Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Green Machine

I'm sure everyone's heard of the Prius, but many people don't have more than vague impressions of "great miles per gallon" and "kind of pricey". However, if you compare a Prius to other nice family sedans, there's really not too much of a premium, especially if you are like me and plan to drive a car for at least 10 years. If we still have gas in 10 years, that is.

When my little '93 Geo Prizm started exhibiting problems recently, I decided I wanted to quit putting money into her and invest in another vehicle. It was a hard decision for me, mainly because I don't like spending money, and I'm uncertain how long our gas-fueled system is going to last. After I had put $1100 into a car that was only worth $1500 in the last three months, I decided enough is enough.

My research showed me that the Prius has the highest owner satisfaction of any car (94%), has the best mileage of any recently tested family sedan, and has some of the lowest greenhouse gas and pollution emissions of any car on the market. Plus, it looks cool! I found a 2007 light sage colored model with 34,000 miles on and decided to watch to see if prices changed.

I continued my research and found that although Consumer Reports rates the Prius as getting 42 - 44 mpg, and the official EPA figures are 45 - 48 mpg, Prius owners report that they can get 55 - 60 mpg with careful driving and maintenance. One issue with official mileage figures, apparently, is that the Prius needs "breaking in" and starts getting better mileage around 10 - 20K miles.

I investigated the Prius battery. While it does cost $2200 to replace, it is warranteed for 100,000 miles or 8 years, and Toyota actually expects it to last for the life of the car. In fact, Consumer Reports rates the Prius as one of the most reliable cars on the market, as well as tops in Total Cost of Ownership, aka Bang for the Buck, out of 300 rated.

After reading this review from Build It Solar (a resource that I like), I was pretty much convinced. They report that in their program to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in half, the Prius has been by far their best project. So, husband and I went down to Hudiberg Toyota to test drive the sage green Prius. We weren't really prepared to buy. However, they made us a really nice offer and a generous trade in allowance on my aesthetically-challenged Geo Prizm (sight unseen). Can anyone say "What do I have to do to get you to drive home in this Prius today?"

The Green Machine

Autodealers are hurting. They are willing to make a pretty sweet deal right now - although they may be making even better deals in a month or two. The price we paid for our Prius was about $3,000 less than the "going rate" we found online, and we also got about $1,000 more in trade-in value than my old car was probably worth. Frankly, we didn't even try to negotiate - the deal just seemed good enough already. So, we bought the Prius! It's the first car hubby and I have bought in the 12 years we've been together.

Cons - the view out of the back is not great - it's a hatchback and is more difficult to see. We did not get the rearview camera, because it was not on the model we were looking at, but that would have been a good idea.

Pros - The Prius has a monitor that shows you the mpg you are getting currently, your trip average, and what you've gotten in the last 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes. This gives you immediate feedback so you can adjust your driving.

The hatchback is so roomy - it's a great fit for a stroller.

The interior is also very roomy and has good headroom (not that I need it, I'm 5'2").

We drove 280 miles before our first fill-up of 5.4 gallons (tank was about half empty). I was amazed! This is about 51 - 52 mpg.

The Prius is going to go a long way towards reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and fuel usage. My husband's car, which I inherited but which I will only drive 35 miles per week, gets about 27 mpg. The Prius gets almost double that - without trying too hard! I know that in very cold weather it might not do as well (at least that's what I've read on the online forums), however in OKC we don't have cold weather all that often. I'm pumped up that this is going to help my Riot 4 Austerity numbers (R4A is a challenge to reduce environmental impact by 90%).

I'm not advocating that anyone buy a car right now. Who knows what will happen in the next year to the economy or to the oil situation? However, if you have already made up your mind that you need a car, take another look at the Prius. It may be a lot more affordable than you think - especially if gas ever goes to $5 a gallon.


Lisa Sharp said...

I'm very jealous!! I don't drive so the cons not a problem for me haha just my husband.

SusanB said...

