Is this 2007 Prius a good choice for me right now?
April 3, 2021 6:25 PM   Subscribe

A relative is getting rid of a 2007 Prius with around 180k miles on it. The battery is fine and it's getting a dashboard computer brain transplant, but that's the only problem with it. Help me work out whether I should pursue it.

Here's the deal, the car is mine if 1) issues with the starter are handled by the dashboard control computer replacement (otherwise it's dead and this is a non-issue) and 2) I can get it to Alaska.

Pros: I have driven this car before and I like it. It would be free other than the cost of transporting it (though that is substantial.) It was recently serviced and the only issue is the dashboard computer, which is being replaced as we speak. It meets my needs (comfortable, reliable, good gas mileage.) I have a month to decide if I want it.

Cons: It's front wheel drive and that's bad on ice (but I can afford winter tires.) I don't have and can't guarantee I'll be living in a place where I can plug it in when it's 20F or below-- is that particularly a problem with a hybrid? It has around 180k miles on it and the battery is in good shape, but for how long? How well does a Prius handle in the snow? The biggest con is that I'm in Anchorage and the car is in Pennsylvania...

The original plan was to ask family to help me find a car in the lower 48 (because it'll be cheaper and better quality), buy it and drive it up, and I'd pay them and fly them back. The other idea is to buy a car here, but I'd get a lot less for my money-- $5-7k is the budget.

This is complicated by the border crossing situation in Canada, so it's possible I'd have to meet them in Seattle and drive it up myself-- I'm not sure a nonresident could make it through. I am very limited in how much time I can take off in the near future, and I haven't done much highway driving alone. I am confident I could do it, though. I may also be able to get a buddy to come get it. We'd be doing this over the summer, so weather is less of a factor.

I am looking at other cars, and what's in my budget locally is also FWD, 10-15 years old, and high mileage, so I feel like a car I know is better than a car I don't. I would be taking out a loan to get something AWD locally. Car shipping from PA to the port of Anchorage in the summer is ballpark $3500-$4000, and I've heard from friends that car shipping is not the best service, but still functional.

My main question is: is this car a poor choice for Alaska for a practical reason, like handling in snow? Is this car a poor choice based on its age, mileage, or some other factor I'm not thinking of? Are there logistical issues with transporting the car that make some part of getting this car unfeasible?
posted by blnkfrnk to Shopping (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The mileage on the car should not be a problem. When we bought our 2009 Prius we were told of Priuses (Prii?) with batteries going strong at 250,000 miles.

Can’t answer your other questions, unfortunately, as I live in Seattle. And I love my Prius.
posted by lhauser at 7:54 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


I'll be living in a place where I can plug it in when it's 20F or below-- is that particularly a problem with a hybrid

Not following you. A standard-by-normal Prius doesn't "plug in." (A Prius Prime will, but the Prime only dates back to 2016.)

I had a 2010 Prius and it was a pretty solid car after 10 years. But at 14 years, you're coming to the end of the service life of the battery. It may keep running (the early Prius was over-engineered for reliability). But $3500-$4500 seems a lot, even if the car is otherwise free.
posted by SPrintF at 7:59 PM on April 3


Some good advice here.

SPrintF, they're talking about the block heater; in the artic all cars plug in :).
posted by flimflam at 8:04 PM on April 3 [6 favorites]


We have a more recent Prius (the regular hybrid type) and our winters regularly spend significant time with -20F or colder temps, and we haven't had any problems with it starting. The car is impressively good at starting.

On the other hand, it is not great when there is significant snow. Apparently, there's something about the mechanics of the vehicle that makes it bad for the wheels to spin, so if the car senses they are doing that the wheels just stop. When there's a snow storm, moderate street snow that my Honda Fit slides right over (like a boot on a ski, as I joke), the Prius will definitely get stuck and need a push. When not stuck, it handles fine.
posted by past unusual at 8:43 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


No idea how suitable a Prius would be in the cold & snow.

Assuming that the Prius brain transplant succeeds -- and the vehicle has no other issues or history of being in accidents / frame damage, other major issues -- an Edmunds price estimate for it is around $2600 (assuming a private sale).

That suggests it may be better to get a different vehicle where the cost & logistics to get it to Anchorage are a lot less than $4k -- unless you're getting the Prius from your relative for free or $500 or something.

