Why I chose a Prius…V

In the US, the Prius owners have a stigma attached.  Many seem to believe the drivers believe they are better than everyone else because ‘they are saving the environment’.  Even though many ‘studies’ show that the Prius isn’t any more environmentally friendly than other cars when materials are considered.  I’ll get back to this stigma later.  For now, I’ll tell you why I chose to buy and drive a Prius, and why I love to drive my Prius, and why it’s now my favorite vehicle.

Just over a year ago, our area was hit hard with a snow storm which dumped about ten inches of snow.  Even though that amount is not out of norm for this area, the past years have been less than generous on snowfall.  The ally behind our house had become packed with about six inches of hard snow.  My wife and I had worked a few days shoveling the drive so that we could leave.  The roads where clear, but our U-shaped driveway was not and our little 91′ Honda Accord couldn’t move very far.

Finally, after clearing the drive and a few days ‘land locked’ to our house, we were free!  So we loaded the kids into the car and went to buy some fresh food.  Later that evening, we came home and I decided to back down from the upper drive from the ally to the back door of the house just so we could easily unload the groceries.  This is when we found out how packed the snow in the ally actually became.  The car high centered.  After about an hour of breaking the packed snow and shoveling, we finally managed to move the car.

The next day, the sun came out and melted a lot of the snow.  We still had a few bags of ice melt from a few years back and used it to try to clear the ally of the packed snow.  We also applied some to the other end of the driveway and onto the road.  This end of the drive was more difficult to leave from as it leads uphill in one direction and a very steep downhill slope in the other.  The ally exits to the road on it’s peak and the road itself is the top of a hill.  Other roads have less of a slope than the road out front.  So if we leave the ally, we have better roads to choose from, with less chance of sliding.

Anyhow, we once again left.  This time, with a mission, a mission to ditch the Honda for something that offered better snow driving options.  Either an AWD (All Wheel Drive) or a Four-Wheel drive vehicle would do.

After a little looking, we settled on a vehicle that I would later hate and swear to never buy from its manufacturer again.  We found a 2010 AWD Kia Sportage.  The vehicle appeared to be in great shape, ran well, drove decently, and could maneuver over the snow quite well.  We were happy, for a bit.

A couple of months later, we received rain and it helped us discover the first flaw.  The windshield leaked.  Not just a couple of drops, but to the point the passenger seat was soaked with water.  Any time we had rain, no one wanted to ride shotgun.  I guess a shower was too soon for the month.

We took the Sportage back to the dealer.  They called us back and said the windshield was not covered under warranty, even the extra warranty we had purchased.  Their reason, the windshield was ‘obviously not original’.  Really?  They could tell it was obvious now, but before, when they supposedly inspected the vehicle before delivery, it wasn’t so obvious?

The shop foreman showed me the windshield marking.  It was a PAW and not a Kia windshield.  And right he was.  It was obvious it wasn’t an original Kia windshield.  Obviously, two month later, that is. They refused to fix the windshield.  My wife and I talked to a lawyer and he confirmed that it wasn’t covered by the warranty because it was replaced within it’s first year of life and not OEM.  Nothing we could do.

We found a place that wouldn’t charge a lot to repair the windshield seal.  But they could not find the leak.  Ugh!

Next, the transmission started to leak about a pint every oil change.  The vehicle was just over one year old and had fluid leaking also.  A few other minor issues popped up.  On top of the poor service we received from the Kia dealer and the quality issues and that the Sportage never did any better than 18 mpg, we had enough.  I started looking for a quality built vehicle.  Our last Toyota (well, Toyota built Geo Prizm) had over 258,000 miles on it when we sold it.  We only sold it because it was high mileage.

We decided on a Toyota or, perhaps, a Honda.  We also decided we needed to double our fuel mileage.  We also needed room for five passengers.  To get the nearly 36 mpg, we could choose from several small models; the Honda Civic or Accord, or the Toyota Corolla or Camry.  The Civic and Corolla were too crowded and offered little cargo space.  We do a bit of hauling and needed the cargo space.

The Accord and Camry offered the interior room, but barely would make 30 mpg.  If we were left with the small car choice, why not find something that offered great fuel economy.  I have owned a couple of Volkswagen Rabbits with diesel engines, so I ventured to looks at the Volkswagen lineup.  The fuel economy is great, but difference in price for diesel ate into the savings offered by the high mileage diesel engine.  Volkswagen has also had a few issues with quality over the years.  But they were still on the list.

So, to get the fuel mileage we required, we were left with VW diesel, Golf, Passat, or Jetta; Toyota Corolla or maybe even the Scion xB; or the Honda Civic.  About this time, I started getting interested in hybrid vehicles.  Honda and Toyota have offered hybrid vehicles for some years and many flaws should have been fixed by now, or one would believe.  Upon more investigation, Honda seemed to have battery issues and their fix was a firmware update for their computers, which historically cost owners 10mpg.  This put the Honda hybrids on the same level as gas powered Civics.  A no-go for me.

Therefore, Honda was eliminated from the list.  I started comparing prices of Toyota Prius vs VW diesel offerings.  The difference in TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) wasn’t much.  The Toyota quality won.  Thus, VW was removed from the list.  I would still own a VW diesel, I just wasn’t wanting one for our primary family vehicle.

