Nearly 20 years after the original Honda Insight became the first mass-market hybrid vehicle for U.S. drivers, cars with hybrid powertrains have become firmly established on the automotive landscape. And with dealers selling so many new hybrid models, and so many used-vehicle shoppers also interested in saving fuel, these cars are increasingly popular in the pre-owned marketplace. That’s bringing increased attention to long-term hybrid reliability.
More Components for More Dependability Issues?
The basic concern here is the idea that because hybrid powertrains rely on more components than a traditional powertrain, there are more things that could go wrong. It’s not just a matter of a few differences in parts, either.
A typical hybrid vehicle starts with a conventional gasoline powertrain, meaning that engineers aren’t simply swapping one set of potential issues for another. They’re taking the original powertrain and adding a significant amount of extra complexity. Hybrids, for example, also need regenerative-braking systems to recapture energy from stopping, battery packs to store that energy, electric motors to use that energy to help the gas engine, and all the electronics necessary to make everything work together.
Though that seems like a lot to worry about, there are some factors in favor of hybrid dependability.
… Or Proven Platforms for Proven Reliability?
One of the most common approaches to hybrid engineering is to incorporate that fuel-saving technology into an existing model, and that can have a positive impact on reliability. Consider the Honda Accord Hybrid. This high-efficiency midsize sedan offers Honda’s sophisticated two-motor hybrid technology, but the rest of the vehicle is backed by a decades-long history of dependability. It’s a similar story with popular hybrid variants of the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry and others. So even though there are more components in a hybrid than in a typical gas-only car, as mentioned, most of these components have proven themselves during years of real-world service in vehicles with traditional powertrains.
As for dedicated hybrid models like the Toyota Prius and newer Kia Niro, shoppers can gauge automaker reliability expectations based on the vehicles’ extensive warranty programs. Thus, Toyota provides a standard eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on “hybrid-related components,” with Kia’s coverage extending to 10 years/100,000 miles. Some states mandate even longer warranty periods for hybrid equipment.
Real-world Hybrid Reliability
After two decades of hybrid sales, we can get a pretty good handle on how those factors play out in the real world, and the results may be surprising. When the rubber hits the road, it turns out that a number of hybrid vehicles actually stand up to punishment better than cars with traditional powertrains.
A case in point is the previous-generation Toyota Prius. Sold during the 2010 through 2015 model years, this version of the Prius was recently named the No. 1 Compact Car in the 2017 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study. This survey analyzes vehicles after three years of operation, and in leading the segment, the 2014 Prius topped names ranging from the Ford Focus to Toyota’s own Corolla. Further, all Prius models from this generation have earned the highest possible reliability ratings from Consumer Reports. (It’s also worth noting that the 2014 Toyota Prius v accomplished the same feat, winning its category in the 2017 J.D. Power dependability study and achieving the best possible Consumer Report reliability rating.)
For hybrid SUVs, the Toyota Highlander makes an interesting case for dependability. In a recent study, the Highlander Hybrid was found to be the vehicle most likely to be kept by its original owner for at least 10 years; the Lexus RX Hybrid was ninth on the list. Needless to say, buying either of those vehicles from recent model years would leave plenty of dependability left over for used-car shoppers. Previously owned Toyota Avalon and Lexus hybrids are known for strong reliability as well, as are entries from other brands including the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, 2014 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and 2013 Honda Civic Hybrid.
With that in mind, customers looking to save both money and fuel in a used car shouldn’t be afraid of taking a nice long look at hybrids.