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Ask the "Prius Expert" FAQ

Q:  You're not really a Prius "Expert," are you?
A:
  Well, I own a Prius

Q:  How does that make you an expert?
A:
  Everybody keeps asking me questions about it.

Q:  Still, you're not an "expert," just an "owner," right?
A:
  Sometimes I can answer the questions...

Q:  YOU'RE NOT AN EXPERT!
A:
  I suppose not.

Q:  Then CHANGE THE TITLE OF THIS PAGE.
A:
  OK.  I'll do it just as soon as I answer all these questions.

Q:  That's better...
A:
  Sorry for all your trouble.

Q:  My mother in law is interested in buying a Prius.  Would you recommend it?  
A:
  Yes (Update June 2007 - I know at least three people have bought a Prius on my recommendation.)

Q:  Do you like your Prius?
A:
  Yes, very much.

Q:  It can't be perfect.  What DON'T you like about it?
A:
  The insulation isn't great.  When it's very cold outside and I rest my arm on the door right above the bottom of the window my forearm gets cold.  (Update June 2007 - I had the opportunity to drive a 2007 model and the material used for this area has changed.  It looks like it might be better insulated, but since I drove in summer I can't be sure.  In other words, this may have been fixed.)

Q:  What else?  Don't make me drag it out of you.
A:  It's a light car, and has a somewhat odd vertical profile.  I find it more sensitive to crosswinds than other cars I'm used to.  It doesn't feel as solid.  And of course it doesn't have great acceleration.

Q:  Is the lack of acceleration a problem?
A:  No, getting up to highway speed is no challenge.  I've never had to floor the accelerator, and have done it only once or twice as an experiment.  One doesn't exactly get the exhilaration of a sports car, but that's not what it's for.

Q:  How about handling?
A:
  Again, it's not a sports car.  It's the only front front wheel drive car I've owned, so I can't compare it to others.  Because I tend to drive it conservatively I haven't had the opportunity to explore the cornering envelope.  It seems reasonable, but certainly doesn't compare to a sports car.

Q:  I saw a picture of your car on this web site.  Other than the festive extension cord in bright orange, it's a really nasty color.
A:
  I ordered it in "lovely blue."  After waiting a year just to get the car with the navigation package, I had to settle for "ugly champagne."

Q:  I didn't know they came in "ugly champagne."
A:  Yes.  That color exists to remind us of our primordial background.  There are a lot of cars that look like that.

Q:  What are you going to do about it?
A:  Drive up to Prince William Sound and try to find a tanker carrying paint.

Q:  You got the navigation option package, I see.  How do you like it?
A:  I'm impressed.  It's surprisingly accurate and seems to interpolate very well when GPS is lost.  Screen readability is excellent except in direct sunlight.  One negative that could be improved - many minor street names don't show up unless you're driving on them.  The screen resolution is good enough that a smaller font could be used, which would allow more details to be displayed.

Q: What about the highly touted "Energy Display?"
A:  Don't get me started.  It's very fancy, but it makes me crazy.  All the information and more could easily be displayed on one screen.  Instead you have to switch between screens just to get your average and current MPG readings.  There's plenty of room to present the information with greater conciseness and accuracy.  Would it hurt to put a voltage calibration, maybe as a touchscreen option, on the battery indicator?  Grrrrr.

Q:  Why do you suppose they did it the way they did?
A:  Marketing?   No faith in their customers?

Q:  How about gas mileage?
A:  Pretty much as expected.  If I drive very carefully and eschew any form of speeding I can average 50mpg.  If I drive more or less normally, e.g., a little above the limit, and occasionally use the brakes, it's more like 46mpg.  My driving is mostly highway, and the car gets about twice the mileage of the little Audi A4 4WD wagon I drive when it snows.  No complaints about gas mileage at all!  (Update June 2007 - I have averaged 50mpg in my 2-1/2 years of ownership.)

Q:  Speaking of gas mileage, I've been reading about "Plug-In Hybrids" - they say you can get 100mpg or more!
A:  Yes, it's an interesting idea and there's a company that offers an upgrade for the Prius that adds a big lithium ion battery pack.  Unfortunately the economics are daunting.  I've written a bit of an article on the subject.

Q:  You do mostly highway driving - I've heard that there's hardly any gas advantage for a hybrid in this case because you don't take advantage of the regenerated energy.
A:  A very underappreciated fact of gas usage is the effect of elevation.  On anything but totally flat terrain, you use extra energy going uphill and I've found (from the energy display) that a lot is recovered going downhill.  Even if I don't brake, when I'm going downhill energy is flowing into the battery.  My mileage going home (uphill) is much worse than driving downhill to work.   With a non-hybrid, it still takes more energy to go uphill but none is returned in the opposite direction, although you do save because you're coasting more.  Another consideration:  Hybrids typically have smaller internal combustion engines, which operate at a higher, more efficient percentage of their maximum output.  They don't require as much excess capacity since the electric motors provide a boost for passing and hillclimbing.  (Update December 2008 - I received an email from Mark Warren telling/reminding me about the "Atkinson cycle" engine the Prius uses, which sacrifices efficiency at low RPM to increase efficiency in a specified RPM range, which the Prius uses to advantage.)

Q:  How about driver comfort?
A:  I'm tall, and it's more comfortable than I expected, although additional leg room would be nice.  Of course the leg room problem is one I have with every car extant.  Also, the heating/cooling system seems to take more fiddling than it should.  I'm always adjusting the temperature.  It probably needs better software or a better way to measure cabin temperature.

Q:  I understand that on a recent South Park episode, it was revealed that the Prius emits an effluvium called "smug" instead of the usual "smog" from older cars.
A:
  That's nonsense.  I'd explain in greater detail but I have to go get gas now.  Let me see if I have enough change.

Q:  Doesn't modifying the Prius to deliver power void the warranty?
A:  There's no reason why it should.  All you're doing is making a connection to the electrical system, and an almost invisible one at that.  If you take the car in for service that doesn't involve the electrical system, it will never be noticed.  I've never had it questioned after a routine maintenance visit to the dealer.  In any event, the modification is completely reversible and you can simply remove the connection if you think there might be a problem.  (Update - 28 February 2011 - To this day and mileage (100k) nobody has ever noticed the added power connection, and there has been no warranty issue.)

Q:  (Update 28 February 2011) Do you have any comments on the reliability and maintenance of the Prius?
A:  Funny you should ask just now.  I have owned the car over six years and it just hit the 100,000 mile mark.  I wrote a blogitem on its reliability thus far.

Q:  News reports (Update - 04 February 2010) assert that there is a problem with the Prius braking system.  How dangerous is this?
A:  Here is my theory as of this date.  You'll almost certainly live long enough to read it.

Q:  I see you still haven't removed the "Expert" from the title.
A:
  I forgot.

 

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  Updated 28 February 2011