Beautifuel, Two Years Later

By Gene Turnbow, September 8, 2010

My Eagle Talon had decided to commit suicide days before I left on a business trip to India during the month of March of 2008. Blow-by pressurized the cooling system in the car, which manifested by explosively disconnecting the top hose on my radiator. This eventually resulted in the engine seizing up.

So I bought myself a Prius!  It was a 2001 model, not the new one,  but it was a hybrid and I expected to save so much money on the gasoline that it would come pretty close to paying for itself in the savings on fuel every month. I drive quite a ways to work, about 85 miles a day as a round trip, so it adds up pretty fast.

I got rid of the dead car on eBay, and then started driving the new car.

Here’s what I found out about the Prius:

There’s a common and well founded assumption that the mileage advertised by the manufacturer for any given car is pretty much baloney.  Imagine my surprise when I found that the 2001 Prius was supposed to get 50 miles to the gallon, and if you drive the way one drives a hybrid instead of a conventionally powered car, and you have the right tires, and keep them at the right pressure, you can get 50 miles to the gallon on a routine basis!  I was in shock, really.  I’d never had a car that lived up to the hype.  This one does.

Now the down side – repairs are expensive.  You really need to have the dealership do the repairs.  The car is mainly a computer that happens to be street legal.  After two years, I had a problem with the auxiliary battery (not the main one), an air flow meter, and some other engine sensor.  Taken all together, these repairs cost me close to three thousand dollars.  I was past my 100,000 mile mark on the car, too, so no warrantee help for me for most of it.

At length, I needed new tires too.  The special low rolling resistance tires you need to get that 50 miles per gallon turn out to be special order items at most tire shops, and I couldn’t wait around for them.  I needed new tires now, so I took tires that gave me about six miles per gallon less fuel efficiency – but I did the math first.  The special LRR tiles would have cost me so much more than the tires I ended up with that it wouldn’t equal the cost of the gasoline I’d save.

Goodbye, fifty miles per gallon.

Even so, the car still gets about 46 mpg on average, and I drive a lot, so it’s still a pretty substantial benefit.

Then there’s the little things, like loose trim pieces, and a front driver’s side window that’s making groaning noises where it was nearly silent before.  Eventually, I’m thinking to myself, all these little subsystems are going to start breaking, and when a car is this full of electrical and electronic systems, it’s better to sell the thing before that starts happening if you can.  So far I seem to be okay, but if things start really falling off of it, I’ll have to move on to the next car.

The big question about these cars was what happens to the main battery after the warranty runs out, and so far, the answer is nothing.  And if something did, the main battery is made up of a bunch of little cells, not one big monolithic piece. If one goes bad in theory you could replace the bad one.  I haven’t been hit with this so far, and the battery is showing no signs of age after ten years of use.  Frankly, I’m more concerned that the seat cushions will wear out.

— Gene Turnbow

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