By on June 8, 2009

I bought my first hybrid back in 2006. An ’01 Prius that was an absolute dealer queen. Oil changes every 3k. Every recommended service by Toyota performed. A brand new battery. New factory-spec tires from the dealer. It was a complete freak of nature amplified by the fact that I bought it at a time when I was the only dealer in the auction lane. The cost including the auction fee was $6650. It never left the auction. I took 24 pictures. Wrote a glorious soliloquy on eBay, and sold it to a guy from Alabama for $8800. That sale represents the only profit I’ve ever regretted.

It would take two more years before I would be able to find another hybrid at a reasonable price. Priora shot up to the moon. Honda’s shot up to the sky. Plus even then you couldn’t find one at the auctions that didn’t have issues. 1st year Civic hybrids often had terrible tranny problems. Others across the board had battery capacity issues. But then again . . .

What we were seeing at the auctions represented the very far left hand side of the bell curve in terms of condition. New car dealers are more apt to keep and resell their good trade-in inventory these days rather than blowing them out of the auction for cash flow. Especially if the car in question is high in demand. After two years of peaking and poking, I finally bought a 2003 Civic hybrid for $6500 at a Carmax sale.

Unlike the primped up Prius, the Civic would need minor work. The trunk had been dented in on the right hand side. Thankfully, I already knew of a perfect replacement at a ‘recycling center’ with the very same color for $250. I had the O2 sensor replaced, and drove it about 200 miles that day, averaging 55 mpg. A Honda rep also found out that the ICE engine had been replaced by Honda less than 5,000 miles before and the tranny’s torque converter had been R & R’d 10k miles back. This Civic was older, but it was near-new.

I could have sold it for $7900. I put it online and immediately got calls from several folks who were afflicted with the ‘gotta have’ mentality. But my wife, frugal goddess and schlepper of kids that she is, overruled me. The Civic has stayed with her for the last 9000 miles. So far, so good. She’s averaged 41.6 mpg in city driving which is twice as much as before. We may keep it for the long haul.

A Corolla may be the more economical vehicle for the long run. But there’s something about hybrids that makes them a more ‘involved’ driving experience for commutes that usually offer few thrills. She watches the MPGs. I plan for the car’s rainy days. We all hope for the best. So far it’s been sunshine.

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15 Comments on “Hammer Time: The Hybrid Deal: Sample Size Two...”

  • avatar

    IMHO, one of the best things to improve that nation’s fuel efficiency would be to make a MPG computer mandatory on all cars.

    Only by actually seeing your fuel consumption responding to your throttle due you realize how much fuel you can save by hanging out in the right lane or driving a bit more conservatively between lights in the ‘burbs.

  • avatar

    You mean like a RR power reserve gauge!

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Every old idea is new again:

  • avatar

    Every car I have driven in Europe has a fuel economy gauge/computer.

    On my 911, I leave it displayed in my speedometer all the time, so I keep my foot out of it. Right now, 20.1mpg combined cycle. That means city driving and a general 160km/h autobahn with bursts up to 200-220km/h sometimes, and even 300km/h on a rare occasion.

  • avatar

    A friend had a mid 95 SL300 that had a fuel efficiency gauge. It actually got pretty good economy, near 30mpg most of the time. Put your foot down and watch it drop to around 10mpg.

  • avatar

    It’s amazing how a steady foot on the accelerator can help your gas mileage. It’s easier on your passengers’ necks too.

  • avatar

    My old ’89 Mercedes Benz 300E had a gauge that showed how much fuel you were wasting. I think it measured vacuum somewhere along the input side.

  • avatar

    Chryslers in the 80’s used to have these. It was a trip computer. One of the settings was avg fuel economy and the other was instant fuel economy. You go up large bridge and give it gas and the economy would drop in the teens. Then you go down the other side and take you foot off the gas and it would shoot up to 99 mpg! I’m sure it was higher but the readout didn’t have a third digit.

  • avatar

    I test-drove a used Dodge Intrepid many years ago, only because I’d once rented one and liked it better than the base Tauri I usually got. In addition to a sagging headliner and an overwhelming reek of stale cigarettes, it had an MPG computer. I thought this was a good idea.

    With the cruise control set for 40 on a boring flat suburban parkway, the instantaneous mpg showed a steady “14.” (The average mpg was 11.) The sleazeball salesman kept tapping at the display and muttering “This must not be working right…” At the lot, he’d boasted that the Intrepid would get better than 25 mpg on the highway. Oops.

  • avatar

    My mom’s ’85 LTD wagon had an instant fuel economy setting on the trip computer too. Fun for the whole family.

  • avatar

    Out of curiosity, Steven – what do you hear about the Accord Hybrid? Great column, by the way – one of the reasons I read TTAC daily.

  • avatar

    Visit for tips on how simple changes to the way you drive can have dramatic impacts on fuel economy.

    TTAC blogged about it last Agust when the campaign was launched.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    aus_am: Thanks. The Accord hybrid was unique in that they really tried to market it as a ‘performance hybrid’. We see them every now and again at the sales. I don’t have anything too negative to say about them. To be frank, I have yet to know a dealer or auctioneer who has kept one for their daily driving.

  • avatar

    The old Lexus IS300s had an MPG meter. I couldn’t tell if Toyota was joking when they set up the meter capable of showing up to 80MPG.

  • avatar

    My dad’s Caprice had the meter… very fun to watch

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