To Prius or not to Prius?

Dear Car Talk Guys,

Please help before my husband leaves me! After several years of flip flopping I finally made a decision on a car, a used Toyota Prius. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, my husband happened upon a website loaded with unhappy Prius owners. Their complaints were shocking: Engines shutting off on the highway, tires wearing out after 30,000 miles, 250.00 headlights and just the high cost of repairs in general which can only be performed at a Toyota dealer. Please, guys, say it ain’t so…

Thank you!

The good wife

Those expensive battery packs have a limited life span. Do more research. Find out how much it costs to replace the battery packs.

What year Prius are you looking at?

I Think “Hybrid” Is A Misnomer. When I Think Of Hybrid, I Think Of Something That Comes From The Best Of Two Worlds. Hybrid Cars Are Two Worlds. You Get A Gasoline Powered Car And An Electric Car, Not The Best Of Each.

I prefer the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) type cars, the ones that are either gas or electric. I think you’ll see “hybrids” go the way of the dinosaurs. They are a knee-jerk reaction to fuel economy / “going green”.

I need to complicate any of my cars like I need tap dance lessons, regardless of high mpg or hugging the trees. As Joseph Meehan (a frequent contributor) points out, if you want economy, then look at diesels (or even some pure gasoline cars).

You can thank me later.


The Prius is all about image. Driving a Prius is conspicuous consumption equal to driving an Escalade or Navigator. Each says LOOK AT ME.

The Prius has a good reliability record. You can find unhappy owners of just about any car on the internet. But, the expensive headlight issue is real. Tires wearing out at 30K miles is real, but not unique to Prius. Lots of new cars tires don’t wear as long as the replacements. With a Prius you need to look at the tires a bit closer, they are specially designed for low rolling resistance and therefore there are less choices and the choices are more expensive choices.

Toyota dealers are high priced and they tend to overdo it in recommended services. The owner’s manual might say one thing for the service interval and the dealer recommended service “package” will list a bunch of useless junk for a ridiculously high price. You can have basic maintenance done on a Prius by a good independent shop for much less. When the Prius has problems with the hybrid technology you are often stuck dealing with the Toyota dealer.

My brother has owned a Prius starting with the 1st generation and bought a new one each new generation. All these cars were sold to family and/or friends and he knows the current status of each of them. All are on the road still, all are doing well, no battery pack failures. He is very pleased with the service the Prius’ have given.

Me, I’ll stick to a manual shift conventional Honda Civic. If I lived in CA and in particular San Francisco I’d go with a Prius.

Despite the horror stories hubby found on the internet my guess is most Prius owners are satisfied. The popularity continues to increase and the initial skeptics of hybrid technology have not eaten their words but so far their dire predictions of doom for hybrids hasn’t happened either.

Get your Prius, but you will have to deal with hubby if you need a headlight replaced.

Prius is a very very reliable vehicle. It’s considered one of the MOST reliable vehicles on the road. The repairs on this vehicle are considered LOW.

The batteries can be expensive…but they also last a LONG LONG time.

The question is…will it suite your needs…and is it worth it.

Hybrids are GREAT…but ONLY in certain situations.

  1. Your commute is mainly NON-HIGHWAY.
  2. You drive more then 20k miles/year.
  3. You plan on keeping the vehicle for at least 7 years.

If you don’t meet all three then a Prius is NOT worth it.

I don’t own a Prius and I’m not a particular Prius fan, but I think your LOOK AT ME character dig is completely unfair. I know you aren’t going to change your opinion, but I don’t see it that way at all.

I just love it when people complain about tyres lasting “only 30k miles”…
They seem to be blissfully unaware that a good/new set of tyres is the ONLY thing that keeps them going safely in the direction they want to go…That tyres (like any other thing made of rubber ) age and lose physical charateristics at an increasing rate as time passes…That all tyres are actually a compromise: you get more of a charecteristic at the expense of other(s)-long wear vs. traction, etc, etc, etc…

About those $250 headlights:

The public seems to value image. It would appear that image is at the top of the priority list when buying many products, automobiles especially. I see the 3/4 and one ton dual wheel pickups with all manner of insignia boasting engine displacement that never pull more than a pop-up camper, I see the Navigators driven by soccer moms at the mall. And then there are the Harleys with the mufflers gutted to make certain that the rider and his choice of wheels is noticed. And let me also mention the bicyclists clad in spandex with technicolor turtle shells on their heads. We seem to place a great deal of value on projecting an image. F-450 Ford diesel duallies and Priuses seem to be hyperbole$ in to that end.

And is Prius now a verb…

Before you pay a premium price for a used Prius, at least test-drive a NEW Fusion hybrid…Ford has raised the bar considerably higher than the Prius can reach…

Coming soon is the Hyundai Hybrid which will use a LiPo (Lithium-Polyester) battery which leap-frogs all the other hybrid systems. Depending on the size of the battery they install, this vehicle has the potential to be a plug-in electric with a 40 mile zero emissions range…

To see what is going on backstage, everyone should view the documentary movie “Who Killed The Electric Car”…

Engines shutting off on the highway

I have heard of the problem, but I don't know what progress they are having in correcting it.  However I believe they will get it corrected soon.  

