The thought of buying a used hybrid—which could have batteries that were all “used up”—was never a worry for us. Eric with wife and kids while on a family vacation.

My wife and I just landed our first hybrid—a 2005 Escape. That’s right. We bought a used hybrid. This is the vehicle that I should have bought several years ago.

I’ve had my eye on hybrids for years, ever since I worked as the editor of a military newspaper, where I worked on a section about cars. Again and again, I laid out stories about the new hybrids on the market, but I wanted to buy an American car and no American manufacturers were on the hybrid scene. When our Chrysler Pacifica lease was scheduled to run out in August, I began shopping around the Internet to see what looked good. I definitely wanted a hybrid, but only if our monthly expenses didn’t increase. That’s why I was considering a used vehicle.

The thought of buying a used hybrid—which could have batteries that were all “used up”—was never a worry for us. It was only when we were signing on the dotted line that the dealer raised that concern. I’ll get to that later.

Buying American

The two options for an American hybrid were Saturn and Ford. I really didn’t consider the Saturn Vue Green Line, because General Motor’s hybrid technology is said to be “weak,” unlike the hybrid technology offered by Toyota and Ford. The Saturns use a style of hybrid that only augments the fuel efficiency by a few miles per gallon. An SUV with that sort of technology seemed like a waste to me.

For a while, I focused on the 2007 Aura Green Line. The conventional internal combustion version of the Aura was the 2007 North American Car of the Year. It’s designed by GM’s European Opal group and looks pretty snazzy. The Green Line edition looks exactly the same as the regular Aura, but boasts better fuel economy and lower emissions.

The local Saturn dealers were zero help. I live in Norfolk, Virg., so I contacted Saturn of Virginia Beach and Saturn of Newport News and enquired about a 2007 Aura Green Line. Apparently, neither dealer had ever ordered the 2007 Green Line for their showroom, and offered no help in finding one. I guess they didn’t want to sell a car, huh?

The Newport News dealer suggested that I come test drive a standard Aura. I told them that it was silly for me to test a non-hybrid Aura when I had my heart set on the hybrid.

I used the web to find some other Saturn dealers, and I finally found a dealer in Harrisonburg, Virg. who wanted to play ball. A salesperson there called around and found an Aura Green Line in Bowie, Mary. He said that he could have it delivered to his dealership if I’d like to see it.

Then we started discussing price. GM had been advertising a deal for the Aura. Some sort of great financing deal or under $250 a month for a lease—but that was only good for the non-hybrid model.

Moving on to Ford

I called a Ford dealer in Williamsburg, Virginia. They had a used 2006 Escape Hybrid with 36,000 miles, leather interior, moon roof, and all the bells and whistles for a mere $26,900. Sort of steep, as you can almost buy a brand new Escape Hybrid for that much.

I was just about to call a friend whose brother works at a Honda dealer to get more information about the Accord Hybrid—when Ford started running television ads for a Fusion leasing for $225 a month. That got me thinking about the Fusion Hybrid, which is not available until 2008. I emailed a Norfolk Ford dealer and asked about that lease. I thought that perhaps I could lease a standard Fusion for one year and then upgrade it when the hybrid model debuts. On a whim, I asked the salesperson if he had any used hybrid Escapes. Bingo! They had a 2005 Escape with 40,000 miles for less than $18,000.

A day or so later, we test drove it and wrote a check for the down payment and drove it home. We purchased an extended three-year warranty from Ford through the dealer, because the original warranty had expired.

Before we finished up the paperwork, the financing manager pointed out that Ford guaranteed the hybrid batteries’ life for 10 years. I hadn’t considered a failed battery as an issue, but knowing that the warranty covered the batteries allowed me to breathe easier.

Whew. We finally made it into a hybrid.

Epilogue

We have been really enjoying our Escape Hybrid. My wife takes our children to and from their preschool and attempts to drive “electrically” the entire way, given the Escape’s ability to run only on its motors when you drive under 25 miles per hour. Of course, if you smash the gas down, then the engine will kick in, but otherwise you’ll hear the sound of a golf cart and the peace of mind that we’re not polluting as we go from preschool to grocery store.

My wife’s criteria for the right car was whether the double stroller could fit into the back—and it fits comfortably in the Ford Escape Hybrid. We removed the luggage rack from the top of the vehicle, to allow for better aerodynamic and reduce the weight for better gas mileage. This change, and driving carefully, is working. Check out this comparison between the Ford Escape Hybrid and our previous car:

2003 Chrysler Pacifica, six-cylinder automatic
Average Fuel Economy: 15 mpg
Normal fill-up costs: More than $60 per tank—premium fuel required.

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid, four-cylinder automatic
Average Fuel Economy: 30+ mpg
Normal fill up costs: About $30 per tank, with regular unleaded

So we’re getting twice the miles, from half the cost. Not too shabby. Have there been any surprises since we bought the car? Only one. When we were first cleaning out the vehicle, I found a discarded Sugar Daddy in one of the rear doors.

Eric Pesola is a writer and graphic designer living in Norfolk, Virginia.