The Toyota Prius is the car that introduced the buying public to the concept of the hybrid vehicle. Although the first generation car wasn’t a great seller, with the second Prius, Toyota had a surprise success story. Despite performance that was more solid than exciting, the Prius wins on its ability to do its job surprisingly efficiently and without complaint. With over 161,000 miles on the clock, Transport Evolved’s decade-old second generation Prius has covered almost double the average annual mileage for the UK, giving us an insight into how these vehicles age.
Whilst arguments about the longevity of electric vehicle and hybrid battery packs persist in the mainstream media, these self-same arguments have been largely laid to rest by the experience of the vast majority of electric vehicle and hybrid drivers. Although outliers exist in extremes of temperature, or in extremes of usage, in general battery packs have displayed resilience and capacity far beyond the warrantied specifications suggested by their manufacturers. And although a cottage industry of small businesses has sprung up stripping and rebuilding battery packs, particularly around the Prius and its kin, it’s infrequent enough of a concern that it’s unlikely to become big business.
And that longevity proved the case in our car. Throughout most of the world, Toyota warranties the Prius’s batteries for 100,000 miles. The longest warranty on the second generation Prius’s nickel-metal-hydride pack is provided by Toyota in California; 150,000 miles. As our car cheerfully swung past that marker we noticed no degradation in performance, reliably still achieving 55+ imperial mpg.
What we did see, though, was an increase in oil consumption. Interestingly, in the UK at least, the Prius doesn’t have to pass a full emissions test, just the same visible smoke test as our much less evolved transport, the Morris Minor. Whilst this has driven some petrol heads to distraction at the very unfairness of the entire world, and although their rants are somewhat overblown, our Prius does suggest there may be at least an ounce of truth in their concerns. As we’ve racked up the miles, we’ve become increasingly well known at our local motor factor, nipping in periodically to buy the ‘odd litre’ of oil. Having checked the oil specifications, we found that increasing the viscosity seemed (unsurprisingly) to decrease oil consumption, without much impact on economy. But generally we topped up with whatever oil came up on the ‘recommended’ list.
It is unsurprising though that the stop-start life of the Prius’s dinky 1.4 litre engine might lead to more wear. But again, with over 160,000 miles on the clock, a little oil consumption and a being a bit more noisy is hardly unexpected. Certainly the car didn’t smell like an oil burner, nor was there significant smoking.
This is just anecdotal experience, but our experience with other conventionally fuelled vehicles of similar milage suggests that the engine did wear a little more quickly than perhaps we’d expect. But then, 144,000 of those miles occurred before we got the car, and we can’t speak to how closely they stuck to the recommended 5,000 mile oil change frequency which, on an engine running in stop-start mode a lot, is going to be really significant.
In all other respects though, the second generation Prius continued to perform as it should. Whilst the GPS was outdated, and often displayed us cheerfully driving down streams, or through a blank void, it was rare that it didn’t have the destination we required and couldn’t successfully get us there. With the exception of the 12 volt battery dying, and its oil sipping tendencies, the car required nothing beyond routine maintenance.
But there was just one thing that caused irritation. The display. Vacuum Fluorescent Displays (VFDs) are awesome. One of the TE households (ours) is filled with VFDs – lurking on a variety of aged music players. So the Prius’s VFD should be a source of great joy. But it’s not.
It works just fine. It conveys all the information it’s trying to.
But the Gen 2 and 3 sport a display that is a cacophonous array of different fonts, type sizes, and display icons. Italic here, Roman there. It is, to coin a phrase, butt-ugly. It is a minor niggle, and one that’s improved on the later versions. But it did just feel like someone randomly picked fonts and graphics and stuck them together. And detracted from an otherwise pretty effective dash.
So after 18,000 miles, what can be concluded about the Gen 2 Prius. Prices have fallen further since we purchased ours, and we sold it at near half the price we purchased it at (although, it turns out that Christmas is a great time to buy a second hand car) – meaning that at the moment, for those wanting to dip their toes in the ocean of evolved transport, the Gen 2 Prius is a great buy.
With most of the features of the later cars, but none of the price tag, Toyota’s early Prius’ are still winners that can be considered by those on a lower budget wanting to reduce their impact from fuel use.
How has your experience been of ageing hybrids? Are the batteries giving you grief? Have your maintenance costs soared? Let us know in the comments below.
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