Reader Question: Buying a Used Hybrid?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Stacy asks: I was reading your recent article about electric car mileage and depreciation and wanted to ask what you thought about buying a 2010 Prius with about 75,000 miles on it. The price is lower than the cost of buying a roughly same year/same miles Corolla but I’m leaning toward the Prius because it gets about 20 MPG higher gas mileage, which would save me a lot of money every month. But I worry I may have to spend a lot of money on a new/refurbished battery because of the car’s age/mileage. Would very much appreciate your thoughts/advice!

My reply: You’re right – smart – to take into account the possible (the inevitable) cost of replacing the battery in the Prius. All batteries lose their ability to accept and retain a charge over time. It is as inevitable as aging. But the aging can be faster – or slower – depending on usage patterns. If the battery was subjected to regular and heavy discharge/charge cycling, its useful life is likely to be less and after ten years and 75,000 miles, you may be at or close to the point that begins to become obvious – in the form of the car’s gas consumption increasing as the gas engine assumes more and more of the workload. You can also rough-estimate battery degradation by keeping track of charge state – and how long it lasts. The Prius has a gauge/readout for that.

Regardless, I’d take into account the cost of replacing the battery before you buy the car and weigh that against what you save on gas relative to the cost to buy the Corolla, which will never need to have its battery replaced, not having one to replace (other than the usual 12V starter battery, which every car has).

I looked into what it costs and – in general – depending on the specific Prius (e.g., whether it is the standard model or the “plug in” version) a new from Toyota battery will cost you between $2,000-$4,000 (plus labor) but you can also get a good used or refurbished battery for about $1,500.

This may – or may not – be worth the expense. Depending on what you can buy the Prius for – and depending on how much more expensive gas gets, courtesy of Uncle Joe. With gas currently still about $2.30 per gallon, it’s probably not worth it because $1,500 would take a long time to work off, in terms of the savings per tankful driving the Prius at full strength vs. driving the Corolla.

But if gas goes up to $4 or $5 per gallon – and the Prius can be bought for less than the Corolla – then spending the $1,500 or so for a good used or refurbished battery when it becomes necessary could be the smart move, money-wise.

. . .

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4 COMMENTS

  1. The 2010 Prius has issues with PCV blowing by alot of oil, resulting in a plugged up EGR circuit, and eventually a plugged cat. The issue can be managed by installing an oil catch can, but is otherwise not repairable as the PCV valve is mounted very low in the engine block. This issue makes the 2010’s a little cheaper than an older model year would otherwise be.

    I spent the better part of an afternoon using an ultrasonic gun cleaner with simple green and a coat hanger mounted in a power drill to clean out the carbon build up. The alternative being a new $500 EGR heat exchanger, I chose to use a little elbow grease.

    “Something” was done to resolve the issue in the 2011 or 2012 model year, but I don’t remember exactly what it was that resolved the issue.

  2. For what it’s worth, I bought a 2005 Prius new. I got about 15 years out of the hybrid battery. Replaced it last year at about 220,000 miles. I’d say about 80% city driving, 20% highway. The gas engine has held up exceptionally well. Other than regular oil changes, air filter, spark plugs every 100,000 miles, etc. I haven’t had any major repairs. Transmission, although CVT, is also excellent; haven’t done anything except change the fluid. Good luck!

    • Thanks for the first-person experience, Anon!

      The Prius is a Toyota and Toyota makes great cars. I also think hybrids are vastly superior vs. electric cars precisely because their batteries aren’t worked as hard and so last longer than a pure EV’s batteries.

  3. I bought a new RAV4 Hybrid when they first came out thinking I would get better gas mileage. I didn’t for two reasons:
    1. The batteries add weight and that translates to needing more energy to move the vehicle than a similar car without the batteries.
    2. Eric may be better able to explain why, but hybrids get better gas mileage when they are used in stop and go city traffic. I was traveling long distances and then staying home for days and then traveling again.

    Finally, I noticed a slight degradation of my gas mileage after several years. I assume it was the battery becoming weak. Then I started reading EPAutos! I upgraded to a Jetta with a stick shift and love it.

    The Corolla is simpler, better looking, lighter weight will have a longer lived engine than the Prius’s more complex drive train. Of course, since it’s a Toyota the engine will run with no oil for five years but the door handle will break in a year. There are always trade offs.

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