Toyota Prius owners- what should you've known when you bought your car?
February 17, 2013 10:21 PM   Subscribe

We're likely going to buy a used (2006 or 2007) Prius soon. Any advice from Prius owners would be appreciated! E.g., problems you've had that we can ask our mechanic to check on before buying; unexpected likes or dislikes about the car; your experience with aging batteries; regrets you didn't buy a different hybrid instead? Thanks all!
posted by b_alex_a to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We have two 2006s and are still really happy with them. My only real complaints are cosmetic; the interior parts are really plasticky and the dashes are a little creaky. I'm having a little bit of paint/coat flaking on the tip of the duck-butt on the hatch and on the door handles. I've never had or discussed battery issues (I still get serviced at Toyota dealers), at nearly 90K.

My average tank MPG has gone up every year, with the only real difference being a change of terrain from flat Texas to hilly California two years ago. I average 46ish these days.

The only time I actively dislike driving it is going up mountains. It sounds like a sewing machine on the verge of disaster, but it actually does just fine. And I only drive up mountains once or twice a year. I've only had to drive it on ice/snow a couple of times, and I've had worse experiences in other cars.

It does have really low clearance in the front, both on the front bumper spoiler and the plastic plate that covers the engine compartment from underneath. My husband lost his underplate entirely (and did not replace it; an acquaintance did replace his and it was hundreds of dollars), scraping the shit out of it over and over again on the dip between the street and the driveway. His front spoiler is pretty scuffed; I had mine replaced after an accident last year. They'll catch on cement parking bumpers and curbs, too. You just have to be careful, you get used to not busting out of parking lots and driveways with any enthusiasm.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:42 PM on February 17, 2013

We bought our used 2005 about three years ago from an owner who had lost the second keyfob, which cost $300 at the dealer. Insist on your seller providing both keyfobs.

Be sure to test drive extensively; the rear blind spots are big enough to hide a semi in.

Seconding the underplate. My wife peeled hers off entirely coming out of a parking spot and we have not replaced it.

For some reason she has not successfully internalized the height and edge clearances of the car either and several times has ridden into curbs with significant force while turning into driveways, most recently popping her tire completely. I think this has to do with deceptive sightlines out of the front of the cabin.

Overall cost of ownership on the car has been lower than a conventional car, but *only* due to gas costs. Dealer maintenance charges and part costs have been significantly higher than our previous Toyota, a '95 Camry. This is in part due to our primary maintenance provider remaining the dealership, though, so YMMV. I believe at our price point, gas at $2.50 turns the car into a money-loser rather than a money saver, but it has been some years since I did the math and could be off base. We paid under $10k on something like 90k miles; new ones were in the $25-$30k range and when I did the math I noticed that there was no savings at all over the first five years with gas at about $3, again iirc.

However, when I have actively searched for third-party parts, I have found them thin onthe ground, presumably because the elevated initial purchase price and relatively recent introduction of the car has had the overall effect of reducing the number of cars in circulation by comparison to the Camry.

Additionally, I have noticed that there have been significant year-over-year changes to exterior panel design to the car as well, again by comparison to the Camry which had a relatively stable panel design for over a decade, if I recall correctly.

That said, we drove it to San Diego and back from Seattle this summer and it was significantly less fatiguing to drive than any other car I have had experience of.

On the whole, we are satisfied with the car, but I feel very much as I do when paying for software or engaging with the US healthcare system when we take it in for maintenance, which is that gouging is the central ethos of the commercial transaction we must work though in order to obtain the desired benefits.

So overall, the main thing I wish I had better understood was the extent to which the maintenance is premium-priced. Overall, just as Consumer Reports has consistently documented, the car costs less to own on an annual basis than a conventional car, and major repairs have been less of an issue as well. But Toyota (or the dealer) appears to have done the math and prices the average dealer-provided maintenance costs in such a way as to just keep it on the side of the line I want to see it on. If gas drops back to 90s levels, unless our dealership charges less for maintenance as well, the car will become more expensive to drive than a conventional car.
posted by mwhybark at 11:12 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I like mine, but the passenger headlight just went out and apparently dealers charge $300-500 to replace it! I can also apparently do it myself with a $40 bulb off Ebay. Crazy.
posted by LarryC at 11:59 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I too have thought of purchasing a Prius. The people I know say they love theirs. I get the vibe that the car is fine, but the maintenance is way overpriced.
posted by Cranberry at 12:09 AM on February 18, 2013

