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Recommended maintenance on a car that isn't driven much

How much does a hybrid car need to be driven in order to keep its battery from dying? Any other maintenance recommendations for a car that doesn’t get much use? (I see by the “related topics” that similar questions have been asked before, and I’m taking those threads into account, but none of them are about hybrid cars, so I’m specifically wondering if the answers change in that case.)

More detail: My husband and I carpool to work. Since we just bought a new Nissan Leaf that we intend to use as the daily commuter/drive-around-town car, our 2011 Prius has now been demoted to backup car, a position formerly occupied by my dearly departed 1999 Honda CR-V (which was driven maybe once every week or two, whenever my husband and I needed to be in different places at the same time). Since we do need to keep the Prius, both as a backup and for longer road trips, I want to make sure we keep it in reasonably good condition. There’s no reason we can’t drive it instead of the Leaf sometimes, so I’m wondering how often we should do that.

Related: how often should we change the Prius’s oil? We were doing the CR-V’s every 6 months, because it took longer than that to put 3000 miles on it, and we know that oil breaks down with age. I guess we can do the same with the Prius now that it won’t be driven as much? (We had been doing the Prius every 5000 miles, but as that was the daily-use car it would get there in a normal period of time.)

All this information is available in your owners manual or you can download a free copy of the full maintenance schedule for your Prius at the Toyota website.

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Check the manual, as others have said. What you want, I think, is items not listed there.

Such as gas stabilizer. If you use it so infrequently that a tank of gas lasts more than xx months, you should add gas stabilizer to the tank. xx varies depending on who you talk to. My guess is 2-6 months.

If it has a separate 12 volt battery for starting the engine, you may want to put that on a trickle charger. Only if you go a month without use. Although some hybrids will keep it charged from the main battery.

If you use synthetic oil, you could stretch the oil change interval to 12 months. But there will be a lot of discussion on this point. Bottom line, if you never use the car at all, the oil will last years. Where does that cross over to the 6 month rule.

My understanding was that nonsynthetic oil breaks down with age, so it needs to be changed every now and then regardless of mileage. The sticker they put on the car when they change it always has a date 3 months from the change date and a mileage that’s 3000 miles from the current odometer reading, although up to now, since the Prius’s manual says it can go 5000 miles, we have just waited till the dash display tells us it’s time to do it.

But yes, I was also thinking of other things not in the manual, like lubricated parts, seals, etc. I don’t know much about cars, but I do know that machines are meant to be used, and letting them sit for long periods doesn’t tend to be good for them. The Prius, as the backup car, will likely get more use than our old CR-V did, at least, since we never took it on long trips, but it’s still likely to get much less daily use than the Leaf.

Anyway, I was thinking we could make it a point to drive the Prius to work once a week, just to keep everything in good working order. We’ll usually drive maybe 30 miles on a typical work day.

Thanks for your response.

As a non-motorhead there’s only 1 thing I’m most expert at in this forum: not-driving my car. I’ve gone 2 years between buying gas; my tires are 13 years old; the oil is 10 years old. I keep the battery disconnected; that doesn’t matter to my '87 pickup; it may to a hybrid. The compression of the engine and gas mileage are as good as new; the emissions are the same as new. Everybody else here probably thinks the best I can hope for is the engine to fail before the tires blow…

If you are using the recommended 0W20 synthetic motor oil in your Prius the oil change schedule is 1 year/10,000 miles, there is no need to change the oil more frequently with less use.

To maintain the high voltage battery charge Toyota recommends that you drive the vehicle for at least 30 minutes every several months;

"Charging the battery

●As the gasoline engine or regenerative brake charges the hybrid battery
(traction battery), the battery does not need to be charged from an
outside source.
However, if the vehicle is left parked for a long time the hybrid battery will slowly discharge. For this reason, be sure to drive the

vehicle at least once every several months for at least 30 minutes or 10
miles (16 km).
If the hybrid battery becomes fully discharged and you are

unable to jump-start the vehicle with the 12 volt battery, contact your
Toyota dealer."

I keep a 2007 Highlander that gets very little use. I try not to keep the tank full until I plan to drive it a decent distance. That helps eliminate the fuel aging issue. In that Toyota, the now 7-year old battery will last a week in cold conditions with no issues. The hybrid battery does not need to be “charged” for a Prius to operate, meaning it will run if the battery isn’t helping much. I change the oil a couple times per year since it is so cheap to do, since I use winter tires, and I need to take it to get a sticker once a year anyway.

Here’s a little departure from our normal Q&A. I just tested the 2018 Leaf. I recorded my “Range displayed” miles and my actual distance miles and found that in every situation the range went away dramatically faster than the mileage I covered. Have you found the same to be true, or do your range miles displayed by the Leaf actually correlate to miles covered? There are only a handful of 2018 Leaf reviews published so far, and none have reported their efficiency and range findings. Other than one.

