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
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.