Whether you're planning to buy a used hybrid or you already own one, you'll need to give some thought to the hybrid battery. That's because the battery in a hybrid vehicle isn't like the one in a traditional car, and it can't be replaced for $75 at the local auto parts store.
Instead, a failed hybrid car battery can cost thousands of dollars to replace, and that can be a big deal to a shopper who bought a hybrid to save money. But before you get too worried, we've provided some tips on when to expect the battery to fail and ways to avoid a huge bill.
When Will It Fail?
This is the most important question posed by hybrid owners and drivers considering a used hybrid. Unfortunately, answering it isn't easy -- largely because each case seems to be different. Some drivers experience failure at 70,000 miles, while others can make it to 200,000 miles without issue.
In our experience, hybrid batteries start to become a risk when they're 10 to 15 years old and they've covered 120,000 to 150,000 miles. Yes, some owners will do a lot better than that. There are reports of batteries lasting well into the 200,000-mile range. But we wouldn't suggest counting on those reports as the norm, especially if you're considering a used hybrid and you're on a budget.
What Can You Do?
There are a few options when the battery fails. Unfortunately, those options don't involve driving the car, since the battery is crucial to the drivetrain. That means you can't just rewire it to run on gasoline alone, as some thrifty drivers hope.
Your first option is, of course, to simply purchase a new battery. In our experience, this can cost around $2,500 plus labor and taxes, though it's more expensive in some models. Do this and you'll likely get a decade or more out of your new battery.
Another option is to buy a refurbished or rebuilt battery. While a dealer is unlikely to perform this job, spend some time searching on the Internet and you'll find many third parties who will. They rebuild batteries by replacing dead cells with new ones. While rebuilt batteries may not last as long as the originals, they're also much cheaper. If you go this route, prepare to pay $1,000 to $1,400 plus installation.
Your third option is to purchase a used battery, which typically comes from a hybrid that suffered an accident. This is the cheapest alternative but also the riskiest, since there are few guarantees that the battery will work until it's installed and paid for.
Check Your Warranty
One piece of advice we give shoppers concerned about hybrid battery failure is to check their vehicle's warranty. While most hybrid cars offer an 8- or 10-year/100,000-mile warranty, several states mandate that hybrid warranties last up to 150,000 miles. If your car was purchased new in one of those states, you might be able to get your battery replaced under warranty for free.
Be Cautious, Not Scared
Hybrid cars have many benefits, and we wouldn't advise a shopper to run away from one just because of potential battery pitfalls. But we certainly advise doing your homework, even if that means negotiating a lower price to account for potential battery failure.