For the average consumer, owning a car that’s great on gas can be a worthwhile investment for the future. Hybrids are a great way to achieve high MPGs, and there are few better options than the model that started it all, the Toyota Prius.
In addition to hybrids being cheaper to operate over time when compared to standard internal combustion engine vehicles, buying used cars can be a great way to garner even more savings. With that in mind, you might ask yourself, should I buy a used Prius?
A used Toyota Prius is an excellent choice for anyone looking to save money on gas. The Prius comes with plenty of great features and they are inexpensive and easy to maintain.
Over its multi-decade lifespan, the Prius has proved itself many times over as a vehicle that doesn’t come with much hassle. While there are a few model years that you may need to be wary of, overall, any used Prius you choose will serve you and all of your needs quite well.
The Toyota Prius is one of the most important vehicles in the timeline of automobiles. As the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, the Prius was able to set in motion the pivot towards more fuel-efficient and less polluting cars. Making its debut in 1997, the first-generation Toyota Prius would be limited to just the Japanese domestic market.
For the 2001 model year, the Prius would finally make its way to the global market. At a time when the average passenger car provided fuel economy in the low 20s, the Prius was able to deliver 40 mpg and beyond.
Since then, Toyota has continuously been improving upon the formula. The Prius would continue to see great success in both sales and in the public consciousness for many years to come. The Prius would become the de facto hybrid car and the standard that every other fuel-efficient vehicle would have to compete against.
So far, the Prius has gone through four different generations over its 24-year history. The current generation made its debut in 2016 and is still proving to be a popular choice despite the emergence of fully electric cars.
Before getting into the specifics of a used Prius, there are some good general practices to keep in mind before purchasing any used vehicle.
Research: The Toyota Prius has now been around for over two decades. There are many different model years that you may be considering. As such, it’s important that you find out if there are any standout model years to consider or avoid altogether. While looking up reviews from when a car was new will give you a good idea of what a particular Prius offers, it’s not the whole picture. Different models will react differently to wear and tear, so it’s good practice to find current owners sharing their experiences in online forums or other venues.
Carfax Report: In order to avoid any future surprise issues, you should attain a vehicle history report. With it, you can confirm prior maintenance and check if there has ever been an accident reported. This will also help in assessing the fair market value of your particular used Prius is.
Test Drive: Buying any car before having the opportunity to view it in person first is a risky decision that can prove even more problematic when considering purchasing a used car. Make sure that you get an opportunity to test drive the used Prius to confirm its condition and whether or not you even feel comfortable in it.
One of the Prius’s standout features can also be its Achilles heel. While the hybrid battery allows the Prius to attain great fuel efficiency, it can also be a financial timebomb.
While Toyotas are known for their reliability, there is just no getting around the fact that batteries will degrade. With the battery being such a critical part of the powertrain in a used Prius, it’s also not possible to simply ignore. Thankfully, it will only be an issue if you are looking at a used Prius with very high mileage.
Depending on the state, a Prius comes with either a 10-year/150,000 mile or an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty for the battery. If it fails or degrades excessively in this timeframe, then it will be covered free of charge.
However, a Toyota going above 150,000 miles isn’t exactly uncommon. With the safety net of a warranty gone, a battery replacement will cost anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 with labor included. Used and refurbished Prius batteries are also available. Even still, going that route may cut the cost by half, but that’s still thousands of dollars to consider.
Once again, this shouldn’t be too much of a concern for those that are looking to get a used Prius that is only a few years old. For those looking at examples almost a decade old, however, it’s certainly something to budget for.
In the grand scheme of things, almost any used Prius is a reliable pick. However, in comparison to one another, there are years that falter a little. Looking at CarComplaints we can see that the mid to late 2000s is a sore spot for the model.
There are two major complaints about that era of used Prius, the first of which being in regard to lighting. These model years had issues with headlights either burning out or simply refusing to turn on. Another problem with these years is excessive oil consumption.
Excessive oil use has been a thorn in the Prius for many years and extends past even these model years. Thankfully, the issue seems to have tapered off towards the 2016 model year and hasn’t been much of a problem since.
One thing to watch out for is a recall that occurred for Priuses from 2004 to 2009. These models had insufficiently hard steering column splines that could break and cause steering loss. If looking at a used Prius from those model years, make sure its steering column was checked.
You would be surprised to know that a first-generation used Prius is a fairly reliable car. It spanned from 1997 all the way to 2003, although it would not be sold outside of Japan until 2000. If you can look past the limited feature set of a two-decade-old car and are prepared to change the battery (if it hasn’t been changed already), then it’s a solid choice that still delivers great gas mileage.
For those looking for a more modern experience, then early examples from the current fourth generation can fit the bill. Starting from the 2016 model year onwards, the Prius was built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform which helped bring increased fuel economy and interior room. This content is the property of moc.sotuaytsur
The fuel economy bumps from the third to fourth generation are quite noticeable. Looking at fuelly, the third generation hovers in the mid-40 mpg range, while the fourth-generation models are able to breach past the 50 mpg mark. If great fuel economy is the be-all and end-all, then a used Prius from 2016 onwards is best for you.
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.