 [i] tires wearing out after 30,000 miles,[/i]  

Yea, they will, but then you can buy tyres of the same size but not the super high mileage design.  That will give you close to the mileage with the high mileage design, but a lot longer life. 

 [i] 250.00 headlights[/i]   

 Sorry to say, it makes little different what car you get, more and more of they are using those expensive lights. Very bad idea IMO.  What exactly was wrong with sealed beam lamps that cost only a few dollars and most anyone with just a screw driver could replace time in five minutes. 

  [i]  high cost of repairs in general which can only be performed at a Toyota dealer.[/i]  

This is not just an Prius problem.  Most all cars have some of the same issues.  I might add that as time goes on more and more third party suppliers will be able to do the work in their own shops.   

Good Luck

Image is very important to me! I teach at a university and I drive to social functions where the administration is present in my 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon. Once in a while, if it is a very important function, with a lot of big shots, I add a quart of non detergent oil to the gas tank in order to leave a trail of blue smoke. It is important to maintain the poor professor image.

Forget image. If a Toyota Prius floats your boat, buy one. I have a good friend who owns a 2005 Taurus and has gone 90,000 miles with no problems. I enjoy riding in the car and have driven it on occasion. People have disliked different cars throughout the history of the automobile that other people really liked. If you read Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, the central character, Willy Loman, had very little good to say for his Studebaker. Yet, I have known many people who loved their Studebakers. Willy also was unhappy sometimes with the Chevrolet he had much earlier. “That #!*# Chevrolet. The government ought to prohibit the manufacture of that car”. Yet, at the time, Chevrolet was one of the most popular cars on the road. I know Willy Loman was fictional, but real people act the same way.

I don’t own a Prius because I need a minivan. However, if a smaller car fit my needs, I would certainly consider a Prius. All cars have their quirks–get what you like. My wife wanted an SUV and she finally chose a Toyota 4Runner. She has had the car almost 8 years and is very happy with it. If you have the money to buy what you want, go for it. I remember a family that built a very modern style house back in the early 1950’s. There were a lot of nasty comments made about the house. The wife finally put a sign in the front yard of her house that said “I don’t like your house either”.

One of the problems with Priuses is the enormously complicated electrical/electronic system. The batteries have a limited life, and the controlling electronics and software are so complex that only a Toyota dealer will be able to troubleshoot the system properly if something does go wrong… and that’s only if they’re having a good day. Plus the Prius is really only a mileage champ if you only do short trips—a highway run will give you mileage only as good as other economy cars.

Why not get something like a Yaris or Fit if you want an economy car? You get most of the benefits of the Prius without the insane complexity, and maintenance will be far cheaper in the long run.

I didn’t buy a Prius recently because the test drive didn’t do it for me. But–I know three Prius owners–all very happy with their cars. Look at the user satisfaction ratings for the Prius on or


Quote: “That all tyres are actually a compromise: you get more of a charecteristic” Unquote

It’s characteristic and for you and Mr. Meehan it’s tires, not tyres, eh?

There, I got that out of my system and you get your free spelling lesson for the day. The context improvement can be saved for another time.

PS, Tires can be good and old and yet keep you going safely in the direction that you want to go. If that was not so, most car owners and driver would ultimately be in a heap of trouble.

Tires deteriorating in performance at an accelerated rate as they get older is a concept that I have not heard of nor have I experienced it. Where does this concept come from? For me, tire treads wear more slowly as the tread depth diminishes and traction stays the same as far as I can detect until the wear bars indicate wearout. Rolling resistance decreases as tread depth decreases.

To the OP: Just buy a new compact car for about $15,000 with a manual transmission and you will undercut the cost of running a Prius by far in initial buy price and the Prius gas mileage advantage will easily cancel out and go upside down when the Prius eventually needs a new battery.

Quote: “I drive to social functions where the administration is present in my 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon.” Unquote

You must have a pretty large Cutlass to get the whole administration inside or else it is a pretty small university. My guess is that you teach English as it is said, those who can’t do it, teach.

If I can complain, then I can do better as follows: I teach at a university and I drive my 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon to social functions where the administration is present.

It’s not polite to critique people’s English but it is also not polite for my property tax dedicated for education to be spent to graduate students who can’t do correct sentence structure.

What exactly was wrong with sealed beam lamps that cost only a few dollars and most anyone with just a screw driver could replace time in five minutes.

Lazy owners and engineers happened.

I’ll bet those same people who love their Prius also have problems with it, but they’re more tolerant of it because it’s “complex” or “it’s a Toyota, they can do no wrong”.

The same way a Honda owner might say “I’ve gone through 3 transmissions in 2 years, but my little Civic has been the best car I’ve owned.” and when you ask them if that’s the best car, what’s their worst car “My Chevy was the worst car I owned. Ran it through mud and snow deeper than the hood. But one day the headlight went out and I knew I had to junk that POS.”