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Aqua vs. Prius vs. Fit vs. Vezel: A Guide for Buying a Hybrid Vehicle in a Japanese Auction

Updated on August 25, 2017
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Dr. Manura Nanayakkara, a practicing doctor in Sri Lanka, shares the research he did before buying his Toyota Aqua.

Electric vehicles seem to be the wave of the future and hybrids are bridging the gap between all-electric and gasoline vehicles. Many auto makers now offer hybrid vehicles. Most countries offer tax incentives to buy a hybrid vehicle; for example, until recently, the Sri Lankan government offered such a large tax incentive to hybrids that it was not economically viable to buy a good non-hybrid car in Sri Lanka.

So what hybrid to buy? We have several options. I am going to talk about the reliability of hybrid vehicles available to Asian countries that import Japanese used vehicles.

Recent Update

The Government of Sri Lanka recently changed the vehicle tax structure to eliminate tax benefits for hybrid vehicles.

Why Buy From Japanese Auctions?

More and more people import hybrids through Japanese auctions, because they are cheap and you can get a good vehicle. In addition, unlike in other auctions, the auction sheets are reliable sources of information (though probably not for accident vehicles, "R" grade).

Problems With Importing Vehicles From Japanese Auctions

Most of the time imported hybrid vehicles do not have problems. They run just fine. But you should know some of the problems associated with vehicles imported from auctions.

You do not get a warranty when there is no genuine dealership involved. Even though Toyota Lanka, for example, claim they are the “agents”, they will not help with a Japanese warranty on a vehicle you buy through an auction. They only give a warranty to vehicles imported through them. This even applies to vehicle recalls due to widespread manufacturing defects (for example, the Prius Gen 3 inverter malfunction). So if you buy a defective vehicle, even if the defect is a genuine manufacturing defect, you will end up paying millions of rupees in repairs.

So why are people buying a lot of hybrids from Japan? Are they all stupid?

Do not make any decisions now, just read the rest of the article.

Video from external source reviewing Japanese Vehicle Auctions

Hybrid Vehicles Commonly Imported From Japanese Auctions

1. Toyota Aqua

Toyota Aqua
Toyota Aqua

2. Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius:  A time-tested vehicle
Toyota Prius: A time-tested vehicle

3. Honda Vezel

Honda Vezel
Honda Vezel

4. Honda Fit GP5

Honda Fit GP5 or 3rd gen Fit
Honda Fit GP5 or 3rd gen Fit

Important Update on the Reliability of Hybrid Vehicles in a Hot Climate (08/24/2017)

It seems the second generation Prius is the most reliable hybrid vehicle in long-term use. This was confirmed to me by several mechanics and mechanical engineers. The next most reliable hybrids are the Toyota Aqua and Toyota Axio. These are very reliable except the battery seems to fail after around five to six years; most attribute this to the heavy use of air conditioning in a hot climate. In addition, the third-generation Prius has Engine Oil burning problem and there is a class action law suit going on in USA.

It seems that the Honda iDCD (Dual Clutch Disk) hybrid system is not reliable in long-term use and many owners complained of iDCD failure and errors in long-term use. It costs around 3000 US$ to repair the iDCD system in these vehicles.

The least reliable hybrid vehicle commonly sold in Asian countries seems to be Nissan X Trail Hybrid. Almost all vehicles experience transmission failure at 20,000 - 30,000 km range. There is currently a recall of these vehicles in Japan. In addition, the Mazda Axela hybrid is also showing various errors in the hybrid system even though it uses the same technology as Toyota HSD.

Problems of Hybrid Cars

Because hybrid vehicles rely on complex new technologies, they are more likely than non-hybrids to have manufacturing defects. Defects are rare, in practice, but they do occur. In newer hybrid technologies such as the Honda Sport Hybrid i-DCD system (in the Vezel and Fit GP5) the chances of defects may be higher.

So Why Are We Not Seeing Major Problems in Hybrid Vehicles?

Hybrids, on the whole, are not known for having major problems, because the systems in most old hybrids are time-tested: for example, the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) and Honda Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). The Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) was developed in 1994; the first HSD vehicle appeared in 1997, and the first export vehicle was sold in 2001. After launch HSD had several recalls and manufacturing defects. The problems were corrected and warranty claims were paid because the countries where the cars were originally used had genuine dealerships. Toyota and Honda fixed initial problems in later generations, and then the reliability increased tremendously.

