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A Smart Guide to Buying a Used Toyota Prius

Buying a Used Toyota Prius

So, you’ve decided on a Toyota Prius. It’s easy to see why: The Prius is reliable, good on gas, and eco-friendly. But if a new one is out of reach due to your budget, buying a used Toyota Prius can be a great alternative.

Key Points to Keep in Mind When Buying a used Toyota Prius

Pick Your Generation

The Prius has been around for over two decades and comes in five generations. That gives you a lot of choices to buying a used Toyota Prius:

  • I can’t recommend the First-gen models (2001-2003) anymore unless you’re getting it for cheap or you stumble upon one with super low mileage.
  • The second-gen (2004-2009) Prius is still a popular seller on Craigslist and Facebook. You will want to pay special attention to the hybrid battery and brake actuator on this generation.
  • Third-gen models (2010-2015) are popular and offer great mileage. This generation is prone to head gasket failure so my advice is to test drive it first thing in the morning (to ensure a cold start) and see if you notice any shuddering upon startup. This generation also includes the Prius C (a compact version) and the Prius V (the wagon).
  • Fourth-gen models (2016-2022) are a great option because many will still have manufactures warranties on the battery depending upon which state you live in.
  • The Fifth-generation Prius just came out in 2023 so not likely many used cars on market yet.

Take a Good Test Drive

Don’t skip the test drive. We have heard many stories from people who were victim to shady practices such as clearing the warning lights and trouble codes before selling a car. If a Prius has warning lights on the dash, a seller can make those lights temporarily vanish by disconnecting the 12v battery for a minute. It may take several days of driving for the lights to come back on. You will probably not have the opportunity to drive the car for several days before purchasing but at least see if you can take it for a lengthy test drive. If possible, drive it at varying speeds so that you can hear any strange noises that may arise.

Buying a Used Toyota Prius

Check the Hybrid Battery

If you’re not familiar with the Prius, definitely check out this blog post to understand how the hybrid battery icon works. Knowing what to expect will help you determine if the battery is charging normally. A bad hybrid battery has some warning signs that can be detected before you buy.

Examine the Braking System

An often overlooked yet crucial aspect when purchasing a used vehicle is the condition of its brakes. With the Prius, whose regenerative braking system functions differently than traditional systems, extra attention is warranted. During your test drive, be vigilant about how the brakes respond when engaged. Do they feel spongy or unresponsive? Do you hear any grinding or squealing noises? Such symptoms could indicate worn-out brake pads or even more serious issues with the braking system. It’s also a good idea to ask for records of when the brake pads were last replaced and when the brake fluid was last flushed. Knowing this information not only adds a layer of transparency to your potential purchase but also gives you a timeline for future brake maintenance.

Buying a Used Toyota Prius

Verify the Airbag Indicator Light

One easily forgotten yet critical aspect of buying a used car is to check the airbag system. In a Toyota Prius, this is as simple as observing the airbag indicator light on the dashboard. When you turn on the ignition, the airbag light should illuminate for approximately six seconds and then deactivate. This is the vehicle’s way of signaling that the airbag system is operational. If the light stays on longer than this, or if it doesn’t come on at all, this could signify a malfunction in the airbag system. Such an issue requires immediate attention, as it can compromise the safety of the vehicle’s occupants. Always make sure this light behaves as expected before proceeding with your purchase.

Inspect the Airbag Cover

When an airbag deploys, the airbag cover splits apart. The split cover can be repaired. Look and feel for any unevenness in the cover. Check for the presence of seams and repainting. If the cover was repainted, it will look “fresh” compared to the rest of the interior. Check the cover to see if it has the vehicle manufacturer’s emblem and the SRS (Safety Restraint System) logo on it. Cosmetic airbag covers will not have the emblem or the SRS logo. Indeed, some cosmetic covers will state that there is not an airbag inside it.

Look at the Tires

Check the tires for uneven wear. This could be a sign of poor driving habits or that the car has other issues. The Prius is front-wheel-drive, so if the front tires are worn unevenly, it might indicate problems you can’t easily see.

Does It Need Recall Work?

Check if the car has any open recalls. You can find this out by looking up the VIN number in Toyota’s database or through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Ask for Maintenance Records

Always get the service and maintenance records if possible. No records often mean poor maintenance, and that’s a deal-breaker. These records will also help you know what might need fixing in the future.

Check Vehicle History

Check vehicle history by purchasing a report from websites like Carfax.com or Autocheck.com. These reports reveal important information about a car’s history, such as an odometer reading, existence of a branded title such as a salvage/junk title, or past registration as a fleet vehicle.

Wrapping It Up

Buying a used Toyota Prius always comes with some level of risk, but doing your homework can really pay off. If you keep these tips in mind, you’re much more likely to end up with a Prius that you’re happy with, without any unpleasant surprises.

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