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.


The major purchase I don’t want to make until next year–if not later

Somebody with a 17-year-old vehicle in their driveway should be the easiest mark possible at an auto show. Any new car on display there should offer an immense advance in comfort and convenience–and an even greater leap in efficiency when the vehicle has a battery-electric drivetrain.

A charging port on the side of a Hyundai Ioniq 5

And yet my visit Thursday to the Washington Auto Show on its public-policy day left me relieved that our 2005 Toyota Prius–somehow still only the second car I’ve owned–keeps rolling along.

It’s not that this year’s show didn’t offer an intriguing selection of electric cars, even with VW sitting out the entire event. Multiple automakers now have not-too-big EVs on the market at not-crazy prices that offer decent range and charge quickly.

(If a tree fell on our Toyota tomorrow, I’d probably make a Kia EV6 and a Hyundai Ioniq 5 our first test drives.)

But the selection will only expand as automakers–here I have to note that decades of poor judgment at Toyota have left it shamefully far behind in EVs–race to bring more electric cars to the market. And each new model year represents another 12 months for manufacturers to improve on existing designs and for batteries to get more efficient. And each new month means more car chargers springing up along the nation’s roads, soon to be accelerated with nearly $5 billion in funding from the 2021 infrastructure law.

Our own house would need its own wiring upgrade before we’d want to park an EV in the driveway. That probably won’t get any cheaper and may cost a lot more than expected, depending on what kind of quirky work lurks inside our century-old abode.

Meanwhile, living in a walkable and Metro-served neighborhood, with no driving commutes for me or my wife, affords us the luxury of not having to use our vehicle that much. And of not even having to think that much about what’s become a relatively low-mileage old car–except, perhaps, when I’m surrounded by shiny new alternatives to it.

Weekly output: Internet Assocation, Mercedes EQS, NextGen TV in D.C., DJI investment ban, TikTok hysteria

I did not plan to spend so many hours this week in a fruitless search for at-home COVID tests–the worst kind of holiday shopping ever.

12/15/2021: After Microsoft and Uber Flee, The Internet Association Logs Off, PCMag

This post gave me an excuse to dust off some notes from IA events I’d attended in the Before Times.

Screenshot of the PCMag story as seen on an iPad mini 512/16/2021: Like an Electric Spaceship: Hitting the Road in the Mercedes-Benz EQS, PCMag

The EQS 580 I test-drove around Tysons was, at $120,000, easily the most expensive vehicle I have ever taken out for a spin. This was a fun post to write, even if dealing with Tesla fanboys on Twitter afterwards was not so much fun. (Remember, the block button is there for a reason; online malcontents are not entitled to waste your time.)

12/16/2021: ‘NextGen TV’ Broadcasts Now on the Air in DC, PCMag

Almost five years after I first wrote about this upgrade to broadcast television, NextGen TV (originally known as “ATSC 3.0”) is finally on the air in Washington, courtesy of Howard University’s WHUT hosting the signals of the four major network stations here. Another thing that’s changed since the early days of this standard: Compatible sets have gotten much cheaper, even if some major manufacturers continue to sit out NextGen.

12/17/2021: Feds Ground All US Investments in DJI, PCMag

Once the lede for this popped into my head, the rest pretty much wrote itself. Which is a good feeling!

12/18/2021: TikTok school-threat hysteria, Al Jazeera

As my friend Mike Masnick wrote at Techdirt, this wasn’t really a TikTok story but a pack-journalism story: Traditional media outlets raced to cover an alleged post or posts threatening violance against schools without ever pointing to specific posts making such a threat. Note┬áthat TikTok says they couldn’t find any such thing.