The Prius doesn’t have a 12 volt starter motor, the engine relies on the high voltage battery and the motor/generator to start the engine.

Good point!

@GorehamJ - Since we’ve only had the Leaf for two days, it’s hard to tell! But most of the driving we plan to do with it will be commuting or around town, so I don’t expect to run up against the range limit anytime soon. In the two days we’ve had it, we’ve done our normal driving (maybe 25-30 miles or so per day), and that used around 30% of the battery each day. The 110V outlet on the side of our house was sufficient to top it off overnight.

Cars don’t do well if seldom driven. There’s a host of problems that will crop up, problems you definitely don’t want. Suggest to drive your seldom used vehicle 2-3 times a week at least 10 miles each time to reduce the chances of the worst of the non-use effects. A once a week 5 mile drive is much better than nothing.

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If we take the Prius to work once a week, that’s around 12-13 miles each way (mostly local streets but a little bit of highway), so hopefully that should be sufficient?

That will be much better than not driving it for months. But you may still have some problems occurring, like stale gasoline fouling the injectors, flat spots on the tires, battery not cranking the vehicle in cold weather, etc. I havea seldom driven truck but I still try to drive it 2-3 times a week for a 5 mile round trip. I discovered the hard way that pays off big dividends in forestalling expensive to fix problems.

That was basically what I was trying to figure out with this post – while I do understand the rationale behind the “RTFM”-type replies, they were not really helpful, so thanks for your responses. The user manual does talk about the minimum amount of driving you need to do to keep the battery working, but I am not just interested in that; what I wanted to know was more “What’s the minimum amount we should drive the Prius to keep it in good working order?” – not just the bare minimum required for the battery. We didn’t care a huge amount about the condition of our old CR-V, because we only ever used that as a backup car when we needed to be in different places at the same time, and not for longer trips. But now that our “main” car is an all-electric, it’s absolutely essential that we have a gas vehicle with a good range for longer trips. So if we have to split the driving more evenly between the two in order to keep both running well, we can do that.

You don’t need to drive the car more than once or twice a month, driving it more will not improve the condition. Make an effort to consume at least one tank of fuel each year.

While performing airbag recalls I see many low mileage convertibles, cars 10 to 17 years old with less than 20,000 miles that are in perfect condition. Two weeks ago I worked on a 2006 Lexus with 5,000 miles on it that was in excellent condition. Your car is not going to fall apart like George’s 1973 Ford if you choose not to drive it daily.


I think that’s more than sufficient. I think @Nevada_545 is closer to the mark in this case

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I would suspect that driving a hybrid every other week for more than 10 miles is sufficient not to need extraordinary maintenance.

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I understand that you wish to do more than the minimum to keep your Prius in good shape, but I doubt that this experiment has been conducted. That is, I’m confident than nobody has gathered the data from a large group of owners who use their Priuses occasionally, but treat them differently, and they run out the statistics. In other words, I think you’re probably the guinea pigs here. :smile:

I have a 2005 Prius (owned since new). It gets used at least twice a week, and then almost always greater than twenty miles. I grew up in the 40s and 50s with a mechanic for a father and have always been a “car guy.” If I were in your situation, I would do as you have suggested — drive it to work once a week instead of the Leaf. I would also probably find a reason to take it on the highway about once a month. But as I’ve said, I’m reasonably sure that nobody has the data to back up yours and my suggested usage.

@Nevada_545, the Prius does have a 12V starter motor. Although it’s not used to start the ICE, it’s required to boot up the many computers that control the entire operation of the vehicle, thus starting it. I know because mine ran down once, and I had to jump-start the car. I had left the rear hatch open overnight, and the light ran the 12V battery too low. BTW, the instructions in the manual for doing this are very clear and work very nicely.

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Yes, exactly. Without it, we are effectively chained to our local area. (Yes, I know that people have taken EVs on longer road trips. We’d prefer not to have to do all the extra planning that would involve, or take the risk of having the battery run out with no charge station anywhere nearby. Gas stations are still way more ubiquitous.)

Seems like there’s no real consensus on what the optimal amount of driving is to keep the car in good running condition, so I guess we’ll go with our original idea of driving it to work once a week, plus any longer trips we might take, and changing the oil every 6 months or 5000 miles, whichever comes first. The trip to work (including dropping my husband off at his office on the way to mine) is about 15 miles, about 5 of which are on a highway, so that would be 30 miles a week at minimum.

In every season but winter it’s likely that we’ll be using the Prius a bit more often – as we did with our CR-V, our plan is to leave our bikes in there so when we want to take a ride after work, we can use that car instead. And of course, we’d use both for those times when my husband and I need to drive separately for whatever reason.

Thanks to everyone for their input, and if there ARE any other Prius owners out there who don’t drive their cars a huge amount, I’d love to hear from you.