Study: Hybrids Don’t Cost More to Repair

If you’re thinking of buying a hybrid car, here’s one more piece of good news on top of the superior gas mileage. Repair costs for hybrid models, which initially were higher than average, have now fallen in line with those of non-hybrids.

In other words: These days, your new Toyota Prius or any other hybrid shouldn’t cost more to repair, on average, than your Corolla or Camry. Despite vague worries about “hidden costs,” not to mention outright misinformation, hybrid repair costs have normalized over time.

The data comes from a new study by Audatex, a company that automates processing for insurance claims. Its survey looked at the costs of auto repairs for cars from model years 2001 through 2008.

Pricing Prius Repairs

It found that in the first few years (2001-2006), hybrid cars did cost slightly more to repair. In fact, the Toyota Prius—the only dedicated hybrid on the US market for many years, aside from a tiny handful of first-generation Honda Insights—cost 8.4 percent more to repair than other cars of a similar size.

The study attributes the difference to the relatively few Priuses sold in the model’s first years, especially prior to the release of the second-generation Prius for the 2004 model year. Prius sales didn’t cross 100,000 until 2005, against hundreds of thousands of Honda Civics and Accords and Toyota Corollas and Camrys sold each year.

Fewer Priuses sold meant the supply of repair parts available from recyclers—remember when they were called “junkyards?”—was correspondingly lower, so that more parts had to be bought directly from the dealer. The cost of manufacturer parts is usually higher than for used parts, so the average cost of any given repair would be pricier.

But there’s good news for potential Prius buyers. The repair-cost difference was by far most pronounced for cars from 2006 and before. Now, it seems to have vanished almost completely for the two latest model years (2007 and 2008).

The Audatex report studied cumulative repair costs for the Prius against those for the entire class of gasoline-powered economy cars, which together sell many hundreds of thousands a year. Almost 70 percent of that group is made up of just five cars: the Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, and Hyundai Elantra.

Comparing Costs of “Shared” Hybrids and Non-Hybrids

A second piece of the study compared costs for cars that came in both regular and hybrid versions, including the Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, and every Lexus hybrid (except the upcoming Lexus HS250h).

Hybrid Repair Costs Graph

Average repair costs by model year for hybrid vehicles versus their gasoline counterparts. (Source: Audatex Insight)

Again, repairs for the hybrid models cost more. But in this case, the difference was a mere 3.8%—a difference that many consumers probably never noticed. The study attributes this to the advantages of sharing most parts for the hybrid version with the higher volumes offered by having both versions, with only a few electric and battery parts being unique to the hybrid model.

In both cases (Prius and “shared” hybrids), it’s notable that the cost difference even in early years was within 10 percent. This is clearly a tribute to the longevity and sound engineering of the unique—and very expensive—components of the hybrid-electric drive system. If battery packs, electric motors, inverters, or control units were failing in anything like noticeable numbers, the repair costs would have been far higher than they are.

The majority of these repairs were for crash damage and the like, not for mechanical failures. In fact, regular hybrid maintenance occurs less often and is therefore less costly than for comparable conventional vehicles. Toyota has said that not a single Prius battery pack has needed replacement due to malfunction or simply losing capacity. Since the replacement packs cost thousands of dollars, that’s critical. The company said the only packs that had to be replaced were in cars damaged in collisions, and it has always claimed that the packs last the life of the car with little degradation.

Last fall, Toyota cut prices of replacement packs for the first-generation (2001-2003) Prius to $2,299; a current Prius pack will set you back $2,588.

For more details, you can read a summary (pdf) of the Audatex report.


  • Unsatisfied Prius Owner

    Let’s analyze the comment: “Toyota has said that not a single Prius battery pack has needed replacement due to malfunction or simply losing capacity.”

    I find that hard to believe. See generally: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/automotive/toyota_prius.html

    A few points: I believe the owner’s manual says you must drive the Prius to charge it at least every two weeks. I believe it also says this could cause damage to the battery. If you go on vacation for any extended period, you probably will have a dead battery. I did after 10 days. Check the manual to confirm these statements.

