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December 29, 2008

Prius Battery Change is No Big Deal

You probably know that we’ve been selling our Prius hybrid here in the U.S. since 2001. So let’s do the mileage math: At an average of 15,000 miles per year for seven years, that suggests that these 2001 Priuses could have a bit more than 100,000 miles on them. Some of them probably have many fewer miles. But some of them undoubtedly have seen many more miles scroll past their odometers.

Which of course raises a question in which owners of these cars are deeply interested: What happens when the battery packs that are fundamental elements of the Prius package no longer can store electrical power?

Make no mistake, batteries do, in non-technical terms, wear out. What happens is that they no longer can maintain the electrical charge that is essential to their ability to supply electrical power. But having changed countless batteries in flashlights and other devices, you already know that, right?

It is a fact that some of our first-generation Priuses are still going strong with more than 200,000 miles on their original batteries. A couple of cars doing taxi service in Victoria, British Columbia reportedly have seen 300,000 miles and in one case, 400,000 miles on the original batteries with what’s described as "very few maintenance issues."

This is not to suggest, mind you, that anyone else will see these kinds of miles on their Prius batteries. It is only to suggest that fears of premature battery failure probably are unwarranted.

That said, there will come a time when replacement of the car’s batteries will be required. So you should know that first of all, Prius batteries are warranted for 10 years or150,000 miles in California-compliance states and eight years or 100,000 miles in non-California compliant states.

And you also should know that the battery packs are available from any Toyota dealer. The MSRP for a battery pack for a first-generation Prius is $2,299, while the MSRP for the battery pack for the second-generation cars, those from the 2004-2008 model-years, is $2,588. This reflects three price reductions for the first-generation battery since it was introduced and two price reductions for the second-generation battery. Naturally, labor charges, which are set by each dealer, as well as possible charges from ancillary parts that could be required, should be added to that figure. Finally, we assume responsibility for recycling all of our hybrid batteries.

So on one hand, battery replacement in a Prius is neither as simple nor as inexpensive as replacing the battery in a conventional car. But on the other, once the job is done, a replacement battery pack should be capable of delivering many more miles of the clean, efficient transportation owners have come to expect from their Priuses.

- Jon F. Thompson, Editor, Open Road

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This again raises the question on whether or not it is actually a cost savings to purchase a hybrid vehicle versus a conventional vehicle. Given the number of years to recoup the money spent on the hybrid in the first place is about 5 years. So for 3 years I am saving money on gas before my battery needs replacement (total of 8 years of battey life estimated), and then I'm back in the hole again in my now aging hybrid car. I, like many Americans, keep a car until it is too expensive to repair before I get rid of it. $2500 is a major transmission overhaul that I can avoid with routine maintenance (I would sell the car at that point anyway because the resale is likely little more than ~$5-6000). I will always be stuck with a new battery no matter what! Sorry, I'm still not convinced that a hybrid will deliver the same cost-benefit as that of a conventional four cylinder engine (i.e. Matrix or Corolla).

Jon,
Thank you for this timely posting as an historic U.S. vendor is tauting superlative EPA ratings for their 2010 mid-sized segment Hybrid vehicle.
Best I can surmise it will NOT equal or exceed TOYOTA'S existing 'battery pack' longevity.
Questions about this important issue have thus far NOT been answered by vendor or within media.
(As an EE, Physics ALWAYS trumps marketing hyperbole!)
Recall, a vehicle that is created solely for EPA certification qualities typically performs poorly once on global roadways.
Such ill fated wares ALWAYS cost the
consumer in both fiscal and observed sub-par operational performance.
Hopefully, TOYOTA will address ANY product comparisons (slights?) with 'apple v apple' reality checks.

I'm actually quite pleased that the battery replacement is that inexpensive (relatively). Whenever I see someone speculating about the battery packs, the assumption is that it'll be $5-8K for replacement, and labor notwithstanding, I'm glad as a hybrid owner that I can give my car a boost without too much money whenever the batteries do finally run down. Thanks!

