start function is what provides the fuel savings typified in conventional hybrid vehicles.
The second type of hybrid vehicle is known as a strong or fall hybrid system. The system was popularized when it was released with the Toyota Prius. In a strong hybrid setup, the batteries and electric motors are powerful enough to provide an all-electric range at start-up. This approach also relies on the use of a relatively small gas engine which is why it often provides better fuel economy than mild hybrids. Not surprisingly, strong systems typically cost more than equally equipped mild system.
Start By Checking the Basics
While much of the underlying technology is different, it is important to check the basics just like you would when purchasing a traditional used vehicle. Because they combine and electric drive with gasoline engines, hybrid use many of the same mechanical parts as traditional vehicles. This means you still need to check basic characteristics such as oil and other fluid leaks, tire wear, body, and interior condition. Of course, you should always check the service history as well.
One of the hidden benefits of buying a used hybrid is that they are largely computer-controlled. The car is essentially designed to protect the hybrid system and underlying computer because this is the system which will determine how well the vehicle responds to acceleration, wear and tear, and braking. This also means it is much less likely that the previous owner has done much, if any, maintenance or repairs themselves. As a result, the entire maintenance history should be documented.
The Test Drive
If you are shopping for a hybrid vehicle for the first time and have never driven one than the test drive is critically important. Hybrid cars simply don’t sound or feel the same as traditional cars. For example, the electric power assist steering is typically not as responsive as hydraulically assisted steering. Plus, since the gas engine is significantly smaller and assisted by an electric motor the car will sound much different. This can make it difficult to determine if the powertrain is making any unique noises which would signal the need for maintenance or repairs.
Some Mechanics Specialize in Hybrid Technology