My boss just bought a Prius due to the death of his extremely high mileage car, and got a really great deal and extremely generous trade in after he played one Toyota dealer against the other. He got the rearview camera, but finds the hatchback view highly irratating to the point of ongoing discussions with Toyota corporate.
We drive, when we drive, a hybrid Saturn Vue because we need that kind of hauling capacity. It also has a great hybrid system warranty -- when the system started acting up (well, failing) we ended up getting an entire new system put in (partly because the dealer didn't call corporate to find out what to do so they kept replacing one part after another).
I think you will be happy.

Parma Powerdown said...

It's gorgeous! I'm jealous.

And one note since you haven't bought cars in a while... Toyota's extended warranty is great. We didn't get it because we thought it would be a sham (like those programs often are) BUT the warranty we did have they honored so well and professionally that we now kick ourselves whenever we hear the word 'warranty' (thankfully that is not often). Toyota actually stands behind their product and takes care of their obligations. Amazing.


Shamba said...

I'm going to take note of your comments on the car and how it looks, too. It's pretty nice looking car and someday my 11 year old chevy Malibu will give out, but for my driving these days it's just fine.


dixiebelle said...

Ooh, congratulations! Looks good, and is good for you!

Theresa said...

Very nice looking green machine! I didn't realize the battery replacement cost was, well, that low. I had heard in was in the vicinity of the $10K mark, although this was shortly after the Prius first came out many years ago, and also in Canadian dollars.

I'm glad you were able to find something that is good for you and not too bad for the environment.

Anonymous said...


Doesn't it seem odd that so much thought would go into building a car and they didn't get that you have to be able to see out the rear window? Sometimes you have to wonder...

Lewru said...

Yay! So happy for you! I'll miss Old Blue, though. She was the stalwart. I'm sure you're having fun (and eco-conscience soothing) in your new wheels!

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Lewru - Well, hubby drives the Prius most of the time. But I do enjoy knowing we'll be having a much lower impact on the environment.

Ah, Old Blue. I hope she gets a new owner who will appreciate her great mpg (30 - impressive for a 1993 model!)

Kiashu said...

Actually, around half the impact of a car comes from its manufacture, and half from its fuel burning.

Hybrids are a bit more complex to manufacture, so while they have less emissions during use, they have more in construction, and it balances out.

Where a hybrid is useful and will cause less overall impact than a conventional car is for people with unavoidably large amounts of driving, like taxi drivers.

For someone doing 35 miles a week, a conventional car is actually less impact overall. Of course, a bicycle or your feet would be even less ;)

I always suggest this exercise: for one week, pretend that your car or cars don't work. How will you cope? What will you do to get from A to B instead? If you coped with that week, then you should get rid of your car because you don't need it - you can cope without it. If you didn't cope, then okay, keep it.

Most of us can at least drive less. Instead of spending (say) $5,000 extra for 20% better fuel efficiency, we could just drive 20% less, and save $1,000 or so each year.

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Kiashu -

Thanks for your comments. Since we bought a used car, not new, there was no new energy or materials expended for us to get the car.

I have heard differently - it's not 50/50 manufacture/driving, it's more like 30/70.

We have already cut down on our driving by a large margin, somewhere in the range of 60% less than the average Americans. I work from home, so that helps a lot. OKlahoma City is extremely spread out and we have minimal public transport here. This Prius will reduce our impact on what we DO have to drive.

Reminiscences said...

Investigate some plug-in kits, if you've some spare change around...?

A little googlage (plug in prius kit) reveals kits for 5, 10 up to 30k.


Anonymous said...

Anyone driving a hybrid should be aware that they are missing a crucial safety feature, one which prevents uncountable injuries and potential deaths every day -- engine noise. Please recognize that if you are driving a hybrid, most of the time pedestrians, bicyclists, and anyone in the vicinity CANNOT HEAR YOU and thus lack their accustomed early warning cues to oncoming traffic. I really think these cars should come with a warning about this. I have seen many, many near misses, where a pedestrian thought he had plenty of time to cross but WHIZZ around the corner, with no advance warning, comes a silent Prius. Please be careful.