Sunday, July 24, 2016

Risks of Buying a Used Hybrid Vehicle

Back in January 2015 we purchased our very first hybrid vehicle, a 2007 AWD Ford Escape Hybrid. We were very happy with the purchase. The Escape was a joy to drive, had more cargo space that our Scion XA and gave us better fuel economy that the XA, even with AWD.

Things were great with the Escape until the Summer. On a couple of occasions we were out and it would not start. Both times this happened we had to leave it, but it would be fine when we returned to get it the next day. After doing some research, and taking a few test drives, I was able to identify a pattern. The problem only happened when it was very hot and we were using the air conditioner. Sometimes it would quit while we were driving, other times it would seem fine until we stopped and shut the engine off. Either way, when we would try to restart it the display would give an error and it would not even attempt to start.

I took it to the local Ford Dealership for troubleshooting. After keeping it for weeks and replacing $500 worth of, what turned out to be completely unrelated, parts they were unable to reproduce the issue. I picked the car up one day, with the express purpose of recreating it for them, and was able to do so within ten minutes. This finally gave them the computer codes they needed to identify the problem, the battery pack was going bad.

The quote from the dealership for a replacement battery pack was $9600 for an OEM battery pack or more than $6000 for an aftermarket replacement. We were not in a position to pay either price, so I took the vehicle home and parked it while we decided what to do. Eventually I found some refurbished battery packs for around $4000, but that was still more than we could afford to spend at the time.

After nearly a year we decided to trade it on another car. We owed more than it was worth, especially since it needed repair. We took a significant hit, but were happy to be rid of it. Regardless of what we had decided to do we would have ended up losing money. I learned from the dealership where we traded it in that they planned to take it straight to an auction where it would be sold As-Is. In other words, whoever bought it would have no idea that the battery pack was failing. This verified what I had been suspecting for a long time, buying a used hybrid vehicle can be a serious risk.

Knowing what I know now I am fairly certain that the previous owner had likely encountered the same issue that we did. They probably traded it in at a lot, then was immediately sold at auction. The title history shows that it was sold at auction and landed at a few used car lots before eventually ending up at place that sold it to us. One would hope that the health of the battery pack would be checked out before a used car dealer would offer the vehicle for sale, but I'm pretty confident this was not the case, unless they checked it and then knowingly sold it with a bad battery pack.

I am sure that there are thousands of used hybrid vehicles sold that have no problems. For me, though, it is just too big of a risk to take again. The only way I would buy another used hybrid vehicle from someone I did not know is if it were a Certified Pre-Owned car from a major dealership. Even then I would do significant research before making a decision.

The other thing that I learned is that the price of battery packs, and availability of aftermarket and refurbished replacements, varies greatly based on the make and model of the vehicle. I found refurbished replacement battery packs for a Toyota Prius for less than $2000, which is an amount that we would have been able to afford. If I buy another hybrid, at least anytime soon, it is likely to be a Prius, partly for that reason.

If you are considering buying a used hybrid vehicle I would urge you to do a significant amount of research. Find out how much a replacement battery pack would cost and how easy they are to acquire. Find out if there have been reported problems of battery pack failures for that make and model. If at all possible contact the previous owner and ask if they had any problems. If it can be arranged you might also consider taking it to the local brand dealership and have the battery pack tested before making a final decision. I don't want to scare anyone away from buying a hybrid vehicle, because we really did love having one. I just don't want anyone to make the same mistake that we did and end up in the same situation.

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