Checklist for buying a used hybrid vehicle

Since the introduction of the Toyota Prius in North America in 2000, a portion of the general public has had a fascination with the hybrid vehicle, thanks to the automobile’s impressive gas mileage and environmentally friendly features.

And now, almost a decade later from that first introduction, there are more hybrids on the market and increasingly more interest among car buyers, most likely because of the financial benefits that come with owning a hybrid vehicle.

But for those who are interested in purchasing a used hybrid car, what exactly goes into researching this new type of automobile? And for those who have purchased used cars in the past, can their prior knowledge be used toward a hybrid purchase?

Here are some things potential hybrid owners should consider when looking at used cars.

Get the history

As with all used car purchases, it’s still important to run the history of a car, be it hybrid or not. The oldest hybrids out there will be approximately 10 years old, and it’s worth knowing what kind of work has been done to it and whether or not the car was involved in an accident.

It may also be a good idea to get a pre-purchase inspection from a dealer who is authorized to sell the same make of the used car you are looking at.

Mileage may not be a big issue

In the past, people who were looking to purchase a used car usually paid attention to the mileage of the vehicle. High mileage meant there was most likely more wear and tear on a car. However, this way of thinking may not apply to used hybrids.

These are cars are meant to have a higher mileage, so it may be typical to see cars with 80,000 miles on it. In fact, there have been reports that some hybrids in the market have already gone past 100,000.

The hybrid battery

Part of the reason hybrid cars get such good mileage is because they partially runs off a battery, which also helps owners of these vehicles to save on gas (a full tank of gas in a hybrid can go much further when compared to a standard gas-powered car).

But like all batteries, there may come a day when the one in an older hybrid model needs to be replaced. It’s important for used car buyers to get a full understanding on what a battery replacement may entail. For example, those looking into a used Toyota Prius should conduct research and talk to dealers so they understand how they should replace the car’s battery if it should come to that. In some cases, it’s been reported that a replacement battery could cost upwards of $2,000.

Learn how to drive

Finally, keep in mind that hybrids are a different kind of car and that just turning them on may confuse some consumers who have spent years driving gas-powered vehicles. Doing the necessary research on how to operate a hybrid car will help buyers be more comfortable during and after the process of buying a used car.

Toyota to halt Lexus sales due to recalled cars

Due to a recall notice issued last week, Japanese automaker Toyota has stopped the sale of one of its most popular models.

The company announced that it will stop selling Lexus sedans until parts for the recalled vehicles reach car dealerships. These parts are meant to fix a steering deficiency that could have potentially caused numerous car accidents.

According to news reports, drivers of the Lexus LS could experience their steering wheels stuck after making a sharp turn in either direction.

The recall notice for the Lexus LS last week affected a total of 3,800 vehicles in the U.S. and approximately 11,500 cars around the world.

Despite the recall, and the recent troubles Toyota has experienced, used car buyers may still want to look at older models of the carmaker’s award-winning Lexus LS brand.

The LS 430, which was produced from 2001 to 2006, was reviewed by editors at Edmunds.com as excelling in “both urban commuting and long-distance road trips” and that the “suspension easily soaked up road irregularities, especially when equipped with the optional air suspension.”

Nissan CEO says Leaf has sold out

Though the Nissan Leaf was set to debut this year in December, it appears to already be a hit with consumers.

According to Autoblog.com, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn announced the Leaf was sold out during a speech he was giving to the Detroit Economic Club on May 26. He added that the automaker received approximately 13,000 orders for the electric car that will reportedly come with a price tag of $32,780.

Those who did reserve a Leaf of their own placed a $99 deposit.

In an effort to combat the demand, Nissan is also reportedly building a battery plant next to its main North American auto-assembly plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. It is slated to open in 2012.

“What we’re doing here will radically transform the automotive experience for consumers,” Ghosn told Bloomberg Businessweek. “Production of Nissan Leaf and lithium-ion batteries in Smyrna brings the United States closer to its goal of energy independence, creates green jobs and helps sustain American manufacturing.”

Some automotive analysts are predicting this will start an electric car boom, and possibly increase sales of used hybrids on the market among environmentally conscious consumers who do not want to wait.

Used cars experience increase in value during 2010

While the sale of new cars dropped sharply during the recent collapse of the automotive industry, owners of used cars found that their assets actually increased in value as a result of a fortunate confluence of events.

Last year’s Cash of Clunkers program incited many Americans to buy newer, more fuel efficient cars, and took many used vehicles off the road, ABC affiliate KFBB 5 reports.

In addition, as many automakers responded to the recession by pulling older models out of production, owners of used cars found that some of their vehicles actually gained value after their purchase.

For instance, Jerome and Patricia Fuller, a South Carolina couple, recently purchased a 2005 Dodge Durango, says CBS affiliate WSPA. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), the value of the used car has increased by 16 percent, or roughly $1500, in the last six months.

NADA reports also indicated that used cars that have experienced the greatest increase in value since December 2008: Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Explorer, Lincoln Navigator, Chevrolet Tahoe, Dodge Ram 1500, Ford F150, Chevrolet TrailBlazer and Chrysler Town & Country.

Smart used car buyers may find great deals

While there may be plenty of used car deals out there, none may surpass the sale of 30 Bugattis that were sold for $85,000 in 1964.

According to the New York Times, the freight load of 30 vintage French sport cars was loaded onto a train in a small Illinois town to be shipped to an unknown seller in France. When the price of the cars are converted to today’s economy, the news provider stated it was still a “giveaway” since the amount came to $600,000.

