Buying a low-mileage 2002 Prius
July 2, 2013 1:18 PM   Subscribe

We are considering buying a low-mileage 2002 Prius. Please tell us what to look out for.

Mrs. gauche needs a new car. We've found a 2002 Prius with under 70,000 miles on it in our price range and have a test drive on Sunday afternoon. It's an owner sale, not a dealership. I'm thinking about making an appointment with the dealer to see if they can test the battery or whatever.

1. We live in the Northeast, so winter driving is an issue.
2. She is about to move two hours away and I will likely follow at some point, but we'll be doing a fair bit of weekend driving to see one another in the near and foreseeable future.
3. Our priorities are reliability and longevity of the car.

What should we look for and look out for with this car? Assume I'm at oil-change and headlight replacement levels of mechanical competence -- I know a few things but am by no means able to do maintenance or assess the health of an engine.
posted by gauche to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Supposedly the battery packs have a ~10 year lifespan, but testing has shown that these fears were overblown.
posted by Oktober at 1:26 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just be aware that this is the original generation Prius - it's smaller than the "iconic" (hatchback) one that came out in '04. That said, there's no evidence that they are necessarily less capable than the models from '04, on. I'm sure you'll get good advice here, but you should also ask at the Priuschat forums - there's a lot there on the latest and greatest Prii, but there are also some incredibly knowledgeable people there who can give you good advice on what to look for with this one. Good luck.
posted by Betelgeuse at 1:30 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

battery battery battery - verify the date it was put in, start saving for a new one.

Seconding Priuschat!
posted by tilde at 1:46 PM on July 2, 2013

Response by poster: So, to follow up, how do I check the battery? How do I have it checked?
posted by gauche at 1:48 PM on July 2, 2013

The dealer can check it. If there are independent hybrid mechanics in your area, you can (also) check with them.

FWIW, we're still driving around in the 2001 Prius we bought used off craigslist a bunch of years ago, and have not yet had to replace the battery.
posted by rtha at 1:50 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

What rtha said. Our car has over 172K miles on it, and the thing we replace the most is the tires. We seem to go through them pretty quickly. We also have a hybrid-only independent garage which has been great for regular maintenance and so on. I would not hesitate to buy another 1st gen Prius, especially with so few miles on it.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:22 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Take it on a 30 mile test drive at 65 mph and on a non-mountainous area, freeway preferably so there's no stop and go. Reset the mpg indicator just before you set out (ask the owner how to do it). Use the cruise control for the entire drive. If you get less than 36-38mph don't purchase the vehicle. You should be getting well upwards of 40.

Thirding PriusChat.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:44 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have to add: Prius vehicles are not superb for winter driving although it can be done. A set of excellent snow tires that work well with the Prius (check PriusChat) are a must for any serious, safe winter driving.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:48 PM on July 2, 2013

Get the battery checked at the dealer's garage. It is not in warranty and will cost $2-3K to replace.
I have a 2001 Prius, which I love, giving me 43 mpg. Currently with about 150,000 miles on it. I had to replace the battery in 2009.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:58 PM on July 2, 2013

Use the cruise control for the entire drive

Pretty sure the 2002 didn't come with cruise control, although Toyota seems to offer a kit so you can install it yourself.
posted by rtha at 3:07 PM on July 2, 2013

I have a 2002 Prius that I bought new then and now has about 70K miles on it, and it has yet to need any major repairs. The battery seems fine still. And yes, no cruise control. But overall it's been a great car for me.
posted by therewithal at 4:38 PM on July 2, 2013

I have a first-gen Prius (and share a garage with rtha & gingerbeer). I have had to replace the battery, which runs about $2500, and the steering rack (about the same), but I'm hoping to get another ten years out of this little workhorse. It's a great city car, especially with a kid & a dog.
posted by judith at 8:31 PM on July 2, 2013

Response by poster: Following up to say that we could not get the guy to let us take it to the dealership for testing, so we bailed and have since picked up a Hyundai Sonata which we like quite a bit.

Thank you all for your helpful advice.
posted by gauche at 12:28 PM on August 2, 2013

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