Will a Prius survive Maine winters?
September 7, 2012 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Is driving a Prius is Maine stupid, crazy, both or neither?

Moving to Portland, ME from NYC in a few weeks and I'm going to need a car. I'll be driving back and forth between those two locations quite frequently, so I'm looking for something extremely fuel efficient. Seems like it doesn't get much better than a Prius for that, but I'm worried about the winters. Is it a bad idea?
posted by kmtiszen to Travel & Transportation around Portland, ME (30 answers total)
You'll be fine - get a solid set of snow tires.
posted by kpht at 6:20 PM on September 7, 2012

The fuel economy advantages of the Prius are most pronounced in city driving. Are you sure it's the most economical choice for long-haul highway driving? I'd think you could do better when you factor in the cost of the vehicle and the mileage.
posted by alms at 6:23 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I live in Portland and my neighbor has a Prius. She does fine. I have a Corolla with snow tires (last winter I didn't even bother with them) and I've been fine. I also commute a half hour outside the city and haven't run into trouble the last couple years.
posted by monkeymadness at 6:24 PM on September 7, 2012

I drove way worse cars through many New England winters, and have driven our current Prius (an 01!) through some shitty snowy/icy weather in far northeastern California.

Regarding mileage: I drive 60 freeway miles a day to and from work, and get 45-48 mpg. Don't jackrabbit if you can avoid it and don't go 90 mph (not that you can between Portland and NYC, anyway). Should be fine.
posted by rtha at 6:26 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

What do you think will be different about the Prius in winter, as compared to any other similarly-sized sedan? Put on snow tires, carry chains otherwise, and get a remote starter if you want a warm car before you leave the house.
posted by Pomo at 6:27 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I honestly would never drive an automatic transmission car in New England, but millions of people do. A manual transmission gives you more control in snow and ice, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:41 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure how recent or accurate this information is, but I've been told that the battery efficiency goes down a bit in the winters up here, IF you don't have the car garaged, but this could be total bullshit too.

You'll be fine as far as driving goes, they get on the plow pretty fast around here, especially for main roads.

We ran some numbers, and for some of the freeway-commutes we do out here, it'd be cheaper to own a diesel. YMMV (ha! cars!)
posted by furnace.heart at 6:42 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Our ('05) Prius has done just fine in Western MA and Southern VT winters (not that last winter was much of a test). You definitely take a mileage hit in the winter, but that's mostly because you need to run the (very small) gas engine more to generate enough waste heat to heat the cabin (and melt windshield ice).

It is true that the improvements in fuel mileage are more pronounced in city driving, but the Prius is also among the absolute best in highway driving, too.

Get some snow tires and you'll be just fine. We've gotten by with high-quality all-season tires for these past 7 years, but this has mostly been in less severe winter climates than where we live now (VT). We're planning on getting snow tires this year.
posted by Betelgeuse at 6:55 PM on September 7, 2012

Neither crazy nor stupid.

Don't worry about the snow. The plowing in Portland is insane and plenty of other people in town own cars like that. If you are living in town a small car is nice for parking. I used to drive an old civic around Portland for years without snow tires, and I never so much as lost traction.

I now own an AWD vehicle but mainly because it comes in handy elsewhere in Maine. And of course snow tires help much more with snow traction than 4WD or AWD.

I'm not a big fan of the Prius in general, but you should be fine (and in good company, there are lots of the things up here).
posted by selfnoise at 7:00 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've driven a luxury V6, Honda Fit, a Honda Insight hybrid, and a Nissan Leaf all-electric car in severe winter conditions.

The only car that did not work out was the Nissan Leaf (this was in Japan), because it took almost all of its battery power to power through some unpaved roads. Luckily we got back onto plowed roads and some of the battery regenerated, but not nearly enough.

The Honda Insight did just fine.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:16 PM on September 7, 2012

If Priuses didn't run in the cold and snow, half of Madison, Wisconsin would be housebound from November through March. I think you'll be fine.
posted by escabeche at 7:20 PM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's been said several times upthread, but get snow tires. Good ones. Four of them. It's like night vs day.
posted by mr vino at 7:39 PM on September 7, 2012

An acquaintance bought a Ford Escape hybrid and tried to drive it in North Dakota. The "hybrid" part didn't work reliably in the extreme cold, and the gas mileage suffered. I think Portland is a fair bit warmer than North Dakota is, so you may be fine.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 7:51 PM on September 7, 2012

I'd like to second a diesel for highway efficiency. I have a '10 Jetta TDI and it gets 48ish on the highway, and that is with pretty steep hills. Driving from Richmond to Nashville, where it was flatter, my average was 52 mpg for the 600 mile trip.

Diesel engines are heavier, so they have added weight and stability. But it would definitely need snow tires, and it is fun to drive with a stick!
posted by shortyJBot at 8:14 PM on September 7, 2012

We have a Prius in Montreal. We love it.

Snow tires November-April, summer tires the rest of the year.
posted by musofire at 8:30 PM on September 7, 2012

Once I parked on the upper level of a Minneapolis parking ramp and came back to my car to discover sleet & freezing rain going on. There were no less than 3 Priuses (Priiii?) in a row, all failing to make it up the moderate incline to the top of the ramp. They eventually started turning around and went back down the wrong way. I backed my Honda Civic with snow tires out of the parking spot and made it up the ramp with zero problems. I remember this moment with a combination of pride and rolled eyeballs.

Also, if you will be driving on areas that haven't been plowed well (or trying to get out of street parking spots after a snowstorm, i.e. the Minneapolis snow emergency parking shuffle), the lack of ground clearance on the Prius will be a pain.

