2009 Winter Auto Guide
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Hybrid quandary: How to buy used

A certified used Honda hybrid vehicle undergoes a 150-point inspection and it will come with a 12-month/12,000-mile warranty. "This warranty is available on any used Honda vehicle that's six years old and under (and) that has less than 80,000 miles on the odometer," Kolz says.

Sometimes car dealers will offer their own certification program in lieu of a manufacturer's certification program, but Olson encourages car shoppers to seek out only those vehicles backed by a manufacturer certification. "When you get a warranty from Toyota, well, we're still going to be in business years from now ... whereas dealer warranties might be backed by some third party with questionable financial security and longevity," he says.

Under Toyota's used-car certification plan, a buyer may also get new-car financing rates on their used hybrid, Olson says. "If you can get new car financing on a car that could be 3 years old, that could be a home run," he says.

Do the math

Many consumers are unaware of the difficulties manufacturers are having selling new hybrids and mistakenly pay a huge premium on used vehicles, Goss says.

"With all of the dealer incentives, factory rebates, and tax breaks that are currently being offered on new hybrid vehicles coupled with ... special financing offers and lower monthly payments, you could actually be better off buying a new hybrid," he says. "The difference in terms of payments and debt-load might not be that great in the end."

So, before you commit to a used or new hybrid, run the numbers to make sure that you buy the car that affords you the best bang for your buck. You might discover you can afford to buy a new hybrid on a used hybrid budget.

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