There are two potential trouble areas that could be problematic down the
road: battery replacement cost (if you have to buy a pack out of
warranty) and the extremely complex electrical system to control all the
I once owned a house with an advanced heat pump that didn't use outside
air for exchange, but rather ground water in a big loop of plastic pipe
buried in the side yard. We did have lower electrical bills, but the
annual repair costs on the heat pump and the big bill for replacing all
the underground pipe when it sprang a leak more than negated our
Inasmuch as the hybrid system is warranted for 100K miles or 8 years (150K
and 10 years in California and a few other states) I am not worried. One of
the techies in the Yahoo Prius Technical forum bought a battery pack from a
wreck for $500 US, barely twice the core value. There is a supply of
batteries from totalled Prius cars and no demand.
If you drive a car newer than 1980, you have a lot of sophisticated and
critical electronics in it, too. ECU, transmission controller, ABS
controller, probably power window and power lock controllers (depending on
make/model/year). Any of those is as vulnerable as the hybrid system
computers in the Prius and many are about as expensive... and are about as
available on the used market and as reliable. Electronics in a car are
nothing to be scared of these days - the moving parts are still the big
problems, and the Prius as fewer of those than probably any conventional car
on the market.
Buying any car is a risk. Head gaskets in some 2.5L DOHC Subaru engines,
throttle position controllers in some years of Volvo (not to mention the
transmissions and evaporators in '93 and '94 Volvo 850s), automatic
transmissions in some years of Honda/Acura V6s - all of these are real and
present frustrations experienced by buyers of conventional cars. The least
of those will set the owner back $1000. Some (like the trannies) are three
times that much and some unlucky owners have to drink from that well several
It is interesting to google 'honda transmission fail' and 'prius battery
fail' - the first produces nearly half a million hits, mainly dealing with
why the transmissions are failing and what to do about them. The second
produces nearly 100K hits, mainly wondering if the battery will fail and
when that would be. Notice one post that claims to document a hybrid battery
failure - if you follow the link http://tinyurl.com/ahc2x it's clear it is
bogus. He claims the battery put out sulfur dioxide, while there is no
sulfur in the NiMH hybrid battery. I suspect the 12 volt lead-acid aux
battery failed instead, unless the post is just a hoax. I canna change the
laws of chemistry.
In the end, we are not born to live in fear. We pay our money and take our
chances. The experiences of people who have a lot more miles (183K miles for
the Yahoo Prius forum owner, last I heard) and a few more years on their
Prius than I have on mine are very encouraging indeed.
But that is only now since most Priuses are still under the battery
And those battery packs have a very short shelf life if they are not kept
charged up, like any battery. 2 years after the wreck unless the wrecker
been keeping the battery on a trickle charger, it's going to be shot just by
sitting there doing nothing, due to natural self-discharge.
10 years from now I think the used battery situation will be quite
And there is another thing you and all the Prius owners should worry
about. Toyota does not seem at all interested in addressing the points
that the Prius critics keep bringing up about service and repair of the
Prius post-warranty expiration. It is constantly pointed out how expensive
a new replacement traction battery is. Toyota's response seems to
be that the traction battery never fails so why worry. Toyota should
be instead adressing these concerns and working with the aftermarket
to bring out alternatives that are cheaper, as well as every year reducing
the battery cost, as increasing volume production and economies of scale
reduce the cost of those batteries to Toyota. It is also pointed out that
the car is more expensive to repair since you can't take it to any other
place than special Toyota dealerships that have special hybrid techs
available. Toyota seems to be responding that the car never breaks
down and so never needs repair. Instead they should be offering
very low cost training to any independent mechanic that is interested
in working on these cars in his own shop.
It is like Toyota's whole attitude about the Prius is that there's this
big long warranty on it and the day after the car passes the end
of the warranty period, it should be scrapped. I'm surprised
that all you Prius owners aren't hammeing Toyota about reducing
the list cost on the traction battery.
There is a reason for this. The Prius hasn't been out that long. And
computerized chargers that continually probe battery condition and set
the charging optimally will add years to the life of any battery. But
are all time-dependent, they will fail You might get 10 years out of them,
15 tops., but that's it. And it has nothing to do with mileage.
