My hybrid car experience: seven month check in

One of the blogs I’ve been following had a post about hybrid cars recently which has reminded me to do a follow up on my “March madness” of buying a 2009 Toyota Prius. I’ve been driving this “new to me” car for seven months now, so it seems appropriate that I share my experiences and thoughts.

Interior features and overall impression

I love this car and am very glad that I bought it. The ride is comfy, the car handles well, and I am enjoying having all these high end features like a Bluetooth connection for my phone, HomeLink button (which I’ve programmed to open my garage door), back up camera, navigation system, “air conditioning” system (I just adjust the temp up or down and it automatically turns on heat or a/c and adjusts to the proper fan speed and vents!), and voice command. There are buttons for many of these features on the steering wheel itself, so I don’t need to look at the dash screen (in theory, but I still do).

I also really like the smart key feature that allows me to simply carry the key fob in my pocket or purse and not have to fiddle with it to open doors or turn the car on. If I was buying new, I highly doubt I would have paid for all these bells and whistles, but I’m really glad to have them.

The Prius capacity for cargo is amazing considering it’s size. (And now there is a bigger Prius V available, too. That thing must rival the capacity of a pick up truck!) I think I’d only had the car for one month when B and I took a trip out to Ikea to buy him a new desk and office chair. Once I folded down the back seats we had no issues with slipping in the boxes with the desk, chair, and a few other odds and ends, too. Just last weekend we took the Prius up to the house of B’s friend to pick up a wheel barrow and some garden tools she was giving away in preparation for their down-sizing and move to a condo. Again, it was no problem fitting this into the Prius once the seats were folded down. Consider that I used to drive a station wagon mainly because I wanted to be able to haul around gardening stuff, and it’s understandable why I’m happy to find that I can still do this with the Prius.

There are many little storage areas on the Prius, too. I really like the storage area under the main deck in the back. Besides holding the spare tire and jack, it has enough space for me to slip in a few other tools (flashlight, jumper cables, etc.), a large beach towel (for covering the back seat when I take Hannah dog somewhere), a tarp, and the cargo net when I need to pack it away. And there’s still room for more in that space. I also like how the cup holders in front and back can be flipped closed (I like a neat and tidy car!), and the covered storage area between the front seats is very handy to store change, charging cables, etc.

There are some things that could be improved, however. Voice command is iffy. Sometimes it seems to understand me, but often it does not, so I rarely use it. The navigation system is not as easy for me to use as the map interface on my phone. My navigation system also works off a DVD from 2006. If I wanted to upgrade to a more recent disc I could, but that would be at least $200. My sound system may rock (it is a premium JVC system with awesome speakers), but in the years since the car came out many premium sound systems started offering an iPod dock, which mine does not have. I do have an AUX input that works through my iPod/iPhone headphone jack, but this type of attachment doesn’t allow for controlling what’s playing from the sound system controls (such as skipping a song in a playlist using the buttons on the steering wheel).

The biggest down-side of the car, though, is that B does not have enough room for his long legs. When I test drove the car I was impressed with how much legroom there was in the back. Turns out this wonderful rear legroom is possible because the front seats have a limit to how far they can be pushed back! B has only been a passenger in my car a few times, but every time he rides with me it looks awkward and uncomfortable that his legs can’t extend all the way. At 6’2″, he is pretty tall, but not unusually tall for a North American man. (I’ve since learned there’s an after market product that will help with this, but I’m not sure it’s worth the money since B is rarely in my car.)

Maintenance and service

It’s hard to rate this since I’ve had to do no service so far. I did purchase a service agreement to cover maintenance on the car for seven years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first), but haven’t used it yet. When I bought the car it had 44,116 miles and had just been through the extensive Toyota Certified service which included reconditioning and new tires. The regular intervals of service for the Prius are every 5,000 miles, and after getting a reminder in the mail that my car was due for it’s 45,000 mile service I took it to the local Toyota dealer. There they told me that because of the car being completely serviced at 44,000 miles, I wasn’t due back until I had 49,000 miles on the car, so the reminder system could use some improvement. (With the amount I drive, it’s going to take me a while to get to 49,000 miles, too.)

I’m still glad I purchased the extra service agreement since it will cover any malfunction of all the electronic gewgaws on the car. Fixing a malfunctioning display screen cannot be cheap on this vehicle. The only “maintenance” I’ve done on the car so far is to get regular washes and add air to the tires when prompted by the fancy electronic warning that my tire pressure was low.

Mileage

And here’s what everyone wants to know: is the mileage as good as it’s hyped to be? To that I can very positively say “Oh, yes!”