Although Honda and Volkswagen make great vehicles, some of the flaws or prices just didn’t jive with what I wanted as a primary vehicle.  Don’t discount these two companies.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Why not American built?”  Does ‘assembled’ in the USA really mean much anymore?  Most components are made over seas.  But the biggest issue I have with American Auto is their quality.  I have been a hobbyist mechanic for over 20 years and served 9 years in the Army as a mechanic.  Very few USA autos cross the 100,000 mile marker with seating material that is as good as day one, like Toyota.  Much of the American autos have interior quality issues.  But the most damning is the metal used in engines.  Toyota has worked with metallurgists to create material that lasts in engines, even when abused.  American auto manufacturers are still looking to increase that profit margin and compete with Asian autos.  Their metal technologies in their engines suffered greatly.  The engines just don’t last.  And don’t get me started on the terrible reputation Ford has with front wheel drive transmissions.  Since the Tempo and Taurus…Really, Ford?

Anyhow, I decided on a Toyota.  I started looking at the Prius.  I read articles and blogs and data on the Prius and I was quite surprised to see the height of owner satisfaction.  The only downside, cargo room.  While the Prius offered more than others, it still did not offer a lot.

I also started looking at the Toyota Camry hybrid, but the batteries took away about 1/3 of the trunk space, so it was quickly marked off the list.  Then I found a new model of Prius, the V.  For 2012 model year, Toyota released a wagon version of the Prius.  The wagon was slightly taller, slightly wider, slightly longer and because of the liftback, it offered more cargo space.  More than even our Kia.

So, I set out to find the right one.  One day, while watching TV, I saw a commercial for TrueCar.com. Well, I despise commercials as much as the next guy, but I thought why not.  The worst that could happen is I don’t get a great quote on price.  I entered the options I wanted, and TrueCar showed me a car that was over $2000 off sticker and even emailed a dealership.  But, the dealership was nearly 200 miles away.  So I printed off the quote and went to my local dealer.

The local dealer had a model quite similar to the TrueCar quote, but was asking sticker price.  They would not budge on price at all.  Do I blame them?  Of course not, the Prius on their lot I looked at was just sold.  It still had the plastic on the car and interior.  This dealership was selling the V wagon as soon as the delivery truck left.  So, for the $2000 in savings, my wife and I packed up for the weekend and had ourselves a romantic Valentines weekend vacation and headed the 200 miles north for the quoted deal.

The vacation was a blast.  But we are here to talk about the Prius V.  We arrived at the dealership, Adams Toyota in Lees Summit, Missouri, soon after they opened and the salesman I had been in contact with via email took us out to the car.  We drove it around and put about 5 miles on the odometer.  I loved it.  The ride, while slightly sporty (hard) was also quite gentile.  Almost as good at the Cadillac Deville we owned.

To my surprise, this was no wimpy car.  The car would launch from a stop just like a Corolla.  We later found out it can actually spin its tires from a stop if in power mode.  This blog won’t be about all the features of the Prius V, those can be read about on many other websites, like Toyota’s for instance.

We bought the car.  But one curiosity during the test drive didn’t make sense to me.  We had a quote for the base model.  The only option I wanted was remote start so that on cold mornings, the car would be warm.  We later found out that the remote start will also run the A/C for hot days, yay!

The oddity was this car had navigation, which was standard on the top two models and not available to the base model.  So I took a second look at the sticker.  Wow! To my surprise, not only did we get $2000 in savings compared to the local dealer, but we just bought the middle model line.  The Prius V has three models.  The Prius V two, three, and five.  Ours was a three.  Yeah, I should have noticed before actually purchasing the car, but at least this was a pleasant surprise.  And not a leaky window.

The Prius V three MSRP is nearly $800 more than the base model two.  I guess this is to cover the cost of the navigation system.  Therefore, not only did we save $2000 over the base model MSRP (local dealers price), we basically got the navigation system free.  I have to say, this started out much better than owning the Kia.

Now we’ve owned the Prius for nearly 2 months have put nearly 4000 miles on the odometer.  We aren’t quite getting the quoted 40mpg quoted by Toyota, but we do drive around in hilly country.  We are averaging about 37.8mpg mixed city and highway.  I try to use electric mode as much as possible in town.  The power of the hybrid system is astonishing.

The access ramp onto the local state highway is slightly inclined.  Our Cadillac could hit about 85 at the top of the ramp with a small V8 gas engine.  The Prius can hit about 75 at the top of the ramp, which is enough to merge into traffic easily.  As I stated earlier, at a stop with power mode engaged, the car can spin its wheels.

I also setup a spreadsheet to compare the total monthly cost of the Kia vs the Prius.  Because we purchased extended maintenance (basically pre-paid maintenance), and because insurance was slightly more, we end up paying $100 more a month to own the Prius vs the Sportage.   But if we take into account resale value at the end of the loan term, the Prius most likely will be twice the value.  Also, the Kia was on a 6 year loan while the Prius is on a 5 year loan, which also adds some to the total monthly cost.

I didn’t set out to buy a Prius to save the environment, I just wanted to save a few dollars at the pump. I wanted something reliable.  I wanted something that would have some value at the end of the loan term.  While other vehicles lower costs would be overall lower costs, I really wouldn’t want any of them for the Prius.