Which Used Hybrids Are The Best Bet?

Buying a used hybrid comes with the same pros and cons as buying a used regular internal combustion-powered car, but – you might say – is that really true?

Given that hybrids have two powertrains merged into one, theoretically there is “more to go wrong,” but in fact, many hybrids have proven to be as trouble-free as conventional counterparts, if not better in cases.

“Hybrids are doing very well compared to traditional gasoline powered vehicles,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of Automotive Quality Research at J.D. Power and Associates last December. “On average, a hybrid sees about 99 problems per 100 vehicles, compared to gas vehicles’ which have a rating of 133 problems per 100 vehicles.”

Of course there are exceptions, and we’d advise avoiding certain hybrids that came and went or that did not provide significant advantages over same-class conventional models.

Examples of these would be Nissan’s Pathfinder Hybrid and Infiniti QX60 Hybrid which did not significantly out-do conventional counterparts, and came and went. Similarly, BMW’s ActiveHybrids did not provide significantly better mileage but did cost more.

Anita Lam of Consumer Reports’ Automotive Data team also said Ford C-Max Hybrid reliability has been 80 percent below the average for new vehicles. The Ford Fusion Hybrid also was reported as below average expected reliability, though we have not seen much adverse reporting on these otherwise efficient cars.

Further, while most hybrid batteries have proven very robust, notable exceptions were 2006-2011 Honda Civic hybrids which came with nickel-metal-hydride batteries.

“The Civic Hybrid, which has been a reliable car overall in most years, has a big problem with its drive battery,” said Consumer Reports in March 2013. “The 2009 model was the worst: Almost one in five owners needed a replacement hybrid battery in our 12-month survey period.”

More than 10 percent of owners of the 2003, 2004, and 2010 models also needed a battery, added the publication.

More-recent examples of Civic IMA hybrids with a lithium-ion battery however have proven to be a better bet.

Beyond those caveats, checking reliability records, such as with Consumer Reports, and other relevant variables is always a good idea, and CR does otherwise recommend buying used, assuming you do your homework.

Why? A new car loses on average 27 percent of its value the first year, and the biggest depreciation happens after two or three years. Given hybrids do tend to cost more than regular counterparts, letting someone else take that impact can be a savvy move on your part.

Those are pros. On the con side, every new car is like a snowflake – no two are exactly alike with different condition, mileage and age since purchased. As such, if buying used from a dealer, it may be tough or impossible to determine exactly how much markup you are paying over what the dealer bought it for.

It’s more of a free-market environment, but not necessarily reason to avoid it altogether.

One more qualification is in order too: Our list names hybrids known to have held up on average, but there are always exceptions.

Because Toyota is most committed to full hybrid vehicles, with 69 percent of U.S. market share, its vehicles do dominate the list, but other reliable used hybrids may also be out there.

2010-2013 Toyota Prius

The third-generation Prius is one of the most proven hybrids, having evolved since 1997 when it was first introduced in Japan.

Using Toyota’s “Hybrid Synergy Drive” full hybrid powertrain, it merges electrc motor power with a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle engine for 50 mpg.

Owners have reported both making the number and not, which possibly speaks to individual driving styles and conditions.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Toyota Prius Review

The vehicle gets high marks for reliability, and Consumer Reports’ likes it so much, it recommends a used Prius Liftback – as the regular Prius is called – over a new Prius c, though we would not go that far, and like the Prius c too

We’re recommending up to 2013 because more depreciation may have set in, but 2014 and 2015 models are good too, if you find a deal you can live with.

2012-2013 Honda Civic Hybrid

Upgraded with a lithium-ion battery, the 44 mpg Civic Hybrid is visually indistinguishable from the regular Civic sedan except for some hybrid-specific design cues and badging.

As a fuel saver, its Integrated Motor Assist is not as advanced as the Toyota’s full hybrid architecture, but the system is relatively effective and was first seen in the original 2000 Insight released slightly before Toyota’s Prius – so the Honda, too, has a pedigree.

SEE ALSO: 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid Review
The vehicle is a premium trim level however, so bells and whistles should be on your list, otherwise you can possibly get a better deal on a more modestly equipped vehicle.

We’re recommending up to 2013 because more depreciation may have set in, but 2014 and 2015 models are good too, if you find a deal you can live with.

2012-2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid

An excellent car, the almost fully revised 2015 model retained 2012’s powertrain unchanged along with its 40/41 mpg combined rating (depending on LE or XLE trim).

Toyota’s Camry has been a best seller for the past several years because of the reliability record, and because it is such a clear mpg improvement over the 28 mpg four-cylinder counterpart.

It has 200 horsepower, 0-60 in the mid 7s, thus plenty peppy, and the extra 12-13 mpg is icing on the cake.

We’re recommending up to 2013 because more depreciation may have set in, but 2014 and 2015 models are good too, if you find a deal you can live with.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid*

*This is a relatively new car, but represents the vanguard of Honda’s newest hybrid system architecture, and is nearly a modern marvel.

It is a full hybrid, and more Hondas in due time may receive this system as it performs better than any other hybrid system in this vehicle class.

The on-the-large-side midsized sedan nets an amazing 47 mpg combined, 50 city, 45 highway, with just shy of 200 horsepower and all comforts.

Whether you can find one suitably priced is another question, but we are putting this one on the list in case you can.

2009-2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The 2009 model is specifically named by Consumer Reports as a potential top pick, so we’re passing it along, but later models may also be a reasonable bet.

As a larger four-wheel-drive SUV, with 3.3-liter full hybrid system, its mpg is lower than the cars on the list, at 26 combined, 27 city, 25 highway.

After 2011, a 3.5-liter engine was fitted along with revised styling and fuel economy went up by 2 mpg.


Other top sellers, not surprisingly, include the Toyota Prius c and Prius v, most Lexus models, but also not to be overlooked are the 2013-later Honda CR-Z, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and even 2014-later Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, which has scored well in reliability.

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