Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Should You buy a Toyota Prius Hybrid? I wouldn't. Maybe you shouldn't either

I have a friend who has been driving a generation 2 Toyota Prius since 2005. From the start, he's raved about the car: the fact that its environmentally responsible, that it's made by Toyota and, thus, has outstanding reliability and good resale, and, not least of all, the fact that it saves money at the pump.

My friend stopping making such comments about two weeks ago when his Prius essentially died. Turns out the battery pack had come to the end of its lifespan...after only 6 years. Here is everything you need to know about what happened to him and why I WILL NEVER consider buying one of these things.

1. My friend was told that the battery pack was warrantied for something like seven or eight years. Only half true. It was seven or eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever came first. Who in god's name only drives less than 100,000 miles in that many years. Only little old ladies who go for weekend spins and to church. Every one else is putting 15-20 thousand miles on each year. The Toyota battery warranty was a blatant ripoff. Well, not too blatant since the salesman who sold him the car seems not to have disclosed that fact.

2. My friend was told that the battery packs would cost about two thousand to replace. He was also told that the cost of the packs in the future was projected to go down as more Prius vehicles were sold. Makes sense. Economy of scale. The more you sell of something, the cheaper it gets. Yeah, except when it comes to companies to Sony and Toyota. After his car limped into the dealership, its "I'm dying" battery warning light on, he was told that the replacement cost for a new battery pack would run about four grand! Wow. Kiss any accumulated savings at the pump away at that point.

3. Resale. The dealership totally ripped him off. They gave him nine thousand for his Prius---minus four grand for the battery pack. He got a grand total of five thousand toward his next car, which he purchased on the lot (which was a scion). I don't think its hard to guess that they slapped a new battery pack into his old car for much less than four g's and then sold his car for about $13,000.

4. Finally, adding insult to injury: my friend's situation was made much worse by the fact that he didn't get much advance warning about the battery pack. Basically, a light came on that translated into "You're going to be sh*t out of luck, you better get to the dealership so they can rip you off on the trade-in".

Not having much advance warning, of course, about the prowess of his fabled toyota hybrid battery system meant that A) he had no time to look for another car and B) it was much more likely that he would purchase another car at the dealership since that's where his had just kicked the bucket.

This is my prediction: this story is going to start getting repeated a lot more over the next two or three years. And then it will become apparent to many would-be Prius buyers that...they're not really saving at the pump by buying one of these things.

Instead, perhaps they go out and buy any one of a number of non-hybrid small cars that now have MPG rivaling the hybrids. They can get one (and there's quite of them made by several manufacturers) at a cheaper price making it a much more satisfying treehugging experience.

Don't get the wrong idea--I'm like trees too; I just don't like getting ripped off under the guise of being green.

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