Dear Tom and Ray:
I just got word that my 2005 Prius, with 110,000 miles, needs a new hybrid battery. I got the car new, and it's been well-maintained, but the battery has not given us the 150,000 or 180,000 miles that we had hoped we could get out of it. Our dealer is willing to replace the battery pack with a new one for $3,500 (another dealer would charge $3,995). I'm not sure if a "used" battery makes sense for a Prius, and I'm not sure if we could find a non-dealer with the experience necessary to do the replacement. Does it make sense to move forward and put a new battery pack in the car? We just finished paying for the car, so essentially, we'll be buying a known entity for $3,500, but it's a bitter pill! Your suggestions?
Tom: Doesn't that frost your shorts? The warranty for the battery pack is 100,000 miles, and yours keels over at 110,000.
Ray: Well, the first thing you should know is that certain states have adopted what are called California Emissions Rules. That's a set of air-pollution regulations that are stronger than what the EPA is willing to impose nationally. If you bought and registered your car in one of those states, you're in luck. Because in those states, the Prius battery warranty is automatically extended to 10 years or 150,000 miles.
Tom: So if you bought and registered your car in California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania or Maine, march back into your dealership, toss 'em the keys and tell them to call you when it's done.
Ray: And then send your state representatives a big bouquet of roses, and pocket the other $3,450.
Tom: If you're not a resident of one of those states, you still can ask Toyota for some help. From what we can tell, lots of Prius batteries HAVE been lasting 150,000 or 180,000 miles, or even more. So, since you got less than what you feel you should have, it's worth asking Toyota if it'd be willing to help you out and pay some of the cost of the new battery pack.
Ray: They might tell you to get lost, but we are at a rare moment in time when Toyota has had some well-publicized quality problems, and it might be more eager than usual to keep its existing customers happy. In other words, you have Toyota by the short hairs at the moment, so go ahead and give a tug.
Tom: If it won't offer you any assistance with the price, then you've got two choices. One is to buy a used battery pack from a Prius that's been in an accident. That's a lot cheaper, and it may work out fine for you. After all, your car is used -- why not get a battery pack that's used?
Ray: But the trick is finding someone knowledgeable enough to find and test a used battery pack for you and then install it safely and correctly. If you want to pursue that option, go to the Mechanics Files on our website (www.cartalk.com/mechanics), enter your ZIP code and search for a highly recommended shop that specializes in Toyotas. Ask them if they've done this before, and how it's worked out. And if there were any survivors.
Tom: Because the Prius batteries have been so good, there are not a lot of places that do this. So your best option, in the end, may be a new battery pack. And $3,500 is about the right price. But call around, because the price of these battery packs has been dropping.
Ray: And, like you said, since the car is paid off and in good shape, you easily could get another 100,000 miles out of it for that $3,500 investment.
Tom: You also can pick up an extra $200 for recycling your old Prius battery. Your dealer can tell you how to claim that money from Toyota. Good luck, Daphne.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)