Emotions, Pride, and the Myth of Prius Savings

prius[1]Man, did I ever strike a nerve with my post that questioned whether a Toyota Prius really accomplishes significant, or any, savings in the long run. The post elicited a number of comments from a generation of Prius lovers who jumped on me something awful. There was plenty of name calling and sarcasm, but not one commenter has disputed the basic theme of my post – that the much higher purchase price of a Prius vis-à-vis other economical cars dwarfs the fuel cost savings.

Instead, folks offered a number of justifications, most of which my original post anticipated. For example, people fell back on the emotional argument that it is worth some financial sacrifice to “save the planet.” Others noted that used Priuses offer price savings, while ignoring the proportionate discount that can be found with any used versus new model purchase.

Others resorted to dubious hyperbole. The most recent commenter indicated that he has been “averaging” 65 to 75 miles per gallon driving in Boston. That’s quite a feat – exceeding the EPA fuel efficiency estimates by over 25% while driving in a large, congested, metropolis. Most experienced drivers will tell you that the EPA estimates are very difficult to match, much less surpass, without resorting to crazy hypermiling techniques such as driving down hills with the engine off. But this commenter, somehow, beats the EPA in a city notorious for its stop-and-go congestion.

Still others criticized my comparative choice of the Chevrolet Cruze on grounds that the Cruze fares poorly in crash tests. It was quite an ironic defense given the most recent crash test findings in which Prius was found to be one of the worst models.

Criticism of the comparisons was a recurring theme with another writer – from a Toyota dealership, by the way – arguing that the Prius should be compared with the Camry rather than the Corolla. Really? Look, I don’t care how Toyota chooses to classify the Prius, it’s just not a large or full size sedan. If you can drive a Prius and a Corolla and notice an appreciable size difference, good for you. For all practical purposes – and practical is what this blog is all about – they are similar cars.

I think my favorite claim was the writer who boasted that he regularly beats Mustangs from red lights because of the great turbo start. Seeing as how the 2013 Prius goes 0 to 60 in 10.7 seconds, (just a bit more than twice as long as the Mustang) I found that remark particularly entertaining. (By the way, doesn’t it seem odd that a frugal, gas saving Prius driver would be hot rodding from stops?)

What all of these hostile comments really show is how sensitive people are when shown that they really have not made the most financially sensible choice. Pride is a dangerous thing, and it can really get in the way with saving money. It is pride, after all, that prompts people into over consumption in the first place. In this case, I certainly credit Prius buyers with good intentions. I don’t think anyone buys a Prius to impress friends, clients, or business associates. People buy Priuses to save money and resources. But as my original piece amply demonstrates, the price of a Prius makes it a very difficult goal to achieve. If you have bought one, by all means stick it out. Continue driving it for 100,000 miles, and you may finally net some savings over the cheaper Corolla that you could have bought in the first place. For those considering a new or used car, however, there simply are better choices.

In a larger sense, you have to check your pride and emotions when living a frugal lifestyle. Strive to be practical, not stubborn, logical, rather than defiant. And when you find yourself arguing that a Prius regularly beats the Ford Mustang in acceleration and horsepower, it’s a pretty good indication that you need to stop, take a deep breath, and come down to reality.

In a final note, I do credit one commenter with making a good point that I did not know. Apparently, Priuses are allowed to drive in HOV lanes regardless of whether passengers are in the car. If true, and if you live in an area with HOV lanes, this is an added plus.

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23 Responses to Emotions, Pride, and the Myth of Prius Savings

  1. Pingback: Myth Busters: Toyota Prius as a Money Saver | Practical Frugal Living

  2. robinobishop says:

    The mustang could have been missing on a few cylinders. You seem to suppose 100k miles is some kind of extraordinary achievement. Too many American-made vehicles in your history? As for comparisons, Good luck packing a baby grand in the trunk of the Corolla.

