Your mind is made up: you’re buying a Toyota Prius. And why not? The Prius has many things going for it: It’s reliable, fuel-efficient, and environmentally-friendly. However, with your limited budget, buying a brand new Prius is out of the question.
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of second-hand Prius cars on the market. That’s not in the least surprising considering that the Prius has been around for over two decades. If you know where to look, you can find a good deal in no time.
Make no mistake—buying a used Prius can be a smart investment… but only if you know what you’re doing.
Want to buy a used Prius and make your investment count? Here are 6 tips you need to keep in mind.
Pick a generation first
After more than two decades on the market, the Toyota Prius line is now 4 generations strong. This means a wide range of choices for every car hybrid enthusiast. With that said, the right model for you depends on your budget and priorities.
When it comes to used Prius cars, third-generation models (2010-2015) are the most popular on the market. For one, the mileage is amazing (Gen 3 Prius cars will give you at least 45 mpg in real-world use), not to mention that it offers a lot in terms of interior and storage space.
Understandably, fourth-generation models (2016-present) are more expensive, but the higher mileage (the 2016 Prius model rated at 56 mpg) can make up for the added cost. If you can find a good deal for one, you’re off to the races.
You might want to take a look at used second-generation Prius models (2004-2009) as well, but be cautious buying one with over 100,000 miles on it. With that amount of miles, and considering the car’s slightly advanced age, only buy from trusted sources.
Give it a thorough test drive
It’s best not to skip the test drive if you’re buying a used Prius. First off, you want to find out if you’re comfortable with driving a hybrid car. You’ll notice that accelerating at low speeds will feel a bit different as soon as the electric motor’s torque starts to kick in. In other words, it will take some getting used to, so make sure that you take it for a spin for at least 30 minutes to see if you and hybrid cars go well together.
You also want to test drive the vehicle long enough to detect any hidden issues. Is there anything out of place with the car’s exterior and interior? Check how the car will perform under different conditions and keep an ear out for any unusual noises. If you’re hearing strange noises, that could mean that some components are damaged or missing.
That said, you may want to consider taking your potential purchase to a third-party Prius specialist who can tell you if there are any concerns. This should be the last step you take before purchasing a car. Sure, it will cost some money to get it scoped out but it will provide you peace of mind regardless of whether the inspection pushes your decision against purchasing that specific vehicle.
Check the battery warranty
While most concerns about battery failures in hybrid vehicles are highly exaggerated, you’d do well to check the battery warranty on the Prius you’re looking to buy. Hybrid batteries are not cheap. If the battery dies on you, a warranty will protect you from having to foot the bill yourself.
Typically, the battery warranty on a Prius is 8 years and 100,000 miles (10 years and 150,000 miles for vehicles registered in states that adopted California’s emissions rules and for 2020-model-vehicles). That’s not to say that a hybrid battery can’t last much longer than 10 years. However, one must also keep in mind that a battery’s performance declines as it ages.
To determine the overall value of a Prius car relative to the price, ask the following questions:
- Will it be worth it to buy a used Prius considering the amount of years remaining on the warranty?
- If you were to replace the battery a year or two after the warranty expires, would you still be happy with the purchase in retrospect?
If you got a good deal on the car in the first place, chances are it’s still a good investment. But you need to do the math to be sure.
Pro-tip: If your hybrid battery dies, there are cheaper battery replacement options that will make your investment even more worthwhile.
Are the tires evenly worn?
Here’s a good “hack” to check if the used Prius you’re looking at is in good condition: look at the tires. Are they unevenly worn? If so, it’s time to look for a used Prius somewhere else.
Why? Because poor driving habits cause uneven tire wear, especially if you’re driving a Prius. Since the Prius is a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the front tires bear 60% of the car’s weight. If you don’t rotate those tires regularly, don’t be surprised if those tires suddenly appear skewed or off-center.
Unevenly worn tires are often caused by excessive braking, hitting curbs, driving too fast over speed bumps, accidents, and many others. Wheel misalignments are also a sign that the car is not performing at the optimal level. The car’s performance issues might not be obvious at first, but don’t be surprised if the car starts consuming more gas than usual or becomes wobbly when you turn a sharp corner.
Does the used Prius you want need recall work?
Car manufacturers regularly issue recalls if a car has potential safety issues, in which case they will be required to carry out free repairs.
Considering that 30% of recalled cars are not repaired within 18 months of every recall notice, there’s a good chance the used Prius you’re planning on buying has an outstanding recall. If you buy that car, you might be putting your safety at risk without even knowing it.
Don’t take any chances. If you’re going to buy a pre-owned Prius, check if it has any outstanding recall notices. To do this, look up the car’s VIN number via Toyota’s database or National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) database.
Ask for service and maintenance records
Before buying a used Prius, or any used car for that matter, always ask the seller for service and maintenance records. Why? Simple: because you don’t want to buy a car that has not been properly maintained.
No maintenance records means bad ownership. It’s a deal-breaker no matter how you look at it.
If the seller complies with your request, make sure to check the paperwork thoroughly. You want to know how often the oil was changed, the last time the coolant system was flushed, how many times the air filters were replaced, when the last brake system flush occured, and how often the tires were rotated.
Moreover, you need to ask for service and maintenance records not only to check whether the car is worth buying, but also to give you an idea which improvements and repairs you need to carry out after you have purchased the car.
Buying a second-hard car always comes with risks. That said, a little bit of knowledge can go a long way in ensuring you’re not getting the short end of the stick. If you know what you want in a Prius and how much it’s worth, you’re already halfway there. As long as you follow the tips mentioned above to the letter, it’s only a matter of time before your gamble pays off.