10,000 Miles in the Jelly-Bean Car

Note: some updates at the bottom of the page -- Sep 2010: We just ticked over 100K miles -- savings are surprising even to me...


October, 2010 -- Final update on the Jelly-Bean Car ...   

May 2014 -- One Last Update -- mpg on road trip...


Earlier in 2005 we bought a 2005 Toyota Prius hybrid.  There is certainly lots of information on the Prius on the web, but I thought I would just pass on our reactions after the first 10,000 miles. 


The Jelly-Bean Car:

We were listening to Car Talk one morning, and Tom and Ray were trying to tell a caller that a Prius would probably be a good choice for him.  His response was something like "yea, but it looks like a jelly-bean".  Ever since we have called the Prius the Jelly-Bean car -- what a nice association!



Pro and Cons:

In summary,  we Love It.  We are not alone in this.  In the latest owner survey of new cars by Consumer Reports, the Prius got the best overall buyer satisfaction rating of any car (90%).  






To be honest, I really had trouble coming up with the cons -- there is just not much to dislike about the car.




We have had no mechanical or other problems with the car so far.  The only maintenance has been the 5000 mile oil changes.   

One of the concerns about buying the car was its mechanical complexity, but the long warrantee on the hybrid parts got us over that.

There has also been a lot of talk about the expense of replacing the battery pack, and how long the battery pack will last.  I have seen thinks on the internet as  nutty as "it has to be replaced every 2 years and it costs $12000".  As far as I can determine, Toyota designs the battery pack to last the life of the car.  The 150,000 mile warrantee they provide in some states would tend to confirm this.   While I have not asked the dealer what the replacement cost would be, the most authoritative estimate I have read says its $3000.  I expect this will go down some over time as the battery pack product gets more efficient with higher volume production.  A statement on the battery from the Toyota site:


How long does the Prius battery last and what is the replacement cost?

The Prius battery (and the battery-power management system) has been designed to maximize battery life. In part this is done by keeping the battery at an optimum charge level - never fully draining it and never fully recharging it. As a result, the Prius battery leads a pretty easy life. We have lab data showing the equivalent of 180,000 miles with no deterioration and expect it to last the life of the vehicle. We also expect battery technology to continue to improve: the second-generation model battery is 15% smaller, 25% lighter, and has 35% more specific power than the first. This is true of price as well. Between the 2003 and 2004 models, service battery costs came down 36% and we expect them to continue to drop so that by the time replacements may be needed it won't be a much of an issue. Since the car went on sale in 2000, Toyota has not replaced a single battery for wear and tear.

More from this site on other Prius issues: http://pressroom.toyota.com/photo_library/display_release.html?id=20040623

October, 2008: Latest on battery life and replacement cost from Consumers Union...



I have kept track of every drop of gasoline that has gone into the car, and the overall total gas mileage

is right at 50mpg.  This includes city driving, highway driving, and quite a bit of mountain driving.  The best mileage on a tank of gas was 56mpg, and the worst was 47mpg.  If you think this mileage sounds to high to be true, take a look here: http://www.hybridcars.com/2005-mileage-study.html


At $2.80 per gallon, this represents a saving of 276 gallons or $770 over the US average gas mileage of 21mpg (coincidentally, it is the same same saving over the Honda Pilot that we would be driving if we weren't using the Prius).    At this rate, I expect to recoup the $1000 to $2000 extra that the Prius cost over an equivalent Camry in not much more than a year.   I think that's amazing.  This may turn out to be the best investment I have ever made.








Winter update -- 1/4/2006:

Our gas mileage has dropped off to an average of 47 MPG on the last 3 tanks, which have been winter driving.  I think this may be due to changing over to winter snow tires on all four wheels.  It may also have something to do with the colder temperatures (although I don't understand why).   This is not a big deal, but I just thought I would pass it along.


The Prius drives fine on the snow.  The only time we revert to the Pilot is in the period following heavy snows, where the greater ground clearance and AWD of the Pilot can helpful.


