The reason: While strong demand has pushed up used car prices sharply this year, hybrid models have not kept pace. Even as prices for market-leading used SUVs have risen 8% since January, hybrid cars and hybrid crossover SUVs have dropped nearly 7%, says Alec Gutierrez, lead analyst of vehicle valuations for Kelley. Demand for high-mileage hybrids has dropped, he believes, because consumers no longer expect sharp increases in gas prices. "Gas has settled in at $2.75 to $2.85 a gallon, and people seem to be comfortable with that," adds Gutierrez.
Buying a used hybrid avoids the new-car hybrid premium that can take many years to recoup in gas savings. And yet you still get the environmental benefits -- both high gas mileage and low emissions of climate-affecting greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
But given that hybrid technology is relatively untested, should you buy a used hybrid? The answer is a qualified yes, says James Bell, Kelley Blue Book's executive market analyst. As with a new hybrid, you need to be aware that factors such as your driving style and seasons of extreme heat or cold where you live can affect your real-world gas mileage.
Bell says the record of battery and overall reliability in hybrids makes them very plausible as used cars with one exception. He would avoid the 2006-2008 Honda Civic hybrids. According to the Los Angeles Times, Honda sent out 100,000 letters to owners of these cars saying that in these hybrids batteries "may deteriorate and eventually fail." Honda dealers made software changes to fix this problem, and some owners complained that the change reduced their gas mileage.
With that exception, you shouldn't worry about battery failure according to Bell. "These batteries are designed to last for 150,000 miles," he says. "And they are not like typical car batteries. The computer systems in hybrids manage the situation so that they are never overcharged or run down excessively." And he points out that the batteries and associated components carry long warranties -- usually eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. These warranties transfer to used-car buyers. Even more than with regular used cars, buy used hybrids from dealerships rather than private individuals. That makes it likelier that the hybrid system has had an expert check-up.
Here is a closer look at three used hybrids that seem to offer good value:
Chevrolet Tahoe This big SUV is not the first image that springs to mind when you hear "hybrid." But the analysts at kbb.com found used-car shoppers especially interested in this model. A look at the potential savings shows why. The 2008 (pictured here) with a V-8 hybrid that can handle hauling and towing is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway (vs. 14 and 19 for the gas-only version). The price when sold by dealers, according to Kelley, is $35,900. The tab for a new 2011 Tahoe hybrid is $54,590.
Toyota Camry Toyota's iconic hybrid Prius holds its value as a used car better than many others. But if you look at the Camry hybrid, the savings are there. A 2008 model, rated at 33 mpg in city driving, 34 highway, is selling for $19,435. A new 2011 Camry hybrid will cost you $27,335. Best to buy a 2008 Camry from a dealership, and confirm that the mechanics have made any fixes associated with the sudden acceleration recall.
Ford Fusion Even though the Fusion hybrid only just appeared on the scene -- 2010 is the first model year -- it still looks like a good used car value. The 2010 (at left) like the new one, gets a whopping 41 mpg rating for city driving, 31 highway. And the used 2010 version, with just over 15,000 miles on the odometer, is selling for $22,905 vs. $28, 825 for a new 2011, according to kbb.com