Original owner of a 2005 that's approaching 100k miles. Love this car more than any other I've ever owned. I've never had any major repairs, other than replacing the (non-hybrid, small 12v) battery. The battery was very expensive compared to others (~$300 IIRC) because it sits in the passenger compartment and requires a special vent. I've had to do surprisingly little regular maintenance of the car as well; haven't even replaced the brake pads.

It's done well over 3 cross-country trips (3-5000 miles) and is a pleasure to drive. I wouldn't consider buying anything else for my next car.
posted by tkolstee at 12:55 AM on February 18, 2013

There are some crazy blind spots in that car. If you're getting one that doesn't have a backup camera, consider buying and installing one yourself. The pickup is not great. And sometimes you can really sneak up on pedestrians in a Prius because you're not running the engine -- which is fine if you're paying attention which you should be anyway -- but just worth noting. And it makes an annoying beeping sound on the inside when you're in reverse -- kind of like you were in a commercial van.

Otherwise, it's a nice car with a comfortable interior (bigger on the inside than the outside!), a great turn radius, low emissions and lower-than-average gas usage. Ten years out, most of them don't need battery replacements (my spouse used to work at a garage that serviced mostly hybrids and so saw a lot of old Priuses). Enjoy!
posted by feets at 1:00 AM on February 18, 2013

b_alex_a: some cons...know that braking (in nearly any hybrid with regenerative braking) will not feel conventional. Not an exciting car to drive or look at, but sure saves on gas. The hatchback is hard to open if you're carrying stuff. A neighbor had to replace her battery at 70,000 mi, at $2900. However I've heard of others getting over 200,000 before replacement. In any case, a new battery should be part of the expense equation.

LarryC: you may already know that dealers remove the bumper and headlight assembly to 'more easily' get at the bulb...that's where the charges mount up. You can probably bypass that step, but it's a very tight working area.

Not to derail but personally I'm looking forward to testdriving the new Ford Fusion.
The '13 model is great looking, recently named 'green car of the year', and is stirring up things. Might be my first 'merican car in 40 years of driving. (I do appreciate you're buying a pre-owned car)
posted by artdrectr at 1:52 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

. The hatchback is hard to open if you're carrying stuff. A neighbor had to replace her battery at 70,000 mi, at $2900. However I've heard of others getting over 200,000 before replacement. In any case, a new battery should be part of the expense equation.


This. At $2900 she got off cheap.

Oo here. Also there is a condensation issue in the headlights that never got much of a service bulletin. Wanted to charge us $1200 for that - just ignored it.

Another expensive fix to save for - the converter (?!?) dies for about $900 plus parts. No warning, just goes kaboom, like my battery did.

I find it heavy to drive, for me not a lot of one handed steering; I'd rate power assisted turning kind of meh. But I'm a wimp, too.

I'm under 5'6''. I can't get the hatch open or shut easily. & the rubber handle cover has deteriorated & is slimy & drives me nuts (needs replacement). The backup camera is a necessity. Maybe people don't like Prii where I am at but I have a lot of near misses with aggressive pedestrians. Don't care a car is backing out - will speed up to get behind the car it seems.
posted by tilde at 3:38 AM on February 18, 2013

I have a 2006 and more or less love it. The batteries did go at 115K miles and that was a $3500 surprise. Looking back, I'd just go in to it expecting to replace the batteries at 100K and set aside funds per month accordingly. Certainly doing that now.

Check and rog on the blind spots. You can overcome them by setting your side mirrors "wider" than normal and do some head bobbing when checking them. But, yeah, blind spots.

Headlights, marker lights, heck pretty much all exterior lighting has gone out on me with some regularity. I don't recall having a car that went through bulbs like this. You can replace the headlamps for a lot less than the dealer charges. Just be prepared to spend a frustrating afternoon the first time you do this. They engineered the entire car around the bulbs it seems. It's a blind reach at an uncomfortable angle--which is why the dealer charges so much. After the first time, you get a feel for what you're doing and subsequent replacements take a fraction of the time.