Another Update -- 7/23/2007:

We are just over 40,000 miles now.  No problems -- still very happy with our Prius, and we still use if for 90% of our driving.


By my numbers, it has already paid off the extra we paid for the hybrid features in saved gasoline.   How I come to this conclusion is explained here.  By estimate, we have reduced our energy consumption by about 48,000 KWH (1300 gallons of gasoline), cut our greenhouse gas emissions by about 12 tons of CO2, and saved us nearly $4000 in gasoline bills.   This all compared to driving the Prius instead of our Honda Pilot. 


In our program to cut our total energy use and green house gas emissions in half, the Prius has been BY FAR the most effective single project -- its amazing.


We have been having very hot weather here in Bozeman (100F+), and we do find that the gas mileage drops down to about 48 mpg under these conditions (lots of AC on time).  We recently did a road trip to Seattle and got a grand average of 54 mpg with the cruise control set at 69 mph.


Another Update -- May 31, 2008:

We have 55,086 miles on the Prius.  

No problems of -- still very happy with our Prius, and we still use if for 90% of our driving.


The only repair since the last update was replacing a burned out tail light and routine oil changes.


Looking down the mileage notebook since 40,000 miles,

Worst tank of gas:  42.5 mpg driving through some really awful weather

Best tank of gas: 60.1 mpg in mixed use (next best was 55.3 on road trip to Spokane)

Overall average since last update: 49.68 mpg

In contrast to the sometimes heard statement that hybrids don't do well on the highway, we get our best gas mileage on the highway.  I usually cruise at 70 mph (speed limit here in MT is 75 mph).


With gas nearing $4 per gallon, a fillup after driving 400 miles has gone up to about $30, but that's a whole lot better than the $80 I put into our "small" SUV the other day to drive less than 400 miles (we drive SUV very little now -- but its still needed occasionally to haul lots of people or for bad bad snow).


We have decided to get a Yakima or Thule style roof rack for carrying odd size stuff and trips to the lumber yard.


Here is an interesting article on how hybrid battery replacements have gone in North America...  Bottom line is that the replacement rate is negligible -- well under a tenth of 1%.


Another interesting article about hypermiling in a Prius...


June 17, 2008  Payoff Period for a Hybrid

Its always seemed to me that some places in estimating how long it takes to payback the extra up front cost for a Prius in saved gasoline really stacked the deck against the Prius.  They do things like comparing the Prius it to a Corolla, when its actually closer to a Camry in size.


Well, here is a calculation from the Toyota Open Road Blog -- a source that is no doubt biased in the other direction. 

Maybe you can get to the truth by averaging the two.


They compare the Prius to the lowest level, 4 cylinder Camry. 

Comparing these two cars, and using $4 per gallon gas it takes 0.1 year for the Prius to pay back the $97 in initial price in saved gas.

I suppose this is a bit silly, but I liked it :)



Update: May 10, 2010

Just a quick update. 

We are at 94,200 miles.

No problems -- no maintenance outside of routine oil changes.


We just had the throttle pedal recall done yesterday.  They cut an inch off the end of the pedal, updated some software, and checked the floor mats.

Turns out if we had been smart enough to take out the factory mats and put in the aftermarket ones that we bought to keep the Montana mud off the factory mats, that they would have included free new factory mats -- as it was, the factory mats passed their inspection and we got nothing -- bummer!


I do think that our gas mileage has dropped a bit.  I've not been keeping track of it for every gallon of gas as I used to (much to the relief of my wife), but it seems like we have more tanks in the 46 mpg area and less up in the 48 mpg area.  This may be old age, but I also suspect that the last set of tires, which were not picked with any consideration for rolling resistance has something to do with it.  Hard to complain much about this.


When we went in for the recall, the dealership had 2010 with the solar and sunroof option on the floor.  It looked to be very nicely done, but its hard to get worked up about it with its several thousand dollar option price.  I'm thinking seriously about the plug-in hybrid model (or another plug-in hybrid) when it comes out.  I have space to add more PV, so I could have a no carbon car for around town.


