Now I really do hope it’s at least two more years before we buy a battery-electric car

Last week, we won a weird old-car-ownership lottery by having the hybrid battery of our Toyota Prius fail–after about 17 and a half years and just over 126,000 miles. That more than doubled the eight years covered by Toyota’s warranty and comfortably exceeded the warranty’s alternate minimum of 100,000 miles, a threshold we crossed in February of 2018.

Back when we bought this then-cutting-edge gas-electric hybrid car in August of 2005, I did quietly wonder how long that system battery might last. A June 2004 NBC News story quoted a Prius owner nervous about the prospect of having to pay $6,320 (which in 2023 dollars would have topped $10,000) for a new hybrid battery and being forced to go to a dealer for that service.

Badge on the back of a Toyota Prius advertising its "Hybrid Synergy Drive"

The traction battery in our four-door hatchback not only far outlasted the warranty’s minimums but cost us much less to replace than I’d been led to think back then.

After seeing the dashboard light up with multiple warnings that included a red triangle with an exclamation point, my wife dropped it off at our usual mechanic and asked them to take a look at it. The answer the next morning: a diagnostic code of P0A80, meaning it was time to replace the hybrid battery, plus a secondary alert about a failing oxygen sensor on the gas engine.

That’s when I realized that I should have been researching this possible expense long before, but it turned out we didn’t have that many options. We could get an aftermarket replacement (I had one solid recommendation for Green Bean Battery) or go with Baird’s advice of getting a Toyota replacement. Posts in Reddit’s r/prius revealed reliability concerns about Green Bean, and on the other hand I’ve had great service from this shop since I still drove the 1997 Acura Integra that I gave up in 2015.

Counting parts and labor and taxes, all the work cost just over $4,000 and had our car back the afternoon after I okayed the battery transplant. That’s not cheap, but until last week our single biggest total maintenance cost had been new tires. The more important point is that this expense pushes back our eventual purchase of a fully-electric car–just in time for us to see that the Inflation Reduction Act’s tax credits now only cover a subset of the EVs on the market that excludes two of the models I’d been eyeing.

Getting all of two more years out of the car we don’t drive that much (courtesy of living in an eminently walkable part of the D.C. area) should see the prices of electric cars drop, the selection of IRA-eligible vehicles expand, and the performance of batteries and the extent of charging infrastructure improve.

That alone would be enough, even if EV advances like solid-state batteries haven’t yet overcome engineering challenges by then. And if we can somehow keep this Prius rolling into 2030, it will officially be an antique–but I’m not going to get greedy after all this.


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