    The Prius is very difficult to jump start. If you make a mistake (e.g. reverse polarity) or perhaps even if you dont, you will have a blown inverter and a $5,000 repair bill. This is a design defect — the car should be protected against such a disastrous result. See citation above. When the AAA guy came out to deal with car, he said he hated dealing with Prius’s.

    I was a proud hybrid owner for 2.8 years, but after receiving a $5,000 bill for a supposed reverse polarity situation, I am done with Prius and Toyota.

    The traction control – car wont’ move in Snow issues are also notorious in the Prius.

  • RobMacD

    No offense, but if your dumb to do that, you deserve to be stuck with a $5000 repair bill.

  • Tim DH

    I agree with the first post. There should be reverse polarity protection.

    There should also be a trickle charge capability if the vehicle is not driven for extended periods of time.

    Little things like this would be easy to fix and would do a world of good restoring confidence in electrifying personal transportation.

    Now if somebody could figure out how to move all the instrumentation in the Prius to where it is supposed to be (in front of the driver) then I might even consider buying one. Oh wait, it is called a 2010 Honda Insight.

  • Satisfied Prius Owner

    I find that hard to believe. See generally: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/automotive/toyota_prius.html

    I did find a comment on that page that mirrors my experience. I’ve had the car for just under 2 years and have over 38,000 miles on it and I can’t add to this wonderfully long list of complaining at all. I guess my car is a lemon if I don’t have problems with it. If you read through the comments long enough, I’m sure you’ll find the one. I guess I should complain to Toyota that they had no right selling me a car that worked when others are having so many problems.

  • steved28

    Thank goodness Nissan didn’t get the traction control technology from Toyota (they did lease the synergy drive system). My Altima hybrid is very good in the snow. I have to wonder if the Prius TRAC system can’t just be disabled by pulling a fuse like other systems.

    As far as the battery is concerned. I know my 12V battery is charged from the 330V battery pack via a converter. If Prius packs are discharging on extended “garage time”, I would think a trickle charger on the 12V battery would lighten any load on the high voltage battery. All the systems that remain active when the car sits run off the 12V system (alarms, computer etc). Keep the 12V battery happy and I would assume the HV battery would remain charged.

  • RKRB

    You are right — ALL cars should have protection against inverter problems. It’s a mistake nearly anyone can make in some situations. Speaking of inverters, I remember a friend with an old (pre-1975) Fiat which often needed a jump-start. It was designed with reverse polarity by the manufacturer, and my friend replaced his electrical system twice after improper jump-starts. The car never ran very well after the rewirings, although, well, it probably never ran especially well before the rewiring, either. Auto makers (including Fiat) have made great progress with dependability.

    We have left our Escape hybrid (the same basic system as the Prius) for longer than two weeks without a problem although we seldom do this. The Escape has a conventional battery, which can be used to start the car, and it seems this is no more of a concern than any other car. It would be interesting to see what Toyota says about this, and about all the other problems mentioned by the owners in the consumeraffairs report. That was a pretty long list, although Toyota has sold a lot of them and it may be hard to generalize from the sample size of this report. BTW our Escape 4WD is fine in the snow and the tires look good after 30,000+ miles. Maintenance intervals are less than our non-hybrid Ford pickup, and we have jump-started other cars without incident. I don’t think ours is atypical.

    It’s good to know the information from this article, and many hybrid owners can (generally) breathe a sigh of relief.

  • RKRB

    Although it’s good the first poster brought the consumeraffairs report to our attention, it’s hard to consider they are general Prius encounters, given the excellent Consumer Reports ratings. People do not always have exactly the same experiences, and that’s the nature of probability and the bell-shaped curve. Some people encounter significant (but perhaps unusual) problems with any vehicle; no car is perfect. Some complaints sound like they were intended to be minor annoyances, and others (like the electronic dash) are problems likely to occasionally show up in other similar cars sold in high volumes. Some problems seem expensive, though, and Prius (or Mercedes, or any other car) buyers should be cautious and strongly consider an extended warranty given the potential expense of a repair (no car is risk free, but not driving an efficient car has risks too, both for us and for others).

