Need a consensus of experts

I’m the original owner of a 2001 Toyota Prius. I have about 165k miles on it. Its hybrid battery pack is going, and I’m told that a bad catalytic converter is why I’ve had a near-permanent “check engine” light for half its life. I’m still getting about 50mpg with this car, but once it’s dead, I’m screwed. I’m an AmeriCorpsman serving at a nonprofit humanitarian organization in Toledo and my commute is 25 miles. (Relocating is NOT an optimal solution.) I’m quite poor; no assets and my AmeriCorps “modest allowance” is supplemented with food stamps. My dad–who’s retired and not rolling in money, either–is willing to find me a reliable secondhand Honda Civic for no more than $10k, but my estimate is that it would cost me $10 to $15 a week extra in gas. My credit union will write a used car loan against my Prius so I can repair it, and give me up to 3 years to repay it. I can afford the payments ONLY if I only replace the battery pack and continue chugging along with the faulty catalytic converter; otherwise to replace both I again would need my dad’s help. My coworker’s brother, who fixes up cars with major problems, then resells them, told me that my Prius is not worth repairing, because “what if something else goes wrong?” Question #1: Is he right; should I “cut bait” on my Prius? If not, then Question #2: Can I just replace the battery pack, and continue ignoring the catalytic converter? OR, if so, then Question #2: Given that maximal fuel efficiency and reliability are paramount for me, which model year Honda Civic should we go after? And, Question #3: Any other things we should know?

Thank you guys SO MUCH!


p.s. If anyone with the connection could take pity on me and run this question by Tom and Ray, that’d be awesome; I figure their normal turnaround time on an answer would take longer than I’ve got. Snow and ice are on their way, and I’ve got to solve the problem ASAP as the car my dad lent me in the meantime is NOT roadworthy in winter, AND guzzles gas.

How much is that battery? Have you had to replace it before? Are there any sources other than the dealer? Can you make the payment to the credit union on the $10 to $15 a week that you will save by not taking your dad’s offer? If you fix it, how long will the new battery last? How long will the REST of the car last? How much extra is the catalytic converter?

I think at this point you should stick with the Prius. A used car may have problems as well. I always assume when I purchase a used car that it may need $500-#1000 in repairs.

First, be certain that the Prius really needs a battery back. If it truly needs this, is there a possibility of a used pack from an automotive recycler? Does Toyota have an exchange policy for battery packs as far as the cost is concerned?

As far as the catalytic converter is concerned, be certain that the converter is really needed. I so, an independent exhaust shop may be more reasonable than the dealer.

I think its better to stay with the devil you know than to buy a used car as a replacement and get the devil you don’t know.

My coworker’s brother, who fixes up cars with major problems, then resells them, told me that my Prius is not worth repairing, because “what if something else goes wrong?”

Dee; Your situation is too complicated for me to answer, but I have a question re: what I copied above: What if something goes WRONG with the “other used car” (Honda Civic) you are thinking about buying? There are no guarantees that it isn’t going to be worse than your Prius as far as $$$ for repairs, and they could start as soon as you drive it.

p.s. the cat converter problem could be an oxy sensor problem (a whole lot cheaper than a cat. con.)

The first thing you should be aware of in a Honda Civic is that if it is about 8 years old and/or 100,000 miles, it needs a timing belt replacement, IF there isn’t absolute proof that the timing belt has been changed.
Other makes of small cars are available with timing chains which aren’t on a change scheduled.

Caddyman–your assumptions are ignorant, and I would ignore them, but for others who may be reading this thread. Many soldiers who also have no other household income are also quite poor and on food stamps, and it is the height of insulting for fatcats who leave it up to people like us to make this world a better place to tell us to “get a real job and a real life”. I, like them, am serving my country. A price cannot be put on the SEVERAL HUNDREDS of lives I have helped over the last twenty years. This year I happen to be serving an AmeriCorps tour of duty. The previous year I drove long-haul transport. I do what it takes to be able to continue reaching out and saving lives. My parents are proud of me and jump to offer to help me when problems arise because they know I try to solve things myself but they like feeling like they too are helping with the work I do. I’m a 49yo handicapped Autistic woman who paid her own way through college and earned a bachelor’s degree when many people thought I could never do it, and I will continue using my talents to help other people until I drop dead. Those of us who expend our lives helping our fellow humans ARE the ones with “real jobs”, and “real lives”.

lol :slight_smile:

While I sometimes disagree with Caddyman, I think he’s being misinterpreted a bit here.

Quite poor, no assets, minimum allowance, and scraping by on a taxpayer funded, honey covered, feel good, save the world job while holding a Bachelors makes less than zero sense to me.

The Prius has obviously been neglected to oblivion (based on your “near permanent Check Engine Light which has been on half its life”) and your co-worker’s brother is correct; there will be something else.
This means that any other car you buy will suffer the same fate as your current one unless it’s properly maintained and that probably ain’t ever gonna happen; and yet you want a “reliable” car to boot.

Unless your career and lifestyle changes all you will be doing is trading one set of problems for another set.