Generic tire store couldn't figure out how to keep the car in neutral to perform an alignment when I replaced mine at 90K but they knocked a bit off the bill so I could have the dealer do that.

Cold weather driving knocks about 4-5 mpg off your average because it needs to keep the catalytic converter above a certain temp so the gas engine runs more frequently. In the summer I can beat the 51 mpg estimate by a mile or two without a whole lot of effort. Winters I'm down in the middle 40s.

Also, MPG really starts to tank at 65mph or higher. If you're a fast, primarily highway driver, it might make more sense to go for a high mpg turbo diesel than a hybrid if your goal is most miles per gallon.

With all of that out of the way, I absolutely love the car. The video game aspect of trying to maximize miles per gallon with the display still hasn't gotten old. It appeals to my inner technohippie in a way that non-technohippies have problems identifying. The stock audio (I bought one step up from the base model) is pretty decent--trunk rattling bass is out, but fidelity is pretty good and often you're not competing with engine noise when in town. I've wired in a number of accessories (ham radio related) without issues. My next project is to add a PA speaker so I can play the sound made by a Jetsons-era space car for the benefit and amusement of pedestrians.
posted by Fezboy! at 5:15 AM on February 18, 2013

I have a 2010 Prius, and have had absolutely no issues with it, merely routine mainenance. I totally love the car, and as these days most of my driving is local, the fuel savings are breathtaking. I can run an hour's worth of errands almost entirely in battery mode.
I don't think battery life of a hybrid is dependent on mileage; more like frequency of driving. With my kind of usage, the vehicle will have only about 50k miles after 10 years, but I would not expect the battery to last much longer than that. My understanding is that by the time the battery goes on a Prius, a new battery would cost the same or more as the book value of the car, which would probably have other maintenance issues by then as well. Better to get a new (or at least newer) Prius than a new battery, if finances permit.

The video game aspect of trying to maximize miles per gallon with the display still hasn't gotten old.

LOL, I totally agree. The display can be shut off, of course, but neither myself nor my son ever tires of it. This is a car that actually teaches you how to maximize fuel efficiency, if you avail yourself of the capability.

The stock audio (I bought one step up from the base model) is pretty decent-

I, unfortunately, took only the bare-bones base model. That is my sole regret, although the base model is OK (and in every way beats the 20-year-old minivan I owned previously). I plan to trade in for a new Prius right before retiring, and will definitely go for some more fun options in the audio dep't.
posted by RRgal at 6:48 AM on February 18, 2013

I don't own one but drive 2012 models frequently. My issue is the poor visability - I can't see the front of the vehicle and it's very hard to see out the back. I'm not fond of the interior either - I find the wide dashboard very distracting. Not a car I would buy.
posted by what's her name at 7:33 AM on February 18, 2013

I have a 2008, which I drive in the mountains of western NC. It gets great mileage on longer highway trips, only so-so for short city trips, especially in winter. Overall costs have been low, but we're still only at about 55,000 miles. It does drive different than any other car I've tried, and when I get a rental now, it takes some major adjusting back. I wish I got to ride in the back seat, which is huge; the front is just a tad cramped for 6'2" me, but I only typically feel it on long road trips.

The Prius has been a great success as a new car; how it will do as a used car, I think the jury's still out. That said, I still see quite a few first-gen Priuses (pre-2003) on the streets of Asheville (though not nearly as many as I did 3-4 years ago).
posted by rikschell at 7:36 AM on February 18, 2013

And it makes an annoying beeping sound on the inside when you're in reverse -- kind of like you were in a commercial van.

This can be turned off via a "secret code" that you enter in the dash panel. I can't remember how I did it now, but Google will tell you.

Get one with a backup camera as advised above, and get very good at checking your blind spots. I added one of those tiny convex mirrors to the passenger side mirror, to help with checking that side because the blind spots are pretty awful. Okay once you get used to it, but you have to be vigilant about it.

