Should I buy a Prius?

”Should I buy a Prius?”  Well, it all depends really…

Even though I am still fairly new to the club of being a car lover, I am by no means a  “car buff”, but every now and then a friend will ask me a car related question.  Last week at work, it was “I want to save money. Should I buy a Prius?” After thinking it over for a moment, I had to tell him; “Well, it all depends really”.

While there’s never a car out there that would be perfect for everyone, nor is there ever a car that is just simply perfect, the Toyota Prius has exploded onto the car community beginning in 2001 here in the US.  Touted as the car that could very well help to save the planet, it would save you enormous sums of money at the pump, and was the perfect car to look for to replace all the ‘gas guzzlers’.  Or, is it?

I will use myself as an example to show that this may or may not be true for you.

I drive a 1998 Ford Taurus SE. It is paid for, and I have an excellent driving record, so my insurance is very inexpensive. Also, this car was sold in huge numbers, so parts are widely available, and I can get it serviced just about anywhere.

Lets total up the cost of this car for me to own it:

  • Monthly payment: $0.00 (ha ha!)
  • Insurance: (I carry full coverage because this is my only vehicle for now) $32.85 per month
  • Regular maintenance: $27.83 (this includes 4 oil changes, and 2 services for the year averaged out over 12 months)

This totals up to about $80.68 for me to own and maintain this car every month. Not too bad really.   Now of course, since my car is older, and has a few miles on it, there will be the inevitable mechanical issue that may pop up, but I’m not including that for now.

Now, the cost if I were to go and buy a new Prius: (A 2010 model with just over 8,000 miles on it for $29,991)

  • Monthly payment: $646.00 (60 months with good credit)
  • Insurance: $88.36 (not too bad)
  • Regular maintenance: $54.00 (Toyota only recommends oil changes at around 5-8k miles )

So, this totals up to about $788.36 per month. Hmm. Not looking too good on the “saving me money” frontier.

“But,” you say, “a Prius will save me loads on gas!”

No more will we have to mortgage our houses to fill the tank. Nor will we cower in fear when the price of crude oil skyrockets. We will laugh, laugh I say, when we pass the gas station where our fellow-man will be handing over the kids college savings to fill their SUV and Hummers. Or will we?

Again, lets take me an as example. I am lucky to live close to work, and with the hours I work I rarely have time to go anywhere. So last year, I racked up a total of only 4800 miles on the old Taurus. And, my car is surprisingly fuel-efficient.

When my 1998 Taurus rolled off the assembly line, it was said to give 19/28 mpg  for city/highway driving. Today, due to being rather anal retentive about maintenance, oil changes, checking for proper tire inflation, and not driving like a lunatic, I actually get a bit more than that. I’d say I average about 25/32 mpg for city/highway. This might also be due to the fact that I have upgraded the brakes and most of the suspension since I bought it, and have proper tires on it.

As I type this, the price of middle grade gas in Columbus Ohio is about $2.42 per gallon. Taking the roughly 4800 miles I drove last year, and because I lack a proper social life, this works out to roughly 10.34 cents per mile.

Ten. Freaking. Cents. Shameful, really.

Now, lets look at the Prius: It is advertised at getting 48/51 mph for city/highway. Now, we all know that a Prius wont really give you that, but to be fair, we’ll use those numbers. So, taking the same 4800 miles, and the same price of gas, this would cost me about: 6.3 cents per mile. And that’s really good to be brutally honest. I doubt anyone here would ever say no to those numbers.

So, it is cheaper then. Right? Not so fast buddy. We need to look at the whole picture here. Yes, I would spend about half as much at the pump due to the small number of miles I drive. But again, look at the total cost:

  • To pay about 10 cents a mile for gas in my Taurus costs me about $81 per month.
  • To save about 5 cents a mile driving the Prius would cost me an extra $707.00 a month! For the next 60 months at least.

Overall then, to save about $92 a month in gas would cost me over $700 a month to do so. And this would involve  me going into about $30,000 in debt.

So, will a Prius  save me any money at all each month? Not a chance.

But again, this is the case for me. My car is paid for, so taking on a new car payment does count for a lot of that. Also, the higher insurance and the fact that you can really only have this car serviced at the dealer which generally costs more. If you currently have a car payment,  have higher insurance already…or have a car that is truly a ‘gas guzzling clunker from Hell’, then a Prius may be a car to consider.  And it does get a very good crash rating score of 4 stars overall, with a 5 for the front side impact.

I drove one of these last year, I believe it was a 2007,  and it’s not a bad little car overall. Fairly agile, decent throttle response, and the ability to park in a smaller spots was quite nice. For being a smaller car, there was quite a bit of room inside, and the ride was okay. It was a bit hard to see out the back, but my Taurus is even worse if I’m honest. I’m used to driving a car that is a bit bigger and heavier, so to me the car felt a bit…’floaty’ going around turns at higher speeds. I only drove it for that afternoon as it was a friend’s car, but my impression of it was ‘not too bad’. However, the day I had it, I didn’t see the mpg on the dash readout go over 35. And I wasn’t really driving it that hard.

My friend likes hers a lot, but says that this winter it has “scared the holy Hell out of her” as the tires seem to lose most of their traction in even the tiniest bit of snow. Also, she has had a few repairs already that she says are higher than her old Corolla. And her paint is peeling in spots already, but then again, so is my Taurus. When I told her I was going to use her car as my first ‘review’, she said that although she does like the Prius, if she had to buy again, she would have gotten the Yaris instead.

So, back to the original question: “Should I buy a Prius to save money? ” In my opinion, if you have a car that is in good condition, reliable, is paid for and you’re happy with it, and are looking at a Prius just to save money in gas, then my answer is no.

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