Question: How do we know the battery pack is going out on the Prius? It seems to me if it’s still getting 50 MPG it’s fine-- I’m not a hybrid expert by any means, but my understanding is that there isn’t any way to predict battery pack failure until you start to lose performance. This isn’t just someone saying “oh, gee that battery pack is almost 9 years old, I’ll bet it’s gonna die any time” is it?

To throw my $.02 into the judging your lifestyle thread going on, I think if you’re driving a Prius and/or considering a $10,000 used car, your definition of poor is very different than mine. The fact is that the raw economics of it, even with your long commute, do not support the extra cost of a hybrid or making an investment in a higher-end used car. So frankly, you just need to ditch the Prius (it doesn’t look like it, but financially speaking it is a luxury car) and buy yourself a very cheap used car, probably a 10-15 year old domestic sedan.

Yes, it doesn’t scream “look at me, I’m saving the world!” like the Prius but your overall cost per mile with the purchase cost and especially with interest factored in is going to be lower with an old Ford Taurus or Buick Century or similar than they are with either the Prius or a newer Civic. Also, part of the reason for your modest Americorps stipend is so you can experience living within modest means, so I think it is entirely appropriate that you drive around in an older unglamorous car for the rest of your stint.

EDIT: Just to emphasize, I have nothing but respect for the work you are doing and fully support your decisions, I’m just saying that they might not be compatible with having a “nice” car.

I think that your mechanic may be mistaken about the battery pack. The car may not have the range it did have because the battery pack may not be adequately recharging.
The catalytic converter problem should be addressed by appropriate troubleshooting. Throwing another catalytic converter at it is NOT appropriate troubleshooting.
I have reservations about the qualifications of your mechanic. I advise that you look elsewhere for one more competent.
I have red-flagged the inappropriate comments about your life and work.

It seems that CAR TALK has lowered its standards as to what’s appropriate. The comments of OK4450, Caddyman, and Greasy Jack are completely inappropriate. Personal attacks are NOT warranted, and should be removed.

25 miles isn’t a particularly long commute. For years I did a commute of twice the length in a vehicle that gets 10 MPG on a good day. If you’re worried about the extra $10-$15 a week in fuel costs, then perhaps car ownership isn’t in your best interest.

The newer Prius’s battery pack is reputed to last for around 200k-250k miles. The 2001 Prius uses a larger, but less advanced battery pack. However I think it should still have useful life left in it. What worries me is that you’ve had a check engine light on for the past few years and have seemingly ignored it or chose not to fix the problem, with that precedent, one has to wonder what else you haven’t done in terms of repairs or maintence.

I would ditch the Prius. $10k will buy a very decent used car. Actually you could still buy a good used car like a Crown Vic, Regal, Focus, Altima, etc. for well under $5k and have money left over for gas. Granted none of these cars will get 50 MPG, but they don’t cost as much as another used Prius does either. And unless gas goes up to $6 or $7 a gallon, you’ll come out ahead.

As for the others mentioning your choice in job/lifestyle. If you are happy with what you do, that’s fantastic. However, you shouldn’t complain about being broke when it’s a result of the choices you made. You take the bad with good.

My brother is in the alternative energy business and he purchased one of the first Prius cars available in the US. He has updated every time a new generation of Prius has been available. He sold each car to friends and/or family and is up to date on how each is holding up. So far all them are holding up very well.

I’d keep your Prius. You maybe able to find a battery pack from a wrecked Prius at lower cost than a new battery pack, same with the cat. Try to get the repairs done at the most reasonable cost and keep driving the car. It has a better chance of holding its value and holding up mechanically than virtually any used car you would buy to replace it.

As for your life style choices; money isn’t everything. If you are happy with your work at the end of the day that’s what matters.

I think you should have a good, independent shop evaluate your Prius. Don’t take the word of a friend, a relative of a friend, etc. An independent shop should be able to diagnose why the check engine light is on and determine if it is or is not a catalytic converter problem. It might cost a little more, but a Toyota service department may give you an evaluation of your vehicle, particularly the battery situation. While you will have to pay a shop or dealer for this evaluation, you will have better information on which to base a decision.

I understand your situation. When I was in graduate school, I had a problem with the manual transmission on my 1965 Rambler which was five years old at the time. I thought about replacing the car but 1) I couldn’t afford the payments on a new or late model car and 2) the older used cars that I could afford seemed like they might have problems as expensive as the Rambler. The service station where I traded recommended a good independent shop that specialized in transmissions. The repair bill seemed like a fortune at the time–new main drive shaft, new main drive gear, new synchronizer gear, etc. However, I squeezed another three and a half years out of the Rambler and probably 40,000 miles.

I’ve found through the years that rather than shop for price on repairs, seek out the technician/shop that has a good reputation for quality work. It is cheaper in the long run.

Your wish has been fulfilled, they deleted my post. I “attacked” no one. I just spoke the truth. You might disagree with my viewpoint, but that puts you in the same fantasy world as the OP…

While I strongly disagree with the “get a real job” attitude of the others, the fact is that the question (other than perhaps the converter and battery issues) is entirely non-technical and the OP’s life situation is entirely relevant. The question was between making expensive repairs on the car she has or spending up to $10k on a used car and I think it’s perfectly legitimate to say that neither of those options are particularly desirable for her life situation.