If you really want to save money and the planet buy yourself a Yaris like car. Twice as cheap (or even more) as the Prius and the fuel economy is only worse in the city with few than 2 litters on 100km. Prius is a good start but still not "green" and saving recourses.

None of the comments on this weblog that admit that the battery on the Prius "will wear out" offer HOW it will "wear out." The process of "wearing out" may include a slow, but measurable reduction in voltage output over time even though the battery shows a full charge on the car's display. Should this reduction in battery output occur, the gas engine will have to assume a greater role in propelling the car in lieu of full electrical AC motor support. Thus, the car will show a decline in MPG over the life of the battery pak. Indeed, while our 2005 Prius was averaging 53mpg overall through the first 75,000 miles or so, it is now averaging only 46mpg at 137,000 miles and 3 years of age. (Note: the warranty period is 8 years/80,000 miles.) Is the battery pak producing its rated voltage? The dealer won't say, adding, "we don't have the diagnostic capability to know what the battery is producing. We rely on the car's own bells and whistles to tell us if something is wrong." I opine that there IS something wrong given a 13% reduction in economy without any apparent or measurable cause. (The dealer found nothing "wrong" with the car.) This also raises the issue of how the warranty on the battery is defined: "fails to hold a charge" is a draconian definition compared to, "fails to maintain a 500 volt output under normal operating conditions." Toyota's current position requires a total battery failure before they will provide warranty replacement within the warranty period. Given the predominate role of the battery in fuel economy, there may be cause for Toyota to revisit how the battery is warranted and how corporate PR and marketing spins their definition of "battery life." If battery output is the culprit in our loss of gasoline economy, Toyota (and other manufacturers of hybrid vehicles) should include that information in the car's specifications and provide the appropriate disclaimers in their advertising and owner's operating manuals.

My Prius purchased in August 2000, has traveled around the U.S. and Canada (145,000 miles) with no battery problems whatsoever. The car continues to average 52+ MPG. That said after driving the same car for eight years I'm considering a newer 2009 or 2010 Prius with even greater performance, or waiting until Toyota and GM's plug-in hybrids arrive in 2010.

My 2001 Prius has a little over 190,000 miles and the main battery has failed. First all of the warning lights on the dash came on. (Red triangle with exclamation mark. Rectangle containing "PS". Check engine light. I continuted to drive the car because I was in a rural area at night. Occasionally the engine would rev up and the drive train would disconnect. The car would move at the speed of the engine at about 15 mph and would not respond to the accelerator. I stopped the car, turned it off for a few seconds and restarted. The warning lights came on but the car ran normally for 30 to 45 minutes and the symptoms just described repeated. I kept doing the restart until I was able to get the car home. It is now in the shop waiting for me to decide if I want to spend approximately $3,000 to revive it.

A couple of points, if you are going to replace the battery in such an old car, why not buy a used battery at a junkyard?, one pulled from a crashed Prius.

There are several listings in Ebay.. dont get electrocuted changing the battery!

I am delighted to report that my 2001 Prius is approaching 300,000 miles on its original battery, with no problems (OK, so maybe my average mpg is "only" 42-45 now instead of the 48-50 I used to average; I can live with that).

We have been a two-Prius family for a few years now and we will soon add a third when I hand this one down to our teen son and upgrade myself to the 2009. Or maybe I'll keep racking up the miles on this one and wait for that plug-in model (2010?)...

I purchased a 2001 Toyota Prius new at the end of March 2001. I have enjoyed the car continously and have had no trouble other than the initial front tire wear issues. Two weeks ago, with the mileage at 136,000, I began having high voltage battery problems exactly as another poster, Bob Edwards, described. Though I would like to, I cannot afford to fix the car right now, so it is parked and I am sharing my wife's 2005 Matrix. This does not feel like "No Big Deal" to me.