Update: September 2, 2010  -- 100K miles

We just went over 100,000 miles on the Prius.

No problems throughout the first 100K miles.

We were on a short trip down to West Yellowstone when the odometer went over 100K.  Gas miles per gallon for that tank was 50.5 mpg, so its still doing well on fuel economy.

I know -- we drive too much.  I guess if we could get the kids to move out from California to Montana we could cut down the miles a lot :)


The total savings to date (first 100K miles) using the calculator at HybridCars.com is:


This is for the full 100K miles.

By this calculator, we saved:

3467 gallons of gas




65,873 lbs (33 tons) of CO2


Truly amazing numbers. 


I actually think that the Pilot does somewhat better than 18 mpg overall, but I thought that using a third party calculator would be more believable than my own numbers.

If we keep it as long as kept our old Subaru Outback (our last car), the gas savings will end up paying back nearly the full price of the Prius over its life!


I find the calculator at HybridCars.com is very helpful for evaluating car choices.



October 2010 -- Final Update on our 2005 Prius -- the Jelly-Bean Car

A couple weeks ago, we traded in our 2005 Prius on a (guess what) -- 2010 Prius.


The 2005 has 101K miles on it at the time of the trade-in.

- For the full 101K miles the only maintenance on the car was: oil changes, tires, and one alignment (big pothole).


- The car was running fine at 101K, and we just traded it in because the we had heard good things about the refinements in the 3rd generation Prius, and Toyota and our dealer were offering some incentives, and there was a nice blue one with quite a bit of extra markdown because of some very minor scratches on the door -- blue being Joan's favorite color.


- We got what I would call a descent trade-in price for the old Prius.


The 3rd generation Prius has been widely described as a refined version of the generation  2 Prius.  I'd say that is correct.  There are a number of small improvements in noise level, comfort, power, fuel economy, ...   nothing spectacular in any area, but significant when taken together.  The new Prius is indeed a pleasant car to drive and live with. 


We already have 1700 miles on the new one (a trip up to Alberta).   The fuel economy improvement is noticeable -- our average so far is  52.4 mpg.   Other than that, I'd say the somewhat better seat comfort and the lower cabin noise level (its very quiet) are probably the most noticeable  changes.   The only disappointment has been the GPS, which was a pricey option, and which we find less competent than the add -on Garmin we were using on the 2005.


The new Jelly bean in Alberta



It is interesting to note how things have changed relative to the Prius over the 5 years. since 2005.    When we got the 2005,  we basically put our name on the dealers waiting list, and were given the opportunity to pay full MSRP for a random Prius that came in after about a month of waiting.  If you asked about getting a Prius in a color you wanted and with the options you wanted, the salesman just laughed. 


At that time there were only two other Priuses in Bozeman -- we would wave at each other when we saw them.  Buying the Prius was deemed by many to be seriously risky -- knowledgeable technical people talked about the certainty of early battery failure and all sorts of other problems.  It seems strange to hear this now given the very solid reliability record the Prius has stacked up, but these were serious concerns 5 years ago. 


Buying the 2005  Prius (for us) was some combination of 1) wanting to save fuel money, 2) our Half Program to cut energy use and CO2 emissions in half, 3) taking a bit of risk to support the development of more efficient cars.   I've talked to other Prius owners with about the same mix of reasons.


Now, in 2010, there are a couple million Priuses out there -- I see many of them driving around even here in Bozeman, which is more of a muddy pickup town.     I believe that to many car buyers, the Prius is no longer any kind of "special" car -- its just another car that costs a bit more than other cars the same size, but saves a lot of money in fuel costs.   Its joined the ordinary mix of cars as a practical, family car  -- I guess this is a good thing.   Of course the car has hardly changed at all -- its people's perceptions that have changed.


The dealer had a dozen of the new Prius on the lot, and between the Toyota company $1000 off and the dealer now being willing to "deal" a bit, the prices were pretty reasonable.  If you wanted a particular combination of color and options, there is a pretty good chance they can find it.