These really aren't rocket science. I am doing my own maintenance, and it is
different from conventional cars but not hard to learn. I bought the Toyota
manuals and a $200 aftermarket scanner to allow me to interface with the
hybrid and battery "ECUs", but I understand the current model uses CAN. If
Toyota's hybrids don't make it farther into the mainstream, if Toyota backs
out of their commitment to convert the bulk of their fleet to their hybrid
system, it may be a problem. Otherwise we will see independents attracted to
the market. The advent of EFI in everyday vehicles in the 80s was a bigger
challenge, as computers (gasp!) appeared in cars. Today's garages cope with
ECUs or fail. tomorrow's will cope with hybrids or fail.
That is the error I hear the most. What makes you think that is the case? It
defies the nature of failure patterns because it supposes there is a timer
that will cause the battery to fail the very year the warranty expires. Will
your car be scrap when the standard warranty expires? Or will your
refrigerator only last one year? The reason those things don't happen is
that manufacturers know better than to push the envelope on warranty
periods; that is the sure way to loss where there should be profit.
You are still thinking of car batteries. Industrial batteries have been
getting 20 year life expectancies for ages:
http://www.batterypowersystems.com/products/absolyteIIP.htm says (in part)
"Absolyte IIP VRLA batteries range from 105 to 4800AH and have a twenty (20)
year life expectancy." Batteries are not all that sensitive to time, but
mostly to operating conditions. Put 5% too much voltage on one of those
puppies and it will last less than a week, as I too well know :-(
Treat it right and it will be at rated capacity when I retire.
Toyota only puts their money where their mouth is for 10 years, but a lot of
cars don't last that long, either. Every car dies of something. My first new
car was a 1970 Mercury Capri that went to salvage at the tender age of 8
years when it needed yet another u-joint... they were integral with the
driveshaft, which was then as expensive as the market value of the car. My
second new car was a 1984 Dodge that made it to 6 years or so before it
needed a timing chain change. Step one: remove engine so the cover could be
removed. More than the car was worth. My last Volvo wasn't worth a new
carburetor at 25 years. Anyway, I have every expectation that most Prius
will end their days with the original battery somewhere around the 15 year
mark, which is what Toyota estimates the battery life is.
I can't understand the fixation on the battery. If Toyota is confident
enough to pick up the bill for the first eight or ten years, what is the
likelihood there will be a drastic change in the curve at 11 or 12 or 13
years? What is the chance this major automaker with a reputation for
reliability has gone nuts and made a car that will bite them hard on
standard warranty on a major item? I think the odds are in my favor. If you
want to hold off, I understand.
Don't care aboqut the power windows and power locks failing on me on the
On the other hand, the computer is MUCH more integral to the simple
starting and driving away of the parallel hybrid (Toyota system) than I
Have you had a lot of trouble with your ECU or transmission controller
failing you on the road? The controllers in the Toyota hybrid system are
very much like those devices: crucial, low power and very reliable. You may
be hearing of ECU replacements in the pre-2004 Prius cars; those are
replaced because the software could not be updated otherwise and was too
touchy about the speed with which the combustion engine fired up. As the
engine aged it would sometimes get too slow about firing and would set the
hybrid warning. The present model just takes flash upgrades.
Worry more about power handling devices. There have been a smattering of
inverter failures, which have the same effect as the igniter failing in
Hondas - call a tow truck. It isn't nearly as common as igniter failures,
but will be more expensive when out of warranty... probably $300 or more on
the used market. Let's not get started on main relays!
What I am trying to say is that the reliability and longevity issues are
somewhat different from those in conventional vehicles but are no more
worrisome. The car you are driving today, if it was made since 1996, is
every bit as complex and high tech as hybrids are. As a practical matter,
this Prius has been so far the most reliable car I've had in my 35 years of
driving... by a large margin.
The last two cars I got rid of were dumped because they had persistent
electrical system problems; mechanically they were still perfect. The
moving parts in the engine will outlive anything else in the car. The
only weak point in terms of moving parts is the automatic transmission,
in my experience.
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