I have a 2001 prius with just under 130,000 miles on it. I am in Ontario and have just had a week of extreme cold. My battery began to act up this week. My battery symbol is now going from showing full charge to 1/4 full charge in a matter of minutes. It still shuts off for a moment at a stop light but then the enging kicks in seconds later. I have a feeling my main battery is about to totally die. My problem is I don't have a lot of faith in my local dealer. I may opt to head south of the border to have it checked out and maybe the battery will be a little cheaper. I have a feeling he 2299.00 price tag quoted will be substantially more in Canada than the exchange rate in Canadian dollars would cause. Any comments on the battery strength light I am seeing? My car is showing only about 39mpg in summer it would get 46mpg. At first I thought it was cold/winter affect.

I posted an earlier comment with details about the way the main battery failed in my 2001 Prius at 190,000 + miles. I decided that the car was worth a battery replacement. Used batteries from a salvage yard are priced at $750+ and up. They will not ship a battery because it is classified as "hazardous material". The won't provide any inforamation about the miles on the battery or give any warranty. Because of these factors I ruled out a used battery. The price for a new battery from a Toyota dealer is $2,265. A dealer charges $400 to install the battery and insists on replacing the main cables for another $300. Toyota has a recycling program that pays $120 for used batteries. The local dealer knew nothing about the program so I called Toyota Customer Service. The person that I talked to did not know anything about the program but promised to find out. She learned about the program and notified the local dealer. The dealer required payment for the battery before he would order it and provides a one year warranty. The battery requires special shipping because of its "hazardous material" classification. The dealer's order was put on "back order" status because none were available and I have been waiting for more than two weeks. Yesterday the dealer called my mechanic and said that a battery had been built and would be shipped in two or three days. My mechanic plans to do the installation. I will post again when I have more news.

I have been driving a 2001 Prius since March 2001. The weather has a significant impact on fuel economy. Ideal temperature is about 75 degrees F. when it is not cold enough to require the heater and not hot enough to require AC. My car will get mpg in the low 50s. In hotter temperatures the AC will cause a drop in mpg. The 2004 and later models may not show this because they have an electric AC compressor. The gas tank contains a bladder that prevents gasoline vapors from escaping. In cold weather the bladder gets stiff and the tank does not hold as much fuel as in warm weather. In cold weather the ICE must run more often to keep the catalytic converter and other engine components warm. If your driving consists of short trips then the effects of cold weather are greater. These factors affect the mpg of convential cars also. I have had my mpg drop below 40 during our extreme low temperatures here that have been between 0 and 15 degrees F for the last week. I think that it is safe to say that regardless of the circumstances the Prius will give better mpg than all but a few convential cars.

This is a follow up on my previous posts about my 2001 Prius battery replacement at 190,000+ miles. The car was out of service for nearly a month. Apparently there is no stock of batteries for 2001 - 2003 Priuses so we had to wait for one to be manufactured. The battery finally arrived and my mechanic installed it. He was generous and charged only the dealer price for the battery. My final bill was $2315.

I picked up the car at noon and drove about five miles back to work. After work I drove a mile to Wal Mart. When I returned to the car and tried to start it, the engine shuddered as if it was getting succesive signals to start/stop/start/stop... and the big warning display came on the screen. I turned it off and waited a few seconds and tried again. Same thing. On the fourth try the engine started normally and I drove about five miles home. The big warning display stayed on the screen. We were having really bad weather. The next day I called my mechanic and relayed the event. I told him that I was not going to drive it and when the weather improved I would bring it in and he could read the scan codes. The next day I had to move the car to get the 1986 Camry out of the driveway. The big warning display did not come on but the check engine light did. When I started the Prius to move it back in the drive way no warning lights came on. I have driven the car over four hundred miles now and it works great with no warning displays. I am pleased that the car performs same as it did when I first bought it.

I had to make another call to Toyota HQ to get the dealer informed about the battery recycle program. The parts manager informed me that there was not a CORE value for batteries but they would handle the $120 reimbursement as a warranty charge and Toyota would reimburse the dealer. The dealer has picked up the old battery and now I am waiting to see what happens next.

I will see my mechanic tomorrow for a headlight replacement due to an encounter with a deer. He will check the computer codes, but I don't think that he will find anything because I have driven too many miles.

I will post again when I have new information.

Am I the only Prius owner who has gone through a battery replacement? I would like to hear from others who have had the experience.

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