Edmunds reckons the price for a hypothetical Prius in the same condition in Seattle would be priced about $100 higher than whatever it'd sell for in Pennsylvania. Looks like cost of shipping from the port in Seattle to Anchorage might be about $1900. So if you could arrange to buy one in Seattle and have it shipped to Anchorage that'd cost at least $4600 + additional logistical costs of buying a car in a city you're not in.

It might take 5 days driving from Seattle to Anchorage, doing 8 hour days, 250 litres of fuel. Driving would likely be more fun and less risky with two people sharing the driving and swapping every two hours or so.
posted by are-coral-made at 9:47 PM on April 3


Response by poster: Correct: the car is free. The only cost is getting it here.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:47 PM on April 3


Quick explanation on ABS, traction control, and all that, and how it applies to the Prius

Traction control is the car trying to detect "wheel spin". If the car isn't moving, and the wheel spins, that wheel is obviously not getting any traction. So the car applies some brakes to slow the wheel down, hoping the slower wheel would be enough to regain some traction.

The problem is in the snow, or when the traction control is a bit too aggressive, you end up with a wheel that doesn't move AT ALL, since there is no threshold the car can detect that would allow it to gain traction on ice or snow.

There are also situations where the car has traction on one side but not the other, but the car will not move because it senses that you're not going straight ahead (your steering is in neutral) and it won't engage any more for "safety" reasons.

There are many ways to compensate for this, as Prius does have many modes you can engage that can at least temporarily override these issues.

Use ECO MODE, the low power mode, will accelerate slower, hopefully reducing wheel spins.

Prius also has a BRAKE MODE, which uses the vehicle's motion to charge its batteries, and that will slow the car down without brakes, and thus potentially breaking traction / causing a slide.

Finally, you can turn OFF traction control if you WANT some wheel spin, like getting out of a slick situation. Consult your manual for the specific instructions. Obviously this should be only done temporarily. And supposedly Brake mode also deactivates traction control.

So I wouldn't say Prius is BAD on snow, just that it may require a bit of training to optimize your snow driving with it. Also keep in mind that cold weather will limit your battery's performance and life.
posted by kschang at 5:21 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


I just recently replaced my 2006 Prius and I live in Eastern Washington where I've had to drive in snow and had low temps. I found it did just fine as long as the snow hadn't turned to slush or frozen slush. A pair of studded tires made all the difference for me. They do sit a bit low, so deeper snow can be an issue. I've driven over the Cascades without any issues in snow. I actually like the front wheel drive for snow.

I replaced my heads up display myself about five years ago, this was a common issue with 06 and 07 models. Another thing to check is the rear hatch. The original rubber grip for opening turned to a sticky mess years ago and I removed and replaced it. I also needed to replace the lift part of the hatch since it was cheap plastic and broke. The only mechanical issues I had in 15 years was the need to replace a water pump and a serpentine belt. A toyota dealership should be able to tell you what the percentage of the computer battery is and if it needs replacing. That costs about $500 and I had to do it once in the life of the vehicle. The main batteries never gave me an issue.

With cold temps you will not get the mileage that everyone crows about. In warm temps I averaged 44 mpg and in cold temps it dropped about 10 mpg. Once spring rolled around, I was back to my average. I never did put a block heater on mine, but that might be a nice addition in the cold winters of Alaska.

My new Prius as AWD and I think that will be a great addition in the winter for me.
posted by OkTwigs at 9:12 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


I have a '19 awd-e Prius which is fantastic.
A gen2 Prius -- like you're mulling over -- cab in Vancouver Canada went 1.4 million kms on the original hybrid system, so they're reliable cars. NiMH batteries are better in the cold than lithium (for this reason the awd Prius went back to a NiMH battery), so it should be good for Alaska. Block heater sounds like a good idea.