  • Bill cosworth

    HA HA

    This site is SO paid for by Toyota. The picture is perfect becasue Toyota cars are a mess of plastic and foam. They hold up like crap in accidents and they do protect the passanger but so does a foam box protect a shipment

    In fact the Prius is so light and cheap a shopping cart will destroy the car.

    http://www.autoblog.com/2008/09/09/iihs-praises-ford-focus-for-cheap-crash-repairs/

    It gets good millage but everyone I know who has hit a prius or been hit by a prius the car fold up costing a forture.

    Hybrids cost a lot more to fix even in a small acident.

    This study shows that if your prius is hit it will cost 9k to fix vs 1000 to fix on a ford focus.

    Thus your not saving a dime on a toyota you are making them richer.

    People who buy the prius are the most stupid people in the world.

  • RobMacD

    Warranty’s don’t cover stupidity, that’s for the insurance and banking sectors.

  • Unsatisfied RobMacD the dork

    RobMacD – other than being a complete tool, you may want to learn some simple English. In your first email, it’s “you’re”, not your. In your second email, it’s “warranties”, not “warranty’s.”

    Why don’t you watch the Southpark Episode about the typical Prius owners, who love the smell of their own flatulence, and who eventually create a new form of pollution called “smug.” When their smugness combines with a cloud formed by George Clooney’s speech at the Oscars, a terrible storm system forms, wiping out San Francisco and nearly wiping out Southpark.

    P.S. The first poster did not get stuck with a $5,000 bill. He used his general casualty on his insurance and will only pay the deductible. Importantly, there will be no increase in his premium. However, he learned a bit about the Prius in the process, including why his car battery ran out 3 times previously in the airport, in the driveway, etc on vacation.

    Lastly, the issue of the Prius not being protected against reverse polarity and not being able to maintain a charge for 2 weeks is not just for the insurance and banking sectors. It’s also an issue for the legal profession. It would make for an excellent class action lawsuit.

  • RKRB

    Note to Bill Cosworth:
    The website you listed showed vehicle damage repair costs in a standardized collision damage test, NOT vehicle occupant protection or safety — there may be no correlation between the two. For instance, a car that integrates its bumpers into the body may have better aerodynamics for better fuel economy, but less protection for expensive parts like headlights and hood assemblies. This says little or nothing about occupant safety, since frame design plays more of a role here. You provided an interesting site, and it was surprising how much some cars (including the Prius and Volkswagen) cost to repair in a minor collision.
    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety used to publish data on real-world fatality and injury rates for cars but no longer does this — their website says collecting this data takes too much time and money, and many car models do not have enough numbers for meaningful comparisons. THey did say, however, that auto death rates have been going down for some time
    Other safety-related websites include iihs.org, nhtsa.dot.gov, and safercar.gov. They have too many subcategories of information for me to provide a useful summary, but you may find those sites helpful in assessing vehicle safety. Check with your insurance company, too — we did this three years ago and were given three categories of insurance cost, based on the companies’ payment of claims for death and injury for various vehicle models. THis could also depend on your own experience, too, since cars driven mainly by less-experienced drivers will have higher claims history, but if you drive more safely, you may not have a higher risk for that particular vehicle (although you would still pay the higher rates).

  • bobajoul

    I love the comments from people with absolutely no experience. Let me add one from someone who did have a major crash. My wife has a Highlander Hybrid, last winter the car skidded into a wall during an ice storm, resulting in significant front end damage. The total repairs were 16K, 6K of which were attributed to hybrid system, including disconnecting and reconnecting inverter, new computer for hybrid system, etc. While we still enjoy the hybrid, I think the cost of this repair gives us pause, as a diesel would have much less cost. This was a significant accident in a 40K car, which would likely have resulted in totaling a Prius, but I would say that blanket statements about cost are somewhat misleading.