Before we decided to get another Prius, we looked around for a car that was in somewhat the same position now as the Prius was 5 years ago.  Something that pushed the car efficiency frontier a little further out while still being practical to use as our main car.  We did not find anything.  There are a couple electric cars (e.g. the Leaf), but they are just not practical when you live in MT and the grandkids are in CA.   The Chevy Volt is a bold step, but, the price premium is a little steep for us.  Some of the other plug in hybrids would have been of interest (including the Prius) if they had been coming out sooner.  Cars like the Aptera (which I like a lot) seem just a bit too far out there.

But, it does seem to be an active time in car development, and there does seem to be real interest in improvements -- I hope it all continues.


Even after all this time, the Prius still stands out as quite an engineering achievement  -- the only 50 mpg production car available, and a very practical car that is mid-sized at that.  The combination of the low drag, relatively light weight, energy saving accessories, and the hybrid drive train with the Atkinson engine still (to me) stand out as the combination to beat.



I believe that the 2005 Prius  was cheap to own when you consider fuel costs.  I think that we paid about $22K for it, and traded it in for just over $7K (with 101K miles and a few dings).  If you throw in the $10.3K of fuel saving (see above), the rough cost for 5 years was (22K - 7K -$10.3K) = $5K.  Five cents a mile.   Pretty inexpensive by today's standards.  If we had kept it to 200K miles the net cost would likely have been zero based on the fuel savings :)   Of course, the fuel savings are compared to driving a 20 mpg Pilot (our other car), and than may seem unfair, but its the situation we are in.   We are not alone in this -- I've seen people go from 14 mpg pickups to a Prius.


I don't plan on keeping this page going for the new Prius unless something out of the ordinary happens. 




Updated Oct 8, 2010


May 2014 -- Road Trip Mileage On the 2010 Prius

We did a road trip through the southwest and I kept careful track of gas mileage over the full trip, and just thought I would pass it on here.

So, this is the blue 2010 Prius in the picture above. The total trip was 2274 miles with generally good weather. Some tail winds and some head winds -- a dash of snow.

There is also a bit of data at the bottom on how the Prius compared on a passenger miles per gallon data with some other modes of transportation.

The 2010 Prius has been doing fine -- no problems or maintenance items other than the usual oil changes.

Actual Fuel Usage on Road Trip Through the Southwest

Place gallons miles Actual mpg Prius gage mpg   gage/actual
Bozeman 0 0        
Salt Lake 362 6.84 52.92      
Moab 299.8 5.7 52.60 56.3   1.07
Flagstaff 402.3 8.16 49.30 50.3   1.02
Tuba City 142 2.3 61.74 60.1   0.97
Ceder City 247.5 5.12 48.34 50.9   1.05
Garden City 377.8 6.7 56.39 57.4   1.02
Driggs 256.2 4.825 53.10 56.3   1.06
Bozeman 186.5 3.56 52.39 55.3   1.06
Totals 2274.1 43.205 52.64      
Total cost  $151.22 at $3.50 per gallon        
Carbon 846 lbs of CO2 (or 0.44 tons)      

Actual mpg is calculated for each fillup based on miles on trip odometer and gasoline pumped.

Prius gage mpg is what the Prius computer calculated for each fillup.

Comparison to Some Other Vehicles

Vehicle mpg pax mpg  
Prius 52.6 105.3 (two adults with no credit for carrying the dog)
Ford Expedition 18 36 (two adults)
airplane 0.43 41.7 (737 next gen with 97 pax onboard -- gasoline equivalent)
train   230 ?? from the ref eyeball average of a few trains -- gasoline equivalent
motor cycle 60 60 (1 pax Suzuki GS500)
Queen Mary 0.00753 15 (with 2000 passenger onboard -- gasoline equivalent)

Some of the mpg numbers for the other vehicles come from this very interesting reference: http://www.builditsolar.com/References/EfficiencyTransport/strickland.htm