Will you actually save money?

Hybrid cars are all the rage right now. There is a constant stream of new hybrid models on sale in the United States, although any Acura RDX review you read will show that the peppy turbocharged four-cylinder remains popular. Still, EVs and hybrids are on the increase - for example, the range of new Kia hybrids consists of three vehicles, Honda has four, and Hyundai has three. And that’s not even counting fuel-cell vehicles and electric vehicles, only hybrids. You get the picture - there are many to choose from. Considering that hybrids have been on sale in the USA for around 20 years, there are also many hybrids on the used market. But should you buy one? And how much money will a hybrid actually save you?

Toyota was earlier to the hybrid game than brands such as Kia, and Honda has been at it for a long time too, so one would imagine that reliability would be a given when it comes to buying a used hybrid, right? Especially since the tech has matured and when you buy a hybrid from a brand that is known for its reliability, such as Honda or Toyota. Yet, surely, like all used cars, there must be some pitfalls? Let us look at the most important things you should know when shopping for a used hybrid.

What Is A Hybrid Car?

Essentially, a hybrid car has two drivetrains, both an internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric motor, in addition to a battery pack. Therefore, it has all the components that traditional ICE cars have, in addition to all the components that electric cars have, even if in a scaled-down form. It adds weight and complication and requires lots of computer processing power to coordinate all the systems to work in tandem.

Several more finely grained definitions exist, but broadly speaking, there are four main types of hybrid configurations:
  • In-parallel full hybrids
  • In-parallel mild-hybrids
  • In-series hybrids
  • Plug-in hybrids

An in-parallel hybrid’s ICE and electric motor drive the wheels together. A low-speed, short-distance EV mode is often available. In parallel mild hybrids’ small electric motors and batteries only assist the gas engine to improve response and gas mileage and cannot propel the car by themselves. An in-series hybrid’s ICE isn’t connected to the wheels; it’s only a range-extender electricity generator for the electric motor when the battery is depleted. Plug-in hybrids’ larger batteries and electric motors can propel the car as a full EV for tens of miles, eliminating the ICE altogether on short trips.

The Advantages Of Buying A Used Hybrid

There are several advantages to buying a used hybrid:
  • It’s far cheaper than a new hybrid. Hybrids depreciate like all cars and since new ones are usually quite expensive, it makes more economic sense to buy a used one and pay less upfront than spending more on a new one that’s meant to save you money.
  • Excellent miles per gallon. Most hybrids offer superb economy, sometimes exceeding 50 MPG. This goes hand in hand with lower emissions too.
  • Better warranty cover. Batteries are expensive, but luckily, many hybrid drivetrains and batteries are guaranteed for ten to 15 years and for more than 100,000 miles. So there’s a good chance you can buy a used one that still has a cover.
  • Less brake wear. Hybrids with regenerative braking charge the battery by using the electric motor like a generator when slowing down. Therefore, slow driving and gentle braking often only use regenerative braking and not the brakes, so the brakes last longer.

The Disadvantages Of Buying A Used Hybrid

It’s not all moonshine and roses though, so keep these cons in mind:

  • It’s still expensive. It might be cheaper than a new hybrid, but it’s usually still significantly more expensive in comparison to a similar class of gas car, even used. If it’s not a plug-in hybrid of which you can make maximum use of the all-EV range every time, you might end up taking a long time to make back the money you paid extra in fuel savings.
  • Batteries and repairs are expensive. The batteries can cost several thousand dollars to replace, adding even more to your total cost of ownership and setting you even further back in recouping the outlay. Especially if you buy an old hybrid approaching 100,000 miles. Failures of electric motors and other hybrid-specific components can be expensive too.
  • It’s not always the best driving experience. Many economy-minded hybrids have little horsepower and poor performance - and can use slow and unresponsive continuously variable automatic transmissions. You might get good fuel economy, but the driving experience can be frustrating. Test drive it before you buy.
  • It might be difficult to find a mechanic. Not everyone has the expertise to work on a hybrid or would want to. If it still has warranty cover, you might also be forced to visit the official dealership at a greater cost, watering down the high-value proposition.
  • Worse space utilization. Due to all the drivetrain components and batteries that need to be packaged somewhere, passenger and cargo space can often take a hit.


Hybridization is an expensive and complicated transitionary technology between ICE cars and EVs. They are light on fuel, but they are expensive to buy and fix and you might end up saving very little. If your commute is between ten and 30 miles, we suggest a plug-in hybrid. Many of them can cover that kind of distance in EV mode and if you can charge the battery at work during the day, you can go even farther without ever using the ICE. That could actually save you money and be worth the outlay.