Oil prices may have dropped somewhat in the past two weeks, but does anyone really believe they will continue to fall? Besides, at more than $4 per gallon, most of us are continuing to feel pinched at the pump.
With that in mind, many consumers are considering purchasing a hybrid as their next vehicle. And now that hybrids have been around a few years, buying a used hybrid is a real option. Here are some tips that should help you pick out the real deal and avoid the lemons among previously owned green cars.
The Battery Is the Biggest Concern
One of the main issues when buying a used hybrid is the projected life span of its battery pack. This might surprise you considering that conventional car batteries wear out with some frequency, but the estimated life expectancy of the batteries in some hybrids is more than ten years, or roughly 150,000 to 200,000 miles. The batteries in Toyota's Prius, the leading hybrid on the market, are designed to last the life of the car. However, like all parts on any vehicle, it is possible that a battery pack could unexpectedly fail.
Battery packs can be expensive, ranging anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, depending on model. If the previously owned hybrid you're considering needs new batteries, you should probably consider buying another vehicle. However, a salvage market is emerging (check salvage yards in your area) that could allow you to purchase a used battery-pack, recovered from a vehicle destroyed by an accident, for a fraction of the cost.
To further prevent early battery pack failure, Toyota has taken precautions when engineering the HSD system to make certain that the charge-level of the battery doesn't reach low points. Unlike other rechargeable batteries found in cell phones, laptop computers, and iPods, which are commonly used until the batteries are completely dead, the Prius never comes close to being completely drained. Whenever the charge levels drop towards the two-bar zone on the multi-display screen, the engine kicks on to recharge the draining battery.
Things to Consider When Buying from a Private Seller
It's always a good idea to have a specialist check a pre-owned car before you buy it, but there are a few things you can check yourself. Look over the body carefully to see if there is any significant exterior damage. Dents or scratches, even if repaired, can be clues to past collisions. Be sure to note, as you would with any used vehicle, the number of miles, ask how often the oil was changed, and determine if the car has had any major malfunctions. Protect yourself from possible dishonesty by asking for as much documentation as possible to verify all of the seller's claims.
The next step is to take the car to a dealership for a more detailed inspection of its moving parts and all-around condition. This might end up costing a few hundred dollars, but it is money well spent. Aside from knowing the true condition of the car, it will provide reassurance that your money has not been wasted on a clunker.
When Buying from Pre-Owned Dealerships
There are a number of pre-owned dealerships that sell used hybrids--so many that choosing the right one might be even harder then picking out the car itself. However, the dealership you choose should be certified and inspect their cars before they go on the market.
Delve into the Car's History
Regardless from whom you purchase the car it is also a good idea to get a CarFax history report done. There are many things a seller may not disclose, such as a salvage title, flood damage, or an odometer rollback. Any of these and other issues can affect the safety, performance, and, importantly, value of a used car. CarFax offers inspections of ownership history, odometer checks, average miles between oil changes, and accident reports to make sure you get what you pay for. These are only a few services that CarFax provides to expose the true condition of a pre-owned vehicle.
Keep your eyes and ears open while following the above steps, and your chances of buying a lemon will be greatly reduced. Indeed, the process of purchasing pre-owned hybrids is really not different then buying pre-owned gasoline propelled vehicle. Like the old saying goes, "the more things change . . ."
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