  • cindy hillendale

    Toyota gets the worst ratings of any car company makeing the worst cars in accidents.

    They will protect the driver because they fold up like a box and like foam.

    They are very cheaply made. But toyota loves this becaues they sell more cars.

    The front and backs of toyota cars are total plasic and foam. So in a accident they get destroyed but saftey ratings are the same as other cars.

    The real issue with Toyota is there cars just dont hold up and will cost you thousands more to fix than a tough vehicle like a ford.

  • hybridgreg

    It was interesting to read the comments of people who seem to want to trash these cars. First, there is some confusion about the term “Battery”. The Prius has two batteries; the high voltage Nickel Metal Hydride and the 12 volt AGM battery (Absorbed electrolyte Gas Mat). The 12 volt battery will discharge, not “go bad” if it is not charged within two weeks. The high voltage battery will not work unless the 12 volt battery is charged. All the electronics are controlled by that 12 volt battery. Therefore, if the 12 volt is discharged it does not matter if the high voltage battery is fully charged, it will not start. In addition, the AGM battery is different than your normal Lead-acid 12 volt. The charging of that battery must be done with a charge rate that can adjust the charge rate based on the state of charge. This means that if you had a “discharged” battery and attempted to recharge with a jumper cable and another car for a long period of time, you would damage the battery (think Optima battery).

    Therefore, knowing the correct procedure, rather than trying to make it “idiot proof”, works on every car… not just hybrids. One other thing, when I worked at a dealership and some one would ask me does this engine or that have many failures, I would always say..”I only see the failures”. Using the same logic, the comment of that AAA tow truck driver about “not liking to charge a Prius”, is more of a personal lack of understanding regarding proper charging procedures rather than an indictment of the Prius.

    As for using a trickle charge on the Prius for a long period of time, I would be very careful about the charging rate. Never charge an AGM battery with more than 3 amps for any extended period of time. In fact, the Optima battery has a sensing mechanism in the battery that will cause the battery to fail if it is charged incorrectly… and the warranty is immediately void. So, the bottom line is to understand that the new technologies incorporated into hybrid vehicles will need a more informed driver. As with all technologies, this will come in time.

    As for accidents and high costs of repair, most insurance companies will give you lower premiums if you drive a hybrid. That must mean that the accident rate and the repair costs are less, overall, for hybrids verses other cars. Although, could someone in the insurance industry speak to that, for us here? So that we have facts quantified?

    One final comment, be careful about assuming that the future of this technology will only reflect its past. New developments in battery technology (lithium Ion and Zinc air) and electronic controls will solve some of the concerns expressed here. The future of hybrids is very bright, when one sees the research being done to help us rid ourselves of dependency on foreign oil. The best is yet to come and all of us appreciate the effort of those who felt strong enough about our being self-sufficient in energy to invest in our future. Oh, and I do not work for any dealer, car company, hybrid related repair company or do I make any money on your ownership of these cars. I simply want to end our need for foreign energy and see these cars getting over one hundred miles per gallon in the near future. Excuse the typos, it does not mean that I am illiterate, only in a hurry.

  • Secured Homeowner Loan

    the cost for repair make my head pump… in car insurance it must be cover the damage for the cars to make sense…

  • goodpeoplegives

    Thanks for the information, you are right with that one.

  • cash4trends

    I will just be careful.

  • billrainier

    Thanks for this one.

  • Anonymous

    All that are sold on hybrids should research and know the pluses and minuses of the car. COSTS vs. repair vs. gas savings and “possible” future costs – for mistakes or accidents. Check insurance vs. extended warranties vs. feel good attitude of you doing something for “mother earth. How about natural gas Honda GX? Like there is no competition? Don’t be fooled by marketing or even Consumer Reports political influence. I had a Highlander with 5mph (really) front end damage, air bags deployed etc. all from straight forward motion. It totaled the car with frame damage with approx. $12k damage. I won’t trust another Japanese car for now unless you can afford the top end models with top insurance. Don’t forget to add in the extended warranty on cost “savings”. I’ll wait till I know the GM Volt or a new Ford natural gas comes around. (if/when) Good luck.

