Electric vehicles, or EVs, are quickly becoming popular in both the new and used vehicle markets. Recent advances in technology allow today’s electrics to go further on a charge, making them more viable for single-vehicle households.
However, we know that not every driver is ready to make the move to an all-electric car. Owning an EV means a change in mindset. Charging stations are harder to find than gas stations, and when you do find one, it can take hours to charge the car enough to get back home.
If you’re not ready for an EV but you like the idea of electric propulsion, a gas-electric hybrid car is a good place to start. Not all hybrids are alike. Some are built on dedicated platforms, like the Toyota Prius or Hyundai Ioniq. The five cars featured below are hybrid versions of popular family sedans built sometime during the past eight years. These cars boast fuel-saving performance and understated styling for drivers who prefer a traditional sedan body style. Some can be plugged in to provide 30 or 40 km of electric driving, after which the gas engine comes on and the car operates as a traditional gas-electric model.
Read on for an overview of what to look for when shopping for your hybrid family sedan.
Toyota Camry Hybrid, 2012–2017
The Toyota Camry sedan has been around for decades, but in 2012 the company introduced the second generation of the gas-electric hybrid model. By this point, Toyota had been building hybrids for more than a decade and had practically perfected the technology.
Therefore, the Toyota Camry Hybrid generates few reliability complaints.
- Among them are the engine’s water pump and the navigation system. You can easily test the latter during your test drive. A water pump problem often begins as a small leak, which should be revealed during a thorough inspection by a mechanic.
- Make sure the sunroof responds readily to the button in the overhead console. If there’s a delay before it begins to slide, a faulty switch is to blame.
- Before or after your test drive, do a walk-around to look for rust around the wheel arches and on the doors and trunk lid.
- If you have to replace the 12-volt battery in your Camry Hybrid, note that it lives in the trunk, instead of under the hood as in most cars. That location means you have to buy a specific type of battery that won’t vent flammable gases into the trunk.
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, 2011–2018
The model years we’re covering in this article include two generations of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. The first generation spanned 2011 through 2015, then Hyundai redesigned the car in 2016. The reboot included a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version that can drive on electricity alone.
- Some owners of later models complain their cars won’t turn on after being driven for long periods of time. In all cases, the car will eventually start after being left to sit for up to an hour. Other Sonata Hybrid drivers say their cars have shut off while driving. Some report that replacing a power relay assembly in the hybrid system fixed their problems. Hyundai did recall a small number of Sonata PHEV models for a faulty part that causes the electric motor to stop working.
- Watch for a transmission that engages drive or reverse with a bump. This could be caused by a faulty oil pump.
- Cruise control failure is a common problem in older Hyundai Sonata Hybrid models, so try it out during your test drive to make sure it works. Some owners say their cars occasionally behave as if the transmission is in neutral while driving, but that it re-engages after a few seconds.
Kia Optima Hybrid, 2013–2018
Hyundai owns Kia, and the brands share a lot of technology. Kia introduced the Optima Hybrid in 2013 using the same drivetrain as the gas-electric Sonata. The carmaker redesigned the Optima Hybrid in 2017 and added a plug-in model in 2018.
Given the mechanical similarities between the Optima Hybrid and Sonata Hybrid, we recommend watching for all of the Sonata’s potential problems in the Kia.
Ford Fusion Hybrid and Ford Fusion Energi, 2013–2018
- Owners complain of Fusion Hybrid infotainment screens that freeze or go blank. Others say the navigation system is difficult to use and the Fusion’s voice command system rarely works properly. In some cases, having a Ford technician reset the system addressed those complaints.
- Some owners say they’ve had to replace suspension struts and shocks after 60,000 or 70,000 km of driving. A few have replaced worn or failed power steering racks, an expensive repair without warranty coverage.
- Few drivers complain of drivetrain problems; however, drained 12-volt batteries are a common cause for a Fusion Hybrid that won’t start.
Honda Accord Hybrid, 2014–2017
This was the second generation of Honda Accord to come with a gas-electric drivetrain. It built on the ninth-generation Accord model, a spacious and comfortable sedan with a well-sorted feel.
- Owner complaints include brake rotors that warp prematurely and have to be replaced more often than expected.
- When test-driving a Honda Accord Hybrid sedan, test the ignition by turning the car on and off a number of times. Some owners say they’ve had ignition switches replaced after their cars become difficult to start.
- This generation of Accord Hybrid also came with a passive keyless-entry system. This setup unlocks the car with a touch of the door handle, as long as the key is on your person. If the car doesn’t respond to the key, the culprit could be a weak battery in the fob and/or the car. On a related note, many Accord Hybrid owners have had to replace the 12-volt battery under the hood.
What other hybrid car issues should you look for?
Hybrid cars are complicated machines. While the ones we’ve looked at here are reliable, there are a number of things worth knowing before you buy a used hybrid sedan.
- Computer software updates: Like most modern cars, hybrids have electronic controls to run the navigation and audio systems. They also have computers to charge the drive battery and control the electric motor. Behind all of these computerized controls are software programs. Just like the operating system in your laptop, a car’s software may need updates for optimum performance. A dealer can tell you if any updates are available from the manufacturer, and install them for you.
- Check the 12-volt battery: A hybrid has a large battery that helps power the vehicle. It also has a smaller, 12-volt battery like you’ll find in any gas-powered car, and it’s just as important to keeping a hybrid running smoothly. A weak 12-volt battery can cause all kinds of curious problems like unexplained warning lights, poor performance and a car that won’t start. If your hybrid begins behaving strangely, start your troubleshooting by checking the 12-volt battery.
- Watch for seized brakes: Hybrids have regenerative braking systems that use the electric motor to help slow the car. That means the friction brakes have less work to do. Because of that, it’s easier for the brake calipers to seize up, especially in winter driving where salt causes extra corrosion. A seized caliper is a relatively easy fix: at most, it will need to be replaced; at best, lubricating the moving parts is all that’s needed.
- How big is the trunk? While the latest hybrids and electric cars have batteries that fit under the floor, the ones in older hybrids often take up some trunk space. If you take a lot of family road trips, make sure the hybrid you choose can carry all of your cargo.