  3. Tom says:

    In your link about the Prius and bad crash test results. It is the small Prius that is about like the Yaris “Toyota Prius C” that is mentioned there, you are referring to the the larger Prius here though. Also “None of the 12 minicars tested got the highest rating of “good””

  4. Chris says:

    What both the original article, and this one are intentionally stacking the deck in the favor of Anti-Prius ownership. If we compare apples to apples, it’s pretty simple to see why so many people buy the Prius. First, you cannot compare the Prius to a base model Corolla. The Prius is much better equipped and much roomier. Buy a tape measure if you need to. The Prius is a mid-size car. Very nearly as roomy as a Camry. Second, comparing a Prius to a Chevy Cruze is just downright ridiculous. You wouldn’t argue that the Camry is a rip off because it is more than a Cruze. It’s just simply a better car. Better built, more reliable, and longer lasting. The best comparison would be to compare a Prius to a Camry. Both have Toyota build quality and reliability and both are nearly the same size. The base price for a 2015 Camry is $22,970 and the base price for a 2015 Prius is $24,200. That’s a $1,230 difference. At 4 dollars a gallon, that means that you only need to save 307.5 gallons of gas to justify the higher purchase price. Assuming worst case scenario, all highway driving, the 48 MPG of the Prius being 13 MPG more than the 35 MPG Camry, it would still take less than 40,000 miles to make up the difference. In realistic city/highway mixed driving it would likely take less than half that time. I know I plan on driving my car more than 40,000 miles, and when I am done with it, I intend to sell it, and I can be sure to have a higher resale value when the time comes because people like hybrids.

    When you compare apples to apples, it’s pretty easy to see why people choose to buy the Prius. In my case, the fuel savings over my old car are significantly more than enough to cover my entire monthly car payment. Hard to argue in favor of a less economical car.

  5. joey says:

    the author is NOT frugal, just a moron. true frugals don’t own cars, and if they do, they live in them.

    im gonna start my own frugal blog and show this rookie how its done.

    • Brian says:

      I agree. The simple fact is the breakeven point simply depends on how much you drive in a year. Anyone drives less than 10,000 mile per year on Prius is in for a long term. I, on the other hand driving 25,000 miles a year, Prius V is a no-brainer.

  6. Ben Dover says:

    and, as far as the future cost of repairs, which is laughable against american cars, here is the warranty information:

    Powertrain warranty:60 months/60,000miles

    Basic warranty:36 months/36,000miles

    Corrosion perforation warranty:60 months/ unlimited distance

    Roadside assistance warranty:24 months/25,000miles

    Hybrid electrical components warranty:96 months/100,000miles

    Maintenance warranty:24 months/25,000miles

    • Brian says:

      How useful is a warranty when you have to drive or even tow your car to the dealer? I have a BWM 335i which has pretty standard luxury car warranty 4 yrs/60,000 miles. I am at the dealer at least once a year for warranty service in my first 3 years of owning a brand new 335i and each trip takes 3 hours (drop off and pick up). I am not sure how you value your time. For me, it is not worth it even with the donunts/cookie/hometheater room/…. at the waiting room.

      • orionantares says:

        Toyota dealerships are much more plentiful. Plus the Prius also has a track record of actually being slightly more reliable than the typical Toyota vehicle.

    • Jay says:

      Out of all of the warranties, which one would be the most important in your opinion?

  7. Steve says:

    I buy my Prius vehicles in salvage repaired condition. What I like about owning a Prius is the rear-view camera, auto (keyless) entry, keyless start, bluetooth when it wasn’t cheap, steering wheel controls, auxiliary input when it wasn’t standard, large carrying capacity in the back and great gas mileage. For sure you cannot compare a Prius with cheap made vehicles. It is not made cheap. It is not as comfortable as a Camry, but much more comfortable than a Corolla. And as I started my post here – I pay several thousand below wholesale. Yes, you have to chance the car is working perfect in a salvage vehicle, but so far I have prospered with the Prius. The Prius is in a class of its own and that makes it hard to compare with other vehicles. I would consider buying a NEW Prius because of my experience with it. I have owned Lexus, Infinity, BMW, Corolla, Mustang, Camaro, Trans AM, Convertibles (Solara and Crossfire). They all have their purpose and benefits, but my enjoyment has been at the gas pump as I do not value the benefits of these other vehicles anymore, but I enjoy the ride when compared to small vehicles.

  8. Patrick says:

    To the author:
    You are ignoring an important factor in this debate that tips it heavily in your favor. The time opportunity of money is very significant. If you buy a corolla instead of a Prius and you save $7000 in the first year you have the opportunity to invest that $7000! At a 7% rate of return over 10 years that $7000 nearly doubles to $13,770! What price of gas would it take to pay that back???

    • Brian says:

      Patrick, your assumption of this $7000 is that you do have this extra $7000 when you buy a Corolla. Who gives you that? The dealer put $7000 in your pocket to let you invest in 7% return rate? Why do they do that? You get a loan. So that $7000 to start with is in your imagination.