My biggest pet peeve, by far, is how over-sensitive the ABS and traction control are in our 2006. Trying to accelerate into a gap in traffic, it's not uncommon for the wheels to "skip" b/c of the traction control if I drive over a manhole or other slick surface. Same thing happens with medium to strong braking over lower-friction surfaces, or bumpy roads, which are everywhere in Seattle.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 8:05 AM on February 18, 2013

the front is just a tad cramped for 6'2" me

Oh, yeah. My husband is a slim 6'1" and he's fine, but I have a couple of coworkers who are over 6' and big guys. Putting them in the front seat is very nearly torture, and if I were to have an accident I assume they'd put their knees through the glove box.

I didn't even know that the headlight haze was a recall. Toyota has never offered to fix it for me. It looks like crap, but I don't really care.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:33 AM on February 18, 2013

We've had a 2008 and a 2011. Overall positive, but I hate the divided rear window! Why is this car so difficult to see out of?

You can't poke a new address into the GPS while the car is in motion. Which sounds safe and all, but passengers should be allowed to do this.

Fixing stuff is super expensive.

Overall, like, but I actually prefer my little Honda Fit, which is nearly as good on gas, significantly less luxurious, and doesn't give me panics about seeing the world around me.
posted by houseofdanie at 8:54 AM on February 18, 2013

How's your sense of smell?

I'd been driving in friends' and family members' Priuses for years, always aware of the slightly zoo-like (as my husband puts it) smell in the car. It wasn't just one car either. It was every single Prius I'd ever been in. I had test driven a few used models (2007 and 2008), and the 2008 model smelled REALLY strongly. I wouldn't say that it was the worst thing I'd ever smelled, and I will admit to having a sensitive nose, but I know that if I had to smell it all the time, I'd be really unhappy.

So when I decided I was going to get my own Prius (in November of 2009), this "Prius Smell" was the first thing I wanted to research. It turns out that it really is a thing (check Google), and I knew then that I wasn't crazy. From what I read on a bunch of Toyota/Prius forums, Toyota denied that there was an odor issue, and refused to do anything about it. Eventually, people did their own detective work on their cars, and found that the smell was caused by some kind of coating on some wires attached to the battery. I didn't find anyone that said they'd been able to overcome or eliminate that smell entirely, so I started to worry that I would have to think about getting a different kind of car.

But then I came across a post that said that the 2010 model managed to find a way to eliminate that smell. Up until that point, I hadn't even considered buying a new car, but then I just had to know if the 2010s smelled. I went to my local Toyota dealer, mentioned something to the salesman about the "Prius Smell" (which he seemed to have no knowledge of), and he took me out in a couple of different 2010 models. NO SMELL!

I've been happily driving my 2010 Prius, odor-free, ever since. I love my car and have had no issues at all with it. I will echo what others have mentioned about the oddly split back window. It's annoying to try to see out of, but it hasn't caused me any problems, and now I'm used to it.
posted by MsVader at 9:29 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

We drive a 2011, which we bought new. I was surprised that insurance on it was approximately $30/month more than on our previous RAV4 due to the potential cost of replacing two complete systems - gas and electric - according to our agent. No other complaints, although we found that driving 350 miles in it at a stretch was significantly less comfortable than the same trip in our truck. IMHO, the mileage we get makes up for it.
posted by summerstorm at 9:42 AM on February 18, 2013

FWIW, our 2005 (covered upthread) is closing on 170k on the original battery without any apparent issues.

Also, Fezboy!, your combination of early battery death and constant exterior lighting failures makes me stroke my neckbeard in a "something's up with your electrical system" manner, although I have no concrete course of action to suggest.
posted by mwhybark at 9:43 AM on February 18, 2013

We have a 2005. The interior trim is extremely soft. All the plastic bits have rubbed off and it looks shoddy. The button for the glove box looks like it has leprosy. The center armrest has had the adhesive seep through the material and it has turned this awful dark color that looks like we've spilled something on it. We have not. Don't expect the inside of the car to stay nice.

We have had to replace the blower motor something like 3 times now. Same with the lock motor. Ridiculous.

There is an issue with the MFD on our model that causes it to fail (TSB EL002-05). Be careful that any Prius you get has been fully evaluated for all TSBs.

Oh, and if you ever get into a low speed wreck (like rear-ended at 5 mph), prepare for major damage.

