Latest: more and more second-hand hybrid cars are reaching car sales forecourts. Sales of new ones are increasing (albeit from a very small base) and the word from dealers is that many owners are trading in to buy their second or even third hybrid car new, while they also report steady interest, especially in low-miles cars that have good spec.
As a market snapshot, today Auto Trader has 550 Prius advertised for sale, from a £500 non-runner (battery fault) to £29,000 for a top-spec new example (claiming a £3614 saving on list price). Honda has 108 insight hatchbacks from £5675 to £18,995 and 106 CR-Z sports hatches from £6990 to £21,900.
Or if you’re looking for a luxury SUV, there are over 400 Lexus RX hybrids offered with prices from £6500.
Hybrids harness the power of a regular engine and an electric motor, working separately and together to cut harmful exhaust gases and boost fuel economy. They’re more complex than most other cars, which makes them expensive to buy new.
Second-hand prices offer big savings on what the first owner originally paid but subsequent keepers still reap benefits such as ultra-low or zero annual road tax and also possible exemption from the London Congestion Charge.
What’s the choice?
Unless your budget is generous enough to fund a nearly-new car (a year old, or less) the options focus down to two makes: Toyota and Honda. Of these Toyota’s Prius is the commonest: there are currently 409 second-hand ones advertised with autotrader.co.uk at prices from a little under £2000.
Honda has a me-too competitor in its Civic IMA and its (more recent) Insight. Both of these and the Toyota are five-seat, family sized cars. Honda also marketed the CR-Z, a three-door sports hatchback.
Finally, for a truly left-field choice, there’s a three-door, two-seat Honda hybrid produced between 1999 and 2006. This looks wonderfully futuristic, like something perhaps an off-duty Dalek might drive.
Toyota’s luxury-car offshoot, Lexus, also produces a hybrid executive saloon and a 4×4, the GS400h and the RX400h.
A diesel hybrid?
Possible, but scarce – and relatively expensive. Since 2012 Peugeot has sold a diesel hybrid version of its 3008 5-seater MPV. At time of writing, Auto Trader shows only 12 for sale in the UK, and prices start at £13,495. But offering 200bhp, 99g/km CO2 and 70mpg promised overall, these are impressive vehicles.
More complex, so less reliable?
Potentially, yes. However, Toyota and Honda make among the most durable and dependable vehicles of any and owners report huge mileages covered without needing more than routine servicing. (http://www.theguardian.com/money/blog/2012/jun/15/hybrid-cars-long-term-investment)
Also, Priuses are now commonly used as minicabs – a sure sign for us of durable cars capable of hard work.
It’ll cost a packet to run, or will it?
Zero or low-cost road tax help offset increased costs elsewhere. For servicing and repairs you’re tied more to Toyota dealers than you would be with a conventional petrol or diesel: we wouldn’t expect an independent garage to have the expertise needed to fix them. That’ll add to your bills.
When replacing tyres, you should stick with the same ‘low energy’ rubber as fitted originally. Buying cheaper brands will harm fuel economy.
Of most concern, though, is whether you’ll come anywhere close to matching the hybrid’s published mpg figures. Our experience (with the Prius) is that you’ll struggle in town driving to get anywhere near the published 72.4mpg overall. Owners tend to see around 50mpg all told, dropping to the high-30s if most trips are shorter and in traffic.
What about those batteries?
Toyota offers an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty from new. Annual Hybrid Health Checks, carried out by a Toyota dealer, can extend this up to 11 years/unlimited miles. (http://www.toyota.co.uk/insurance-and-warranty/toyota-warranty).
Honda matches Toyota’s standard warranty for the batteries and also other specified parts of the hybrid system. Reconditioning hybrid batteries costs approx £700-£1000 using a non-Toyota specialist.
High prices from new drop quickly to make three-to-four years old cars strong value at half what they originally cost. Buy at that stage and value loss slows to £1000-£2000 yearly.
Can a cheap, high-miler ever make sense?
Definitely. It promises the same benefits in low road tax, fuel economy and Congestion Charge exemption as when new, albeit at a fraction of the cost. Buy on condition, not mileage, and a full, detailed service history from Toyota is a must, we’d say.