Now most agree that Honda Generation 2 insights and Generation 2 Priuses are very reliable. In fact, some 2001 Priuses in the US are running today without a battery replacement and with the original core parts!

Old 2001 Priuses Are Still Running!!!

A 2004 Prius That Has Driven 360,000 Km

What About Hybrid Batteries?

When hybrids first entered the market, people were reluctant to buy them because they felt the batteries would not be reliable. Many myths were circulating on the internet that hybrid batteries would fail within five years and would need to be replaced within the first 100,000 km. These statements were in fact myths, most of the time.

But there is a catch. The most reliable and time tested batteries are in fact NiMH batteries. These were the batteries incorporated into our older phones (like the Nokia 3310). The thing with NiMH batteries, even in phones, is that they are very long lasting if you maintain them properly.

Most vehicle manufactures now use Li-ion batteries instead of NiMH batteries. The first mass-produced Li-ion vehicles appeared in 2010. Li-ion batteries have a large initial energy density and efficient charging compared to NiMh batteries. Nevertheless, customer experience with current Li-ion phone batteries suggests they will be dead within four years no matter how well you care for them. I understand that vehicle batteries may be different than phone batteries, but still they are not time tested. It's possible that vehicles that use Li-ion batteries instead of NiMH batteries may have compromised longevity in exchange for greater efficiency.

Which Vehicles Have Li-Ion Batteries?

These vehicles have Li-ion batteries:

  • Honda Fit GP5
  • Honda Vezel
  • Prius Plugin
  • Prius Alpha (Prius V in other countries)

These vehicles have NiMH batteries:

  • Toyota Aqua
  • Toyota Prius
  • Honda Insight
  • Honda Fit GP1

What Are the Differences in Fuel Efficiency?

Fuel efficiency is determined by a lot of factors. Most Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) vehicles are very fuel-efficient. The Honda IMA is not very fuel efficient; in fact it has been called a "mild hybrid." However, Honda claims GP5 and Vezel are the best in their class (newer hybrids with i-DCD). Only the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) has been tested by independent agencies (the US government and US Consumer Reports).

New 4th Generation Prius

Prius 4th generation
Prius 4th generation

Toyota released its 4th generation Prius several months back. Unlike previous generations, the 4th generation Prius was developed from the ground up. It increases the efficiency of power management in various hybrid components, so it is around 10% more efficient than previous models. In addition, Toyota has changed its suspension and the overall frame is more rigid.

Toyota is retaining NiMH batteries in the regular 4th generation Prius, but includes the more efficient Li-ion battery in the Prius ECO Model.

Since the 4th generation Prius has been designed completely new, it is safer to wait to buy it until after its technology matures. If you are in a hurry, then it's better to buy it from Toyota Lanka than from an auction. If problems crop up they will recall the vehicle, and if you have imported it through a Japanese auction you will have to bear costly repairs.

So What Are the Best Options?

If you are looking for reliability and peace of mind then go for tested hybrid technology: Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) and Honda Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). The newer hybrid technologies are for you only if you want to be more fashionable, or have risk-taking in your personality.

Do not buy the newest vehicle models that have just come from the drawing board. Allow at least one year for the model to mature. It is also risky to buy zero-mileage hybrids because manufacturing defects could crop up after a short time. It is both safer and cheaper to buy a vehicle that has been driven at least 5000km and is more than six months old. That way, if there is a manufacturing defect, it will most likely get sorted out before the car leaves Japan.

It is also prudent to check for known vehicle recalls and note down model numbers before buying. For example, beware of the Prius Gen 3 inverter malfunction, which costs around Rs. 900,000 to replace.

Accident or R Grade Vehicles

Do not buy "accident" or "R grade" vehicles, especially hybrids, from Japanese auction sites. The auction sheets of R grade vehicles are not very reliable regarding the vehicle's history, and they do a very slipshod job in repairing them. The repairs are done by non-professionals. They just want to pass the vehicle through export certification.

If you buy a vehicle from a local agent, ask for the auction report and compare the chassis number to the number in the auction sheet. Also check for the letter R on the top right hand corner of the auction sheet (the rest of the sheet is in Japanese). If an R is there, then it is an accident vehicle.