Get snow tires.
posted by Maarika at 8:59 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've driven a Prius in California for years and love it, but friends who've taken theirs to the Tahoe snow say it's awful in that environment. They say the traction control tends to freak out in snow and leave you stranded. The hybrid Toyota Highlander would take that stuff in its stride though.
posted by w0mbat at 9:14 PM on September 7, 2012

I have a friend here in Fairbanks who has a Prius, and she does fine through our cold winters, but she has to be careful to plug in all the time when it's below 0 or so, and she keeps it in a garage at night.

Blizzaks are really nice.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:14 PM on September 7, 2012

I drove a rented Prius with regular tires January before last in Buffalo without incident.
posted by brujita at 9:19 PM on September 7, 2012

Prius' sell quite well in Canada. We've had a few at work as fleet cars. The early models didn't like the cold very much, but later model ones have solved that problem. They're no better or worse than any compact car in snow in my experience. Snow tires and you're set.
posted by bonehead at 9:54 PM on September 7, 2012

Voting against the Prius.

For frequent long hauls, it doesn't seem like a good choice to me. The efficiency gains are just not that great on the highway -- a Prius gets 48 MPG whereas a Honda Civic gets 36. On a typical Portland-NYC trip, you'll save 4 1/2 gallons of gas round-trip: $18. New Prius vs. new Civic is a difference of $9K. So, it pays for itself after... 500 trips.

(Plus, in my experience, sedans tend to significantly outperform their fuel rankings if driven properly on the highway; my Corolla certainly does. Don't know if that's true of the Prius, but the higher you get in MPG the less the difference matters.)

Then bear in mind the Prius is almost certainly more expensive to maintain; not all mechanics will be equipped to deal with it; replacement batteries cost a lot of money; as well as the other downsides above. Personally, I wouldn't do it. You'll be taking a financial bath...
posted by zvs at 10:03 PM on September 7, 2012

There are a lot of Priuses (is that the correct plural of Prius?) here. Get some snow tires for the winter.

And welcome to Portland! Feel free to message me if you have questions about our little city.
posted by miss tea at 3:42 AM on September 8, 2012

I honestly would never drive an automatic transmission car in New England

Understood, but the Prius isn't technically an automatic. It's a CVT. The main disadvantage of the automatic is that the engine can lurch around trying to find the right gear. With a CVT, the gear ratio is constantly adjusted to provide optimum performance with no searching around. I have almost never felt that my Prius was revving ineffectively, even on ice and snow.

Definitely get snow tires though. The ones that come from the factory are rubbish in wintry conditions.
posted by valkyryn at 5:04 AM on September 8, 2012

Actually, I drove it all the way between Buffalo and Albany.
posted by brujita at 6:42 AM on September 8, 2012

Lots of Priuses in Canada, don't worry about the winter aspect.

For fuel efficiency you might want to look at the VW TDI diesels, though, typically giving you 600+ miles per tank.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:08 AM on September 8, 2012

There are plenty or Priuses around Portland. My mom drives one around the boonies near Augusta; you'll be fine.
One thing to keep in mind is that plowing in Portland, and Maine in general, is a hell of a lot better than in NYC. If you're driving from New York to Maine in the winter, you will notice the roads actually getting better as you go north.
posted by Adridne at 2:14 PM on September 8, 2012

I drive a Honda Civic hybrid in Maine, and have a couple decent hills on my commute. You'll want snow tires. I didn't have them last winter, and will get them this winter, for safety. I carry a set of traction mats, a small shovel, and some sand. I've used them in my own driveway, which is steep, and has a ditch at the bottom. Spend some time in an empty, snowy parking lot learning to get out of slides and spins. It's quite fun, and great experience. (Speed up a little, apply brakes, turn hard; wheee.) Warning: There are lots of accidents during the 1st snowstorm of the season, as everyone remembers how to drive in ice and/or snow. In a real ice storm, when there's 1/8 - 1/4 inch of ice covering everything, consider not driving until the roads are better.
posted by theora55 at 2:36 PM on September 8, 2012

I recently shopped for new tires on my '05 prius. I can't speak to what is sold on the new Prius, but for many years the stock tires were awful. They wore very quickly and had awful traction on ice and snow, something amplified by the hybrid's form of traction control. We went from the stock tires which were almost bald after 27k miles to a set of Hankook Optimo H727s, and the difference is profound. That anecdote above about the three priuses slipping in the parking ramp - I'd bet money they all had stock tires. This is a Known Thing you will see if you lurk on Prius enthusiast forums. The consensus speculation seems to be that Toyota intentionally specs tires that give good mileage at the expense of durability and traction to get the sticker MPG up.

So, you will do fine if you either change to a decent set of all-seasons (people really seemed to like the winter performance of the tires I listed above, that's why I got them) or if you don't mind doing the dedicated snow tire thing, that will be even better albeit you mileage will decline slightly.

Oh, Minnesota driver here BTW.
posted by werkzeuger at 9:16 AM on September 9, 2012

One more thing - it's very difficult to "rock" the Prius to gain traction like you can a conventional car. So even with decent tires consider carrying a little shovel and some kitty litter or sand.
posted by werkzeuger at 9:21 AM on September 9, 2012

As a Toyota Yaris owner, I am going to suggest that this is a more cost efficient alternative to a Prius. I am currently getting 43 mpg on my 5 speed but other Yaris owners who have an automatic model are getting almost the same mileage.

The reliability of the Yaris is legendary - check out this youtube video showing a 2007 Yaris that has already reached 472,000 miles without any major repairs.
posted by DonM at 6:06 AM on September 10, 2012

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