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Prius Batteries: Yikes!

A couple on the choir drives a Prius around town. They live on the west side—in Sun City West, which is quite a ways to the west—and so to get to the activities they enjoy in their retirement, they have to do a substantial amount of driving.

Yesterday evening at choir they reported that the Prius’s batteries died, to the tune of thirty-three hundred dollars! Yes. That’s $3,300 for new Prius batteries. The batteries were warranteed for five years, and our friends have had the car a few months longer than that.

Wow! That about made up my mind about the Prius. I don’t think these are wealthy folks—before they retired, she was a teacher and he a minister. From things she’s said, I gather they live frugally.

I sure couldn’t afford $3,300 to replace a car’s batteries, and I’ll bet it’s a stretch for them, too. At least they have two Social Security checks coming in…but they also have to buy food, clothing, and meds for two.

We’re told that, other than the batteries, the Prius is cheaper to maintain than a conventional gasoline-operated vehicle. Let’s think that through.

If it gets 40 mpg, it achieves approximately twice the mileage my Sienna does. I’m now paying about $110 a month for gas, or $1,320 a year. Because a Prius is a hybrid with a gasoline engine as well as the electrical component, the cost of routine maintenance is about the same. Some insurers will give Prius owners a little discount; others charge more—so we could call that a draw, too.

So, all told, if the mileage is twice as good as a fairly clunky gasoline-only vehicle, one would pay about $660/year for a modest amount of driving (I average about 10,000 miles a year).

Meanwhile, since few of us have $3,300 sitting around the house waiting to be spent on a new battery pack, the average frugalist suffering from a chronic aversion to debt would want to self-escrow enough to cover the cost when, after about five years, it comes up. How much would that come to? Well, $3,300 ÷ 5 years = $660 a year.

Yes. Exactly the gas savings engendered by owning a hybrid vehicle.

In other words, every penny the car saves you in gasoline will have to be set aside to pay for new batteries! Unless, of course, you buy into the idea that you should get a new car about every three years. Calculating that cost is more than my feeble brain can contemplate.

Image: 2004-2008 Toyota Prius. IFCAR. Public domain.

This post was featured in the April 27, 2011 Festival of Frugality at Consumer Boomer.

14 thoughts on “Prius Batteries: Yikes!”

  1. Yup, bottom line is that driving a car is going to be expensive no matter what. There might be a savings advantage in gas but there is surely a trade-off somewhere else. The only surefire way to save money driving a car is to not drive one!

  2. Yes, I made the same calculations that you did when I found out about the high cost to replace the Prius battery. Basically, you come out even. I was considering buying the car a couple of years ago purely from the standpoint that I would be saving money at the gas pumps. When I realized I wouldn’t really be saving any money at all, I shelved the idea of spending about $30k on a car I didn’t really need at the time. I decided, instead, to put some money into my 1999 Geo Metro which gets around 30 miles to the gallon anyway. It’s just not as trendy lookin’! And it’s a lot smaller and crushable in an accident which is a definite negative …..

  3. Ok, as a true frugalista, the research I did before I bought my Prius said that #1 – The rate of Prius battery failure is rather low
    #2- If your battery does die, start calling junkyards. There are enough Priuses that have been wrecked but the batteries have plenty of life in them.

  4. @ maggie: From what I understood, the dealership told them the real truth was that no one really knows how long the battery pack can be expected to last. Being an elderly middle-class couple, they probably didn’t think of checking the junkyards — that’s a great idea!

    @ money beagle, Quest, & Linda: even if it’s an economic trade-off, though, there are other issues that one might value. Buying a hybrid or electric vehicle is a visible, real-world way to support efforts to wean the U.S. off foreign oil and build greener energy sources. So the Prius has value as an ethical or political statement.

  5. Heh. I adjusted a claim last fall where someone kept her total loss Prius as salvage because she was able to get four grand for the used batteries.

  6. Buying the a hybrid vehicle for “green” reasons might not consider the consequence of the by-product pollution generated by rare-earth mining in China (rare earths are key to battery manufacture). As for mileage, there are other options such as older, well-maintained economy cars, or newer diesels.

  7. @101 Centavos: Makes me feel better and better about my 11-year-old Sienna. Think I’m gunna change its name from “the Dog Chariot” to “the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay.”

  8. Ummm, okay, I will first admit that we own a 2007 Prius. That said, there are a few things I’d like to point out:

    – The $3000 battery has lasted more than 6 years for 2 sets of acquaintances and according to what I can find online, they are supposed to last for at least 8-10 years. I have no idea why your friends’ battery only lasted 5 years. That sucks.

    – Our Prius makes a minimum of 48 miles per gallon (road trips) and normally, 52 (commuting). Yes, it actually makes better mileage on in-city driving.

    – My 2005 Chevy Aveo has had 3 major repairs in 5 years (the biggest was a plastic thermostat housing that cracked in half in 2010). The Prius has never had ANY problems. We’ve replaced the tires and get the oil changed. That’s it.

    We bought the 2007 Prius in 2008 for $21,500 and paid it off in 2010. I think we have overall gotten way more than our money’s worth and it’s still doing great. I think it’s so awesome that it is at the top of my list when my Aveo gives up on me.

    Not sure if those numbers make it any better, but I’m a big fan obviously. 🙂

  9. The Prius batteries are warranted for 10 years or 150,000 miles. It is at the bottom of the warranty info.

    • @ Rich: Interesting! My friend told me the batteries on their car went off warranty in 5 years. {????} Maybe they bought the car used. Has the Prius been around for 10 years, though? They live on the far west side of a large urban area and their interests are focused on cultural activities in the central city, so they could have racked up 150,000 miles in 5 years, I suppose. That’s 30,000 miles a year. Could be, especially if they drive to visit family in other states. Hmmm….

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