It would be a wonderful world where people like her who serve humanity didn’t have to worry about these issues, but sadly this is not the world we live in.

I would also say that the image I assumed from the original post was of a more typical Americorps volunteer in their 20’s, straight out of college and only up for a short stint. Since she mentioned that this is her life’s work and not just a transitional phase, I might say it would make more sense to try to invest in a car that will last, but I still think she would be better served by a more modest vehicle than a Prius or a newer Honda.

Get rid of the Prius; it’s the wrong car for you and your job pattern.

The best car for you is a relatively low mileage, well maintained econobox, such as a Mazda Protege with a stick shift and no other accessories. Maintain this well and budget $800 or so per year for repairs and maintenance, and you will drive very cheaply.

For considersbly less than $10,000 you can also buy a Hyundai Elantra (stick shift) or a Hyundai Accent, also with a stickshift. You may not want to properly maintain a car with automatic. As others point out, the total overall ownership cost per miles is what matters, and a Prius is very expensive to own per mile if you drive as little as you do. An older Ford Taurus can also be economical to drive as others point out.

All the cars mentioned are also cheap to insure. Your knowldgeable relatives can help you locate the right car.

P.S. A Prius in taxi service with normal maintenance lasts well over 300,000 miles without any engine work or battery replacement.

I don’t see that Caddyman’s response was that personal and neither is mine. I simply pointed out the OP is up the creek automotive-wise because of their personal life choices and if those choices remain the same their auto problems are simply going to continue on.
It’s my opinion that Caddyman meant essentially the same thing.

Go back a few posts, read the OP’s response to Caddyman, and tell me whose comments are more inappropriate.

This Prius has been beaten into the pavement so the obvious suggestion would be to dump based on the OP’s comments about caring less how the car was maintained;
near-permanent CEL, continue ignoring the converter, etc. Everything has been ignored up to this point so why rock the boat now.

Flag away.

Hmm; still haven’t decided whether to repair or replace car, but I’m getting there. Thank you UncleTurbo, Triedaq, and Docnick. Good idea on the bare-bones manual transmission car. The last car I bought prior to the Prius had been a bare-bones manual Ford Escort. I bought the Prius when I was a 3GL computer programmer-analyst; the first-year tax credit made the initial outlay comparable to the Saturn sedan I was considering at the time. (Then the engineering industry I was in went into the toilet; I was one of the massive-layoffs casualties; and my technical skills and 20-year-old degree were badly outdated.)

So I’ve not always had such a tiny budget to work with, but frugality has ALWAYS been important to me, as money not spent on myself was money I could plow into my missionary work. I also loved non-CDL long-haul transport, but that dried up last year as anyone aware of the doings in Elkhart Indiana knows. My heavy-duty pickup truck was totaled by a drunk driver in March; by then I couldn’t afford to replace it. My skills gained in missionary work were recognized as valuable by Toledo AmeriCorps. And the agency I’m serving with is glad to have me.

And now that I’m off the road, the Toledo Diocese is allowing me to prepare to make my public vows. You see, I’m a consecrated religious; the other professional drivers called me The Flying Nun. With the Diocese’s guidance, during this year I will discern whether I will enter the cloister in Georgetown, the monastery in Cleveland, or the teaching convent at Lourdes College here in Toledo (I enjoy teaching algebra). And I really don’t welcome any further comments about my “lifestyle choice”.

BTW, I HAVE kept up the maintenance on my vehicles. The check engine light that complains about the emissions system (o2 sensor; catalytic converter) is a known problem in 2001 Priuses; many owners erroneously spent $thousands repairing one thing, only to have that light still glow. Other than that, I have kept up with my car. After its last checkup just a month before the hybrid battery warning light, our family mechanic said it was purring just fine. He won’t touch the hybrid electrical system, so it WAS a Toyota mechanic who advised me to replace the battery pack, and then the catalytic converter.

So to recap, I see my choices now as: (1) Pick out a bare-bones manual economy car; (2) Wait until performance starts to go on the Prius, then replace its battery pack and keep chugging with it 'til it cain’t chug no more, THEN replace it a “bare-bones”. Our family mechanic has been away; I’m going to see if he’s back and see what his opinion is.

Thank you. I think this thread has reached its limit of usefulness.

The OP got 165,000 out of this vehicle so far and cares enough to post here for help, so, I don’t see any reason for anyone to criticize her.

The cost of a new converter will be far less than a $10k used car.

The experience of buying a second-hand car will create a very stressful first few weeks, months of driving. It’s a good feeling to “know what you got.”

Borrow the $ you need from dad to make the repairs, keep driving it at 50MPG.

In terms of accounting, an “extraordinary repair” actually increases the life of an asset (your car is an asset), and isnt counted as an expense. So even if you have to replace the battery pack, it should get you another 165k of used car. If the car is getting 50mpg why even worry about it?