A Japanese Auction Sheet: Look for an "R" at Upper Right

Summary

It is safer to buy a hybrid vehicle that is time-tested and accident-free, has some mileage on it (not zero mileage), and is at least six months old.

Poll

What is the best hybrid vehicle to Buy?

See results

Disclaimer

I am a doctor by profession and this article is written based on my personal experience and the research I did before buying my Toyota Aqua. I am not responsible for the decisions you take and this article is for information only.

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    • profile image

      Sanjaya 8 days ago

      You have mentioned the GP 5 is having latest battery(li-cd). But the aqua is consuming less fuel. Please tell your opinion about what is the best among Aqua and fit GP 5.

    • profile image

      Engr. Majid Jehangir 9 days ago

      Very informative article about hybrid cars

    • profile image

      Jaleel 5 months ago

      Very informative article,as I was interested in aqua G you did not mention difference between S and G model.thanks anyway.

    • profile image

      gahakeryyer 7 months ago

      i love ur article so much

    • njmanura profile image
      Author

      Dr Manura Nanayakkara 12 months ago from Sri Lanka

      Honda fit is comfortable roomy and more features but Aqua more reliable

    • profile image

      Alpha 12 months ago

      Honda fit or toyota aqua? I'm totally confused.. Any suggestions?

    • njmanura profile image
      Author

      Dr Manura Nanayakkara 17 months ago from Sri Lanka

      Rehan,

      Japanese auction grades can be trusted except R grade.

    • profile image

      Rehan 17 months ago

      Thanks for awesome info on the Toyota Aqua. I would like to know if you could trust the Japanese auction grades. IE : 5 , 4.5 , 4 etc.

    • profile image

      Shahid SHAH 17 months ago

      Learned it too much.very useful article.I am interesting to buy hibrid aqua.

    • profile image

      Nuwan 18 months ago

      Thanks .. It was very helpful...

    • profile image

      Suranga 19 months ago

      This is awesome,very logical article. It solved all my doubts. Thanks a LOT.

    • profile image

      NEWTON 22 months ago

      YOUR ARTICLE IS VERY INTERESTED TO THOSE WHO ARE IN SERCH OF HYBRID VEHICLES.

    • njmanura profile image
      Author

      Dr Manura Nanayakkara 2 years ago from Sri Lanka

      These are two classes of vehicles, Vezel is an SUV and Aqua is a small hatchback var.

    • profile image

      Hassan 2 years ago

      Vezel or aqua? Suggestions plz

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderful overview of hybrids.

    • njmanura profile image
      Author

      Dr Manura Nanayakkara 2 years ago from Sri Lanka

      Battery will be reliable, as it is made to run around 8 - 10 years and around 200,000 kms.

    • profile image

      sadaqat 2 years ago

      Can you tell us more about Toyota Aqua? I am interested to buy it but it is 2012 model and already ran about 75000 km. So, will be the battery reliable?

    • profile image

      nilanga 2 years ago

      Good study.

    • njmanura profile image
      Author

      Dr Manura Nanayakkara 2 years ago from Sri Lanka

      Vezel has newer dcd technology with similar power train as gp5. Due to high weight to power ratio it has less pickup and has difficulty in hills. But it is a comfortable spacious and has good ground clearance. Do not buy vehicles built before 2014 February. They have software problems.

    • profile image

      Zubair Khan 2 years ago

      What's your opinion about Vezel.

    • profile image

      Wiji 2 years ago

      Thanks for your valuable article

    • profile image

      Shahid 2 years ago

      Toyota Aqua is a good vehicle.

    • profile image

      Chamika 2 years ago

      Hi,

      This and your other blog posts on hybrid vehicles are very interesting and helpful. If you can, could you do an article on the various indices, meters, lights on a toyota aqua hybrid dashboard?

    • profile image

      Rajitha 2 years ago

      Nice article.

    • njmanura profile image
      Author

      Dr Manura Nanayakkara 2 years ago from Sri Lanka

      Thanks for the comment

    • profile image

      Hiran 2 years ago

      I'm a GDP ;) makin up my mind between aqua Gs and vezel x . Feel like Aqua is peaceful thank u for the blog

    • njmanura profile image
      Author

      Dr Manura Nanayakkara 2 years ago from Sri Lanka

      Thanks Chethiya

    • profile image

      Chethiya Abeysinghe 2 years ago

      Very helpful. Thanks.