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Are used hybrids a good idea?

By raccars Published

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Maturing market: what do you need to look out for when buying used hybrids?

It's time for even the sceptics to admit it: hybrids are here to stay. When the Toyota Prius first hit showrooms in 2000, its divisive looks and lacklustre performance led many to believe it would never become a mainstream success. While it's never been a best-seller in the UK, it's now into its fourth generation and facing an awful lot of competition, having proven the viability of hybrid technology.

The alternatively fuelled vehicle (AFV) market is booming but what about used hybrids? Customers put off by the diesel emissions scandal and chasing cleaner and greener alternatives to combustion engines are not only buying brand new AFVs. With a decade and a half of used hybrids out there to choose from, would you consider buying one?

Are hybrids reliable?

The higher cost of brand new hybrids and concerns about the reliability of new drivetrain technology saw many customers hesitant to invest in what they saw as an unknown quantity. However it has become evident that with fewer mechanical and moving parts to go wrong, hybrids are on the whole very reliable machines. You don't need to worry about the failure and replacement of components such as the clutch, alternator, starter motor or cambelt and brakes and tyres tend to last longer thanks to the slightly different driving dynamics of a hybrid.

Batteries

The battery pack is a different matter and is the one thing hybrid novices tend to be concerned about, worrying about failure rates and the cost of replacing it. However according to Honda, the batteries in its Civic IMA, released in 2002, are putting in about 10-14 years of work before they need to be replaced, and there hasn't yet been a single failure from its post 2010 hybrids such as the Insight and Jazz. Toyota points out that the Prius is a popular choice among the hard working private hire crowd and that first generation Priuses are still in use.

Given that most of the hybrids you'll find on the used market are still fairly new, many will still have their batteries under warranty. New hybrids usually come with a standard manufacturer's warranty but the hybrid technology part can come with an eight year warranty. Under the circumstances, a number of manufacturers haven't even determined the price of a replacement battery pack yet.

According to Mitsubishi, advancements in technology mean that battery pack prices have come down by about half in the last few years and cost about 20 per cent of the price a decade ago. The theory is that they will be even more affordable by the time used hybrid buyers need to worry about a replacement battery pack. Furthermore, it's rare for an entire battery pack to need replacing. Instead buyers will simply get dead cells replaced within the pack. Mitsubishi claims that its batteries are still operating at 80 per cent efficiency after ten years.

Currently a new battery pack for a first generation Toyota Prius costs £1,201, if you exchange it. The Mk 3 Prius battery pack is a heftier £5,730. Honda Civic IMA and Insight replacement battery packs run at about £2,000.

Will they save you money?

The number of used car buyers considering hybrids for their next vehicle is steadily growing, and with concerns about reliability and battery costs diminishing, the only real question is whether a used hybrid can offer a genuine saving on running costs compared to a combustion engine. Realistically this depends upon your driving style. If you spend your day flat footing it down the motorway then a hybrid is unlikely to save you any money. However if you do more urban driving at lower speeds and with regular stops and starts, a hybrid could be a smart economical choice.

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