Since I’ve purchased the car near the end of March, 2012 I’ve spent $154 on gasoline and I’ve driven 2,073 miles. That total for gasoline also includes the $18.34 I spent to top off the tank over the weekend, and I can easily drive until December without re-fueling based on my driving habits over the past few months. Fuel price and tank size come into play here, and the tank (well, technically I guess it’s a bladder, not a tank) on the Prius is only 11.9 gallons, but realize that unless fuel prices more than double I would never have a triple digit bill filling up this car.

The car has an information screen that gives a read out of mileage in real time. I leave this screen up most of the time so I can learn how to drive for the best mileage, and because I get a kick out of it. (This is gamification at it’s best!) Only once have I seen that screen show my mileage as less than 40 MPG, and that was on a day when I was running several very short trips and running the air conditioner, too. Here’s a photo of the best result I’ve seen since I’ve had the car, snapped just this weekend.

Prius power consumption screen

Yeah, that’s right: 53.5 MPG. Woot!

I’ve actually been driving a lot more that I used to since I bought the car in March. March was also the month that I had my braces put on, and I need to drive to the orthodontist at least once a month. I’ve made three trips out to a far flung suburb to visit a specialty shop; driven back and forth to two fiber/yarn festivals; visited my father and stepmother twice (at least 150 miles round trip); visited my mom twice (at least 100 miles round trip) and ran her around for errands once (at least 40 miles); and lent this car to a friend who was in town and doing a lot of driving. It has delivered the great mileage I’d hoped for, and I’m really, really happy with it.

Odds and ends 

After the car is warmed up, the Prius is powered entirely by battery at very low speeds. This means that when one is stuck in annoying bumper-to-bumper traffic, at least there is an upside. A couple weekends ago while returning to the city from a weekend away visiting my mom and a friend, I was stuck on the “expressway” (ha, ha!) during a bad traffic back up. It took me 45 minutes to go 10 miles (really, I timed it, ugh!), but I barely used any fuel so there was an upsides of sorts.

But what about that battery? Isn’t it prone to failure and expensive to replace? Well, if you read through all the comments on that linked post by NZ Muse you’ll see that one person said her friends had to replace their Prius’ battery at 30,000 miles at a cost of $3,000. I subscribe to Funny About Money’s blog and read the original blog post last year. So I was very cautious about checking into the particulars around the car’s battery. My car’s battery is under warranty eight years from the original date sold as new (which would be May 2015) or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first). If I need to replace the battery after that point, I’m on my own.

I’m thinking that early battery failure is either due to getting a “lemon” (it does happen occasionally), something going wrong at a service appointment, or some sort of driver error. Since my car is well past the age where it would have proven a lemon and it went through a very thorough service check before purchase, I feel the odds that the battery will fail prematurely are quite low. In fact, it appears that on average the hybrid battery should last until 150,000 miles.

I trolled around quite a bit on the Prius Chat forums to get an understanding of  the questions and issues people were raising most often. In regards to the battery, there are a couple links here that seemed quite helpful.

Hybrid battery life, must use and other myths

Prius wiki: lifespan, operating costs

To anyone thinking about buying a hybrid car, I’d recommend buying a used one from a dealer that offers a “certified” program like Toyota does. The premium for buying a new car is no longer an issue when buying used, and the worries that can come with a used car are mostly addressed through a certified maintenance program. I’m looking forward to driving mine for a long, long time. 🙂

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6 thoughts on “My hybrid car experience: seven month check in

  1. Thanks for the mention!

    A couple of readers remarked that my friends’ car’s batteries surely should have been under warranty if it was only 5 years old. They drive a lot, though, and so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they’d already put 100,000 miles on it. That would only be12,500 miles a year, and since twice a week they were driving in to central Phoenix from Sun City, about 18 miles one-way and also going to various other cultural events in town and in Scottsdale (yet another 12 or 14 miles, one-way) on top of the routine racing around one does…it sure could be that they were off the warranty.

    What would make sense would be to self-escrow at least some part of the gasoline savings toward whatever repairs come along. Say you pay $50 a week on gas now and the Prius only costs you $25–you could squirrel away $12.50/week. Over 5 years that would amount to $3250, which would probably cover a new set of batteries, if need be.

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    • If your friends had driven over 100,000 miles and were out of warranty, then it would make sense that they had to replace the battery on their dollar. That is a heck of a lot of driving! They must have realized a significant savings in fuel costs, though. And I wonder what their other maintenance costs on their Prius were, especially in comparison to whatever vehicle they previously owned. From all my reading, it seems that Prius is considered a low maintenance car. I know that my last car cost me much more than $3,000 in service over the 11 years I owned it. Heck, in the last three years it cost me at least that much to maintain.

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