To put in context, a Bugatti Type 41 Royale sold for $28 million, Katie Hellwig from the auction house Gooding & Company told the Times.

Though it may be rare for a garden-variety consumer to find such a deal as astounding as the 1964 Bugatti one, there is still something to be said for finding great deals on used cars for their value.

The editors at Edmunds.com say used BMW 3 Series from 2002 to 2007 are a great used car buy because it “embodies everything a coupe should be: sporty, stylish and with a level of practicality closer to that of a sedan than a dedicated sports car.”

Colorado residents may be turning to used cars

Recently released statistics from the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association (CADA) reveal that more Americans in some regions may be opting to buy used cars over new ones.

In its 2009 Economic Impact Report, CADA revealed that the state registered only 104,540 new cars and light trucks in 2009, the Denver Business Journal reports. This figure is almost half of the annual rate 10 years ago – the state recorded about 208,000 new car registrations in 2000,

“The industry, and indeed the entire state and U.S. economy, declined to depths not seen in modern history” last year, Tim Jackson, CADA’s president, said in a statement.

Despite the recession, which peaked only in the last several years, Jackson mentioned that the decline in new vehicle registrations has been most significant over the last four years.

According to the report, new car dealerships made $410 million in state and local tax revenue in 2009, while sales on new cars in Colorado totaled $9.62 billion, or an average of $34.2 million per dealership.

In light of the recession, drivers may be compelled to purchase new cars to save extra money.

U.S. sets to sell 11.7 million cars in 2010

The consulting firm A.T. Kearney has projected that car sales in the U.S. will top 11.7 million in 2010 and the positive economic outlook will bring sales to historical levels next year.

According to a Reuters report, this year’s car sales volume will range from 11.4 million to 12.3 million units, and is expected to hit 12.9 million vehicles to 16.8 million vehicles in 2012.

Analyst Daniel Cheng of Kearney told the news provider that the increase will be fueled by pent-up demand and the availability of more credit sources.

“If you look at the 1980s and the recovery from the low point then, the steepness of the return is much like our forecast,” Cheng said.

He added that the average age of cars in the US is about 9.9 years and will rise to 10.1 years in 2011. After that, more cars are expected to be scrapped and consumers will more likely send buyers to the market.

More than 16 million cars were sold between 1999 and 2007 in the U.S. When the recession hit the industry, sales volume dived to 13.2 million in 2008 and to 10.4 million in 2009.

Prices of used car rise, Ford fleet tops the list

Prices for new, used and certified pre-owned (CPO) cars have continued to rise in recent months as the economy continues to ride out the recession and consumers start to toy the idea of purchasing a car again.

AutoTrader.com reported in its Trend Engine Report for May that used and CPO car prices have increased substantially, with many of them picking up double-digit increases in recent months.

The Ford F-150 and the Ford Fusion racked up 35 percent and 31 percent increases, respectively, in the certified pre-owned car category when compared to their market prices in April last year, a news release said.

In the used car category, the Ford F-150 also led the pack and was tied with Jeep Wranglers with 18 percent price increase in the same period. Other car brands that saw double-digit price increase since April 2009 were Chevrolet, Toyota, Volkswagen, Honda, GMC and Dodge.

AutoTrader.com President and CEO Chip Perry said more consumers are looking online for new, used and CPO vehicles. In an analysis of AutoTrader’s web traffic, car shoppers used the site to compare vehicles, check prices and see car inventory.

“Car shoppers today, coming off two years of a tough economy, want to know that they’ve made the right purchase when they finally do decide to buy a new or used car,” Perry said.

General Motors partners with Google to develop mobile apps

Ford and Mercedes-Benz have announced the use of smartphones to add new features to their cars. Now, it’s General Motors’ turn to jazz up its mobile application suite to make driving more fun and easy.

The American automaker has announced that its exclusive OnStar system will use the power of Google technology to develop mobile apps aimed at strengthening Chevrolet‘s commitment to give Volt customers a “connected vehicle experience possible.”

“While OnStar will never lose sight of our core focus on safety and security, this relationship is an example of how we’re evolving our leadership position in connected vehicle technology,” OnStar president Chris Preuss said in a statement.

The partnership will support phones that use the Android software from Google, such as the Motorola Droid and HTC Droid Incredible, Preuss said, adding that initial features will include advanced navigation features using Google’s voice-based search, mapping and routing functions.

While the new mobile apps will be created on the Android platform, the New York Times’ "Wheels" blog reported that iPhone and Blackberry owners can expect to see support for these models announced soon as GM has done demonstrations using other smartphones in the past.

Used Ford cars command higher prices than other brands

Higher resale value of Ford cars, which has increased by about $3,000 over the prior year, will take center stage in the automaker’s summer marketing campaign.

This comes after the American carmaker received the largest increase in quality score in a recent survey conducted by the Automotive Lease Guide, which measures the perception of quality in car brands as a way of determining resale value.

“We have made huge strides in vehicle quality in recent years but customer perceptions don’t change overnight – so it is gratifying to see our real-world improvements begin to fully register with consumers,” Jim Farley, Ford’s group vice president of global marketing, said in a news release.

Ford showed a 7.6 percent improvement on the Spring 2010 results compared with Fall 2009 in ALG’s annual Perceived Quality Score survey, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The news provider added that while Ford posted the biggest gain, it ranked third in overall quality score at 70.5 percent from front runners Honda Motor, which scored 83.2 percent and Nissan Motor, which received 70.6 percent.