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Buying a Car: Are Hybrids Less Reliable Than Gas-Powered Models?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2016

If you're interested in buying a car with a focus on fuel efficiency, you might be considering a hybrid model. You may have heard that hybrids can be unreliable, especially since they have a hybrid battery that can be an expensive repair looming in the future. So is it true? Are hybrid cars really less reliable than their gas-powered counterparts? Should you avoid hybrids as a result? We have the answers.

Are Hybrids Less Reliable?

If hybrid cars are less reliable than their more traditional gasoline-powered counterparts, firms that rate automotive reliability certainly haven't heard about it. For example, J.D. Power gave the Toyota Prius a best-in-class rating for reliability, while U.S. News & World Report gave the hybrid-powered Lexus CT 200h a better-than-average score. Consumer Reports recommends many hybrid cars, from the usual Toyota offerings to the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid and more. This is important, because Consumer Reports won't recommend a car that doesn't fare well in its reliability surveys.

Of course, there are some unreliable hybrid models, but this lack of dependability rarely relates to their hybrid drivetrains. On average, it seems most hybrid models can be as reliable or as unreliable as their gas-powered counterparts, with little correlation between hybrid powertrain and unreliability.

What About That Battery?

If you're thinking about buying a used hybrid -- or if you plan to keep your new hybrid for a long time -- you might be concerned about the hybrid battery. A hybrid battery isn't like a typical battery because it's integral to the car's drivetrain. In other words, if the battery fails, then the car can't operate.

But we think a lot of talk about big, scary hybrid battery repair is overblown. Yes, the battery will eventually fail, and the cost to repair it could be between $2,000 and $3,000 (less if you opt for a remanufactured battery), but this repair often comes after the car is 10 years old and, in some cases, much older. Given that similar cars require one or two timing-belt replacements in this time frame, likely at a similar total cost, the battery replacement doesn't strike us as especially prohibitive.

Our Take

If you're buying a car with a focus on gas mileage, don't worry about hybrid reliability, especially if you're buying a new model. Virtually every firm that analyzes automotive reliability suggests that hybrids can be just as dependable as gas-powered models.

Meanwhile, if you're buying a used hybrid, you may want to consider the potential cost of replacing the battery and possibly work it into the sales price. Still, it shouldn't be a deal breaker. A reliable hybrid car with a fresh battery can likely travel for many more miles and years without any major troubles.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Car: Are Hybrids Less Reliable Than Gas-Powered Models? - Autotrader