  • daniell

    Always is a option to buy a new car with an car insurance Ireland. But you can fix your broken car with your car insurance. I believe that in time will be better to fix your car, but the temptation to buy a new car is high. I was in this situation and I choose to buy a new hybrid car.

  • jonnyz

    Naturally they should not because they are made lighter material. The only problem is that they are not that widely spread and that could prevent manufacturing companies
    to be cost effective with the parts.

  • Tim Jackson

    I rented a Prius to go on vacation last year because a friend of mine from car repair Palmyra recommended it, and at first I was like “oh no not a Prius”, thinking of Jeff Dunham jokes. It turned out that the joke was on me because I liked it so much I’m buying a Prius V! I love the gas millage and the interior is roomy and the backseat is big enough for two growing children.

  • Cindy Keller

    You are going to continually hear scare stories about hybrids from people who don’t own them. I’ve had mine for ten months and it has never cost me a dime except for oil changes. There are people here who have over 200,000 miles on theirs with no major repairs, my uncle who works in car donations sees such cars daily. Taxi companies are putting millions of miles on them with no problems. The only problems I have encountered with my Prius is that I forget to check the gas gauge. I have to fill up so seldom that I literally forget to check it sometimes.

  • car title loans georgia

    Hi! It’s an honor to know that you are not alone in your beliefs in anyway. It’s sad to feel so alone in the world you believe to be the rightful one for you. But then, browsing through your site gave me a reason to stand back. Sometimes it’s not what other people think of, but it’s what you are showing them that makes them say you are right and suddenly you’d find out someone is really right by your side. Thanks for sharing such wonderful thoughts.

  • crazysony

    I had a Toyota Prius and after a year I had some problems with the engine.After the mechanic checked it,he told me that its repair cost is very huge and he recommended me to buy another car.When I asked him a price this was the one of a second-hand Toyota Prius and when I’ve realized that after a year my car costs are so huge I’ve decided to look for some Manchester NH used car dealers in order to buy an used car because I simply didn’t afford a new one.

  • Javier

    Interesing Post reverse phone lookup

  • taylor

    Sir, if you knew about the car before you bought it then you would know that hybrid vehicles are only meant for city-like driving
    snow will freeze battery completeely stoppoing you from driving the car
    you need a winter blend oil for snow conditions
    and if you were to say go up to the mountains and camp you cant because its not meant for it thats why no traction
    its a hybid not a truck not a car its a hybrid

  • taylor

    i agree but then again you shouldnt be stupid enough to do such a thing

  • mike falcone

    So there is a lot to worry about in this world and if you are Environmentally friendly then when you buy a car you should buy a hybrid and when it comes to the repair of a hybrid just make sure the mechanics that work on your car are trained if you need to find a certified hybrid repair shop call http://www.gogreenautocenters.com/ and they will help you find the right mechanic who is also “Environmentally Friendly” and “Hybrid Ready”

  • mutuelle

    i agree but then again you shouldnt be stupid enough to do such a thing
    +1

  • john smith

    Experience with the Used Toyota Prius suggests that “hybrid cars” may be “cheap” on repairs. But it may not be clear if this is just good engineering by Toyota for the Prius or if hybrid cars are in general cheap. It would be counter intuitive to believe that they would in general be cheaper.

  • john smith

    Experience with the Toyota Pirus suggests that “hybrid cars” may be “cheap” on repairs. But it may not be clear if this is just good engineering by Toyota for the Prius or if hybrid cars are in general cheap. It would be counter intuitive to believe that they would in general be cheaper.
    Used Toyota Prius