I'm shopping for a used car and am seriously considering a used hybrid, such as a Civic or Prius. Friends have warned me that hybrid batteries wear out and are very expensive to replace. So what is the expected life of a used hybrid battery and what do new hybrid batteries cost? I emailed the same question to the Car Talk guys, but their auto-response said they get 500 emails a day, so they are unlikely to be able to respond.
-- Dale Wright in Tacoma, Washington
I’m honored to fill in for the worthy Car Talk guys, and relish another opportunity to refute those chronic hybrid-dissers who keep busy contriving anti-hybrid arguments. Even if you did have replace the battery, you’d still probably come out money ahead with the hybrid.
The expected battery life, according to Toyota, is at least 100,000 miles or 8 years for the first-generation Prius models. To back this up, the batteries of the first-generation Priuses are covered by warranty for this mileage and time period, and both companies report a very low failure rate even for batteries past their warranty period.
In some states (your neighboring Oregon and California, plus Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, batteries of second-generation Priuses (2004 to 2008) are covered for 150,000 miles or 10 years. So if you buy a used hybrid, be sure you have the warranty because if the battery croaked before reaching these miles or age, you shouldn't have to pay to replace it. The Honda battery life expectancy and warranties are the same.
Toyota says that its recommended price for a a battery pack for a first-generation Prius is $2,299, while the price or the battery pack for the second-generation cars (2004 to 2008 models) is $2,588. That's the battery price itself; the individual dealer’s markup and charges for labor will of course add to this. So you’re looking at something around $3,000 to $3,500 if the hybrid has exceeded the warranty limits. Honda has similar prices for the Civic.
A lot of money, yes, but, if you drive the Prius sensibly, you should get around 45 miles per gallon. So, that means you get 20 mpg more than the all-too-typical 25. If you drive 10,000 miles per year, you'd save 188 gallons per year, or $564 at $3 per gallon. So in five or six years (or sooner, if gas prices go up drastically, as they occasionally do), your fuel savings would cover the cost of battery replacement.
Of course, I don't recommend that everybody rush out and buy a Prius. It depends on what you can afford and what the car costs. As I've said before, some folks might be better off buying a cheaper car with lower mpg, and investing the extra cash in other energy-saving measures, like insulation, solar panels, a new furnace, and so on.