Hybrid cars have become an automotive bridge between the old world of petrol or diesel engines and the emerging world of electric vehicles. We’re living in an era of increasingly stringent emissions regulations, and the combination of tasty carrots and pointy sticks is clearing our path to electrified enlightenment.
Yet the problem remains that, for the average family, electric battery technology is expensive. Infrastructure across the country is also, at the current time, fragmented and sometimes unreliable. So, while the electric car may not yet be as accepted as a third series of Love Island, the subject is at least mobilising minds and hybrid cars can provide a logical first step. And there are plenty of examples on the used market that can be picked up for less than £5,000.
WHAT IS A HYBRID CAR?
Put simply, a hybrid uses electricity stored in batteries and fuel stored in a tank to make the car move. When you first think of a hybrid car, you may probably think of a Toyota Prius. The Prius pretty much invented the segment and is known as a parallel hybrid: it has an internal combustion engine, battery and electric motor that can either be powered directly by the electric motor alone, by the engine alone or a combination of both. Obviously, there’s a Professor Brian Cox brain’s worth of control systems deciding which of these power sources provide drive at any given point, but it doesn’t affect the way you go, stop and steer.
Other types of hybrid include plug-in and mild hybrid, but none of these yet fall into our £5,000 budget. To find out more about these types of powertrain, read our guide: Should My Next Car Be Petrol, Diesel, Hybrid or Electric?
THE ADVANTAGES OF BUYING A USED HYBRID
First and foremost, the cost of ownership associated with running a hybrid should be lower than for a ‘normal’ car – assuming you remember that hybrids don’t like to be hustled and deliver the best fuel consumption figures at low(ish) speeds in towns and cities.
Hybrid cars are ULEZ compliant, which prevents you from having to pay the government’s latest emissions-busting fee for the city of London. There are no electric car-related charging issues with a hybrid, either. There’s a fuel tank that you fill up at the petrol station and, unless it’s a plug-in hybrid, the batteries recharge themselves when on the move. In fact, driving a hybrid will just feel like driving any other automatic car.
THE DISADVANTAGES OF BUYING A USED HYBRID
Unfortunately, the capital’s congestion charge will still apply as hybrid cars do not produce zero emissions. Hybrids also tend to be better suited to town and city driving where the electric motors are at their most effective. Take a hybrid on the motorway and economy won’t be anything like as good as you’ll get from a diesel car. Bear in mind that battery packs are also very heavy, and hybrids are almost always set up with economical driving styles in mind, so they don’t tend to be much fun to drive.
ARE THERE ANY PITFALLS TO BUYING A USED HYBRID?
Will old batteries hold charge like a battle-scarred iPhone 3? Will the pack itself cost a fortune to service? What does long-term reliability look like? Don’t panic. The same rules apply here as to buying any other used car: spend time to find a well looked after example from a trusted dealer and with a regular service history and you shouldn’t go far wrong.
It’s worth noting that Lexus and Toyota have sold more than 12 million hybrids since 1997, and so understand the safety and reliability of nickel-metal hydride batteries – and perform consistently well on warranty and reliability surveys. Increasingly brands are now also covering hybrid technology under a separate, lengthier warranty to alleviate concerns. Whereas a typical car warranty could be between three to five years, a battery warranty could last anything up to 15 years, underlining the confidence manufacturers have in the technology. As such, it is always worth asking if any battery warranty remains when buying a used hybrid.
FIVE USED HYBRIDS FOR LESS THAN £5,000
A quick search on CarGurus UK will reveal that there are a number of early hybrid models that can now be yours for less than £5,000. Here are five of our favourites that prove you don’t have to be rich to reduce your carbon footprint:
For practicality – Toyota Prius
The Prius started the hybrid upheaval two decades ago and there are now lots of used options available, if you’re prepared to deal with the Uber jibes. Just remember that Uber drivers use the Prius because it is economical and super-reliable.
For pragmatism – Toyota Auris Hybrid
The Auris shares its underpinnings with the Toyota Prius but wears far more conventional styling. Not exactly one for thrill seekers, but not everybody wants to drive around in a motorised billboard for the hybrid life.
For business – Lexus GS450h
This smooth, quiet and refined saloon car is impeccably well built and offers plenty of traditional charm. It still feels like business class in the back, too.
For pleasure – Honda CR-Z
The CR-Z is a sporty two-door hybrid that is fun* to drive and features a manual gearbox for keen drivers. It’s styled with enough character to stand out and is a rare sight on UK roads, which can only add to the exclusive appeal. (*for a hybrid)
For the family – Lexus RX400h
Like most 4x4s, this one has evolved to be more comfortable performing the school run than swimming in mud, but it’s quiet, spacious and refined. The RX400h is sophisticated, feelgood family transport that belies its age.
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