Frugal Shopper: No, Hybrids Don't Cost More To Repair And Maintain

November 24, 2010
2011 Toyota Prius

2011 Toyota Prius

Hybrids like the 2011 Toyota Prius cost more to repair and maintain, right?

It would seem, given all the additional technical complexity and computational wizardry in hybrids, that they would. And it's a myth that's certainly made the rounds among backyard mechanics. But it hasn't proven true. With the oldest Toyota Prius models now more than ten years old, and hundreds and thousands of Prius models on U.S. roads (and about 900,000 sold), there's no rush on replacement batteries, no rash of Priuses needing costly powertrain components replaced. They've proven surprisingly...bulletproof.

Battery replacement hasn't shown to be the issue that it was feared to be, either. Many of those oldest Prius models are beyond 150,000 miles and still using their original nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Though the full cost of replacing the battery pack still roughly $3,000, a number of specialist shops have emerged that are willing to do it for a bit less—or to soften the blow on older or collision-damaged models, repair the Prius' pack by replacing only one or several of its cells.

In an era when $3,000 is about the starting price for a good automatic-transmission rebuild—or the cost of a couple other major repairs to the front end, or air conditioning—that doesn't sound so horrible.

Repairs might cost more, but they're less frequent

A study last year, by an insurance-claims analysis firm, found that repairs to the Prius cost about 8.4 percent more than equivalent repairs on other models. In that same study, vehicles such as the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid only cost slightly more than their non-hybrid counterparts, so much of this due to the lack of used and aftermarket parts.

Of course, ultimately, the Prius has shown that it needs to be repaired less often than many other compacts, and that's one of the keys to its ownership-cost savings.

Also, brake pads tend to last longer, as regenerative braking from the powertrain helps them out, and in theory, the electric motor system helps spare the ol' gasoline-burner, so you might be able to go longer between oil changes.

Less to insure, too

Hybrids typically cost less to insure, too—mainly because of the more mature driver profile they attract. For instance, in an survey last year, the Prius cost $1,300 on average, while the national average was $1,871. A Toyota Corolla even cost a bit more, at $1,400. In addition to hybrid-exclusive parking and commuter lanes in some regions, it's another plus of hybrid ownership.

According to the ownership-costs experts at Vincentric, the Prius II (or Prius Two as it's now termed for 2011) has an MSRP of $22,800 and a market price of $21,666. Over five years, the Prius will cost just $1,406 in repairs and $1,868 in maintenance. On average a small compact sedan costs $1,557 in repairs and $2,304 in maintenance. On average, vehicles cost roughly $1,800 to repair and about $2,600 to maintain, so the Prius is definitely more affordable in those respects.

While repairs and maintenance (as well as insurance) are clearly less, Vincentric found over five years, because of their much higher initial price, you're still paying more for a hybrid. The average price premium for a hybrid was $8,298 while the average fuel-cost savings was $2,364 over five years—with the vehicle driven 15,000 miles annually—and a 2010 Toyota Prius will cost $3,227 more to own than a 2010 Toyota Corolla. That's including the fuel-cost differential of $2,364.

So while hybrids might cost less to fuel up—and, surprisingly, less to maintain and repair as well—choosing one, like the 2011 Toyota Prius, is still the green way to go...but not necessarily the most frugal choice.

[Vincentric LLC]

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