My husband calls it the Cracker Jack car. Has it saved us on gas? Yes, quite a bit. But we have shelled out quite a lot on parts - tons more than we did on our twice-as-old Suburban. I'm not sorry we bought it, but I don't know if I would buy another one.
posted by Addlepated at 9:53 AM on February 18, 2013

We have a 2001 first-gen, so I can't answer your questions specific to the later models, but I'll say that our car is still doing fine. We go to a hybrid-specific mechanic, which is really awesome. They only work on hybrids, are much cheaper than the dealer, and really know their stuff. Worth looking for if you're in an area with a high enough concentration to make one possible.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:08 AM on February 18, 2013

I share your suspicions, mwhybark. When the battery went early I asked the dealer if they could prove/disprove that theory for me. They didn't find anything and since I do the bulb replacements myself it's not like they had a vested interest in keeping things broken. I've also puttered about with a voltmeter but my skill set in that arena is strictly amateur.

Admittedly, I've been doing much better as of late so I'm also willing to chalk up the quick burn out of the headlamps on my possibly contaminating the bulbs with skin oil or some such when I made my first attempt at replacing them. Still, I've done every bulb at least once in the 6+ years since I bought the car.

(hope this isn't too ChatFiltery)
posted by Fezboy! at 11:09 AM on February 18, 2013

I have a 2007. The only problem I had was skidding and slipping. Much more often than I was used to.

The stock tires are low-profile and low-friction to boost the fuel efficiency. I switched them out for a set of all-weather tires (Michelin Hydro Edge, I think) and the handling really improved. My fuel efficiency went down, but not by much. Maybe about 3-5 MPG.
posted by Boxenmacher at 11:35 AM on February 18, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! This is super-helpful! Especially all the advice about problem parts (e.g. the headlamp issues and low clearance for the underplate). In balance, sounds like a lot of folks like their Priuses (Prii?) We are test driving a couple Priuses tonight so we'll see how it goes...
posted by b_alex_a at 12:30 PM on February 18, 2013

I own a 2006 Prius. I totally love it. It's comfortable (way bigger inside than I expected!), practical (easy to fold down the seats and haul big stuff), and fun to drive (the videogame aspect of the real-time gas mileage display). It drives smoothly and quietly.

It has a lot more bells and whistles than any other car I've ever driven. The Bluetooth audio connectivity is awesome. We didn't get a Prius with built-in GPS, but the Bluetooth lets us just use the GPS on our smartphones and wirelessly push the turn-by-turn audio through the car speakers.

Headlights: The headlights have gone out on ours twice. This is apparently a Known Issue. Yes, the dealership wants an egregious amount of money to replace them. Yes, you can theoretically do it yourself, but it's really difficult and annoying because you have to stick your hand in a very tight, awkwardly shaped space. I prefer to take it to my independent mechanic. They take the bumper off and replace the bulbs. Costs half an hour of labor ($64 at my mechanic) plus the cost of the bulb, which is much, much less than the amount the dealership wants.

Other than that, we haven't had any problems with it. We've just done routine maintenance and everything's been great.

Hybrid batteries: People will tell you scare stories about them failing, but don't worry too much about it. The battery is warrantied for 100,000 miles, but it does not automatically fail then. They're engineered for the life of the car. Ours is well up past 150k and the battery is completely fine. I mean, there's always the possibility of having to replace it, certainly. But it's no different than the possibility of the transmission going on another car.

We asked our mechanic how often he sees battery problems with Priuses, and he said he hasn't seen any yet. Since that mechanic deals with a bunch of Priuses, I was reassured. (There is also a place semi-near here that will install lightly used Prius batteries for a lot less than the dealership cost. So if our battery goes, that's where we're taking it.)

So my biggest piece of advice: Find an independent mechanic who knows Priuses and is comfortable with working on them. The dealership will gouge the heck out of you for Prius repairs, but a trustworthy indie mechanic will be awesome.

Second piece of advice: Check out the PriusChat forums. I read through a ton of threads there when we were considering buying our Prius. Loads of experiences and discussion from Prius owners. You'll learn a lot about the car and what to expect from it.
posted by snowmentality at 3:10 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

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