[UPDATE for new readers: Toyota has now paid for the replacement battery. Details here.]
Last week our 2001 Prius started acting strangely, and today SF Toyota gave me the bad news. The hybrid battery is shot and a replacement will cost just under $3700, tax included. We’re a year and half 8 months out of warranty, it turns out, so the repair cost is 100% our responsibility.
This is a vehicle that was on the front page of the SF Chronicle in 2001, as a poster child for early adopters of green technology. We’ve bought another Prius since then and I’ve been looking with interest at the lithium-powered next generation coming in 2012. But this changes the equation. If you can expect to pay for a $3700 repair at 70,000 miles, the car suddenly becomes much more expensive as well as less reliable… what happens if the failure occurs elsewhere than in a major city?
I remember the naysayers when we bought it: “the battery’s going to die and it will cost you a fortune.” The reviewers scoffed at this: batteries don’t last forever, but it is unlikely to fail in the driving life of the vehicle. Too bad that’s not true. The $3700 new battery is warranted for 12 months. I guess that tells you something.
News like this could have a chilling effect on hybrid sales, just when we need a nitty-gritty, ready-right-now antidote for energy waste and climate change. (I love seeing the MPG on our 2006 Prius creep over 50, combined with the fact that the car has actually been made less efficient in order to come close to zeroing out the emissions.)
Toyota needs to fix this. I’ll update if they do.