Commercial trucks are allowed across the border, and you might want it shipped right to Alaska; if you fly to WA to get it, I don't know if you can drive into Canada right now with the covid restrictions. Alaskan residents might have an exemption:

http://dot.alaska.gov/covid19info/canadian-border.shtml

Dr Prius is a good phone app for these, and the Carista obd2 adapter is popular, but don't get sucked into the subscription; I use a scantool.net adapter. A set of good, studded winter tires should keep you going even in Alaska (though fwd Priuses aren't great if you're stopped and stuck; the hybrid system shuts down rather than allowing excessive wheelspin). Also, priusoffroad dot com in California make 1.5" lift kits:

https://priusoffroad.com/shop/ols/products/gen-2-prius-lift-kit

Here are a couple of links to common gen2 Prius problems:

https://www.torquenews.com/8113/5-top-common-repairs-you-can-expect-2004-2009-toyota-prius

http://carspecmn.com/2004-2009-toyota-prius-timing-cover-oil-leak-wpictures/#:~:text=Prius%20Timing%20Cover%20Leak%20The%20only%20solution%20to,Toyota%20genuine%201282B%20%28for%20the%20coolant%20sealing%20portions%29.
posted by davran at 11:53 AM on April 4


It's free and well worth the transport hassle. Hybrid batteries can go bad, so think about what you'll do if/when that happens. I like my Prius a lot. Download the owner's manual, read it, keep it handy. Maybe join a Prius owner's group; they can be pretty helpful. 250 - 300K miles is not uncommon.

The catalytic converters get stolen and some states(probably not Alaska) have rules about non-OEM replacements, so check on that. There are shields that can be added if you are in a high theft area.

I road-trip in mine, you can leave it On, low heat or fan, and the gas engine will come on as needed to recharge the hybrid battery, and it really nifty. Also useful to provide music for an event if there's no power. I find it pleasant to drive.
posted by theora55 at 1:23 PM on April 4


I owned a Prius of this relative vintage for several years here in MN. Toyota threw a lot of effort into making the early versions of this car to a high standard, and I found it to be rock solid in terms of build quality, and highly dependable.

It is actually kind of a beast in the snow, if properly shod. For the most part the batteries performed pretty well in extreme temps. Yes, the hybrid system lost some efficiency, but not nearly as badly as my current hybrid (Ford C-Max). Lots of people here plug in their cars, but I never needed to.

One issue to be aware of, that effects some 00s Priuses (and did mine): The dash electronics can become wonky in sustained very low temps. During a prolonged polar vortex period, I went to start up my car and the whole dash was dead. The car started and drove, but because no part of the display was mechanical, I had no idea what speed I was going, etc. I'm not sure if this is related to whatever you are already looking at fixing, but it could be a hassle in your climate.
posted by credible hulk at 2:13 PM on April 4


I’ve have a Prius in Toronto (some cold, some snow, less of both than Alaska tho) and it’s been good for the past few winters.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:04 PM on April 4


Response by poster: credible hulk, that sounds a lot like what is happening. It blacked out totally, then the car would start but not turn off. They are looking at the dash computer now and hopefully fixing it. Incidentally, this was a cold winter and the Prius froze to the ground at one point, so I wonder if that did it.

Good advice in here, thank you. It's a lot to think about and I appreciate the advice. I am trying to avoid a "need, speed, greed" situation so I will keep watching the thread and not make a decision immediately.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:19 PM on April 4


Correct: the car is free. The only cost is getting it here.

It sounds like the amount of time required and the driving distance are concerns for driving the car yourself. Maybe if you check around, you could find someone local to you who is flying to the lower 48 and would really appreciate being able to drive a car back, maybe to move some personal items from storage or something like that. If I was doing this I would offer to pay for all the automotive related expenses and get them some gas cards, and make sure the car is insured properly. FYI I hear Prius prefer higher octane gas.
posted by yohko at 10:48 PM on April 4


I fixed the dash problem on our 280,000 mile 2005 Prius by replacing a couple capacitors (a few dollars cost). The bad parts are on the speedometer module itself. The repair is easy for someone who works in surface mount electronics, but getting the speedometer out requires disassembling the entire dash, from ceiling to floor, door to door. You can definitely find instructions online.

That was a few years ago now and the problem is gone.

The car is amazingly reliable and you should definitely accept a free one if you need a car. Ours still gets 45+ mpg.
posted by fritley at 1:57 PM on April 5


Oh, we get real winters here and it drives just like any other car on snow and ice. If they plow where you are, it's fine.
posted by fritley at 2:00 PM on April 5


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