  9. brwest says:

    This whole tired argument is based on the premise that the Prius is comparable to a cheap compact such as the Cruze or the Corolla. This totally misses the fact that the Prius is a mid-sized hatchback, and therefore has much more utility than any compact sedan. In terms of utility, efficiency, and reliability per dollar, the Prius is in a class of its own. Trust me, I’m looking for a new car and I can’t find anything else to replace my 10-year-old Prius. If you think it’s ugly or boring, I can’t argue with that, but don’t rationalize your personal bias with a deceptive argument based on a flawed assumption.

  10. Jeff says:

    This article was fair in assessment. I think the owners that keep writing idiotic replies though are great entertainment! 🙂

  11. Jay says:

    At the end of the day, it sounds like the Prius is a great investment if you plan on keeping the car for more than 2 years. I am looking to buy a car that gives me the best mpg for over 5 years. So it sounds like the Prius would be a good purchase for me. Does anyone else have any other choices?

  12. Bob says:

    A Prius has 21 CuFt of trunk space and a Prius V 34 CuFt of trunk space, as well as holding 5 passengers, which make them comparable to a Accord/Camry for a regular Prius or CRV RAV4 for the Prius V. Prices for a regular Prius run about the same for a comparably equipped Accord/Camry as does a Prius V to a comparably equipped CRV or RAV4.

    The author’s comments are the same as saying that buying a Camry is a waste of money when you can buy a Corolla or Yaris for so much less. Actually for a family of 4, the Prius will give you a better combination of passenger and cargo space than an Accord or Camry because of the larger cargo space. Where the Accord/Camry wins out is when having 3 across is the back seat because they’re wider.

    The key is to first determine what car you really need. I bought a 4 year old Prius in 2010 that had 40,000 miles on it for $13,000 and for the past 5 years I’ve had no costs other than oil changes and tires. I’ve averaged 46mpg over the past 70,000 miles, so at $3/gal comparing 30mpg to 46mpg I’ve saved about $2,500 in gas. I’m on the original brakes due to the fact that the Prius uses regenerative braking. A Chevy Cruze, Corolla or Civic didn’t have the interior passenger or cargo spece to meet my needs.

    Wanting something larger (think small SUV size) I went with the Prius V because it has the space of a small SUV but 40mpg vs 25mpg average at the same price.

  13. Josh says:

    You guys also have to think about the image the car portrays.

    When people commonly at least in the Detroit area refer to them as the Toyota penis, it becomes something I wouldn’t drive.

    Or when comedians readily make jokes that the Prius screams I’m gay as it drives away!

    I have driven some crappy vehicles but none that have been called,driving penises or liberal fag mobiles.

    And the guy that beats mustangs omg! Maybe for a fraction of a second off the line.
    And the Prius does worse mpg wise than the m3 when driven hard! What’s the point of a car you can’t have fun with.

  14. bugs says:

    I’ve been renting out my car, using relayrides website, and can make hundreds per month. The hybrids are much in demand since renters like not having to pay for as much gas. I ride my bicycle and/or my motorcycle to work often, so I can do long term rentals with my car, it practically pays for itself, and when I do use it, I can get the benefit of the gas savings to boot.

  15. Mandy Kiel says:

    The author of this post, who claims to be looking at the long run costs, has missed a lot of tangential factors that affect the cost of ownership of a car.
    1. Insurance – cars classified as midsize (ie Prius) are typically assessed a lower insurance base percentage (this is how much premium you pay per $1000 value of car) than compact cars, but the Prius is still worth a lot more than most compact cars. So, it is possible that this factor is a wash, but it will also vary by market and by driving history. When you are shopping for a car, it is worthwhile to get insurance quotes for two or three of your top choices to see how they compare.
    2. Maintenance – the Prius, having less reliance on the gas motor because of the parallel electric motor, needs less ongoing maintenance than a standard gasoline car. Less frequent oil changes add up over time, as well as virtually no maintenance in the transmission, and a reduced frequency of brake replacements due to “regenerative braking.” The electric motor needs no maintenance. If the batteries come due for a replacement, that is a huge cost, but they are covered by warranty for 100,000 miles.
    3. Resale value (aka depreciation) – hybrid cars, due to positive market perception, hold their value better than most cars out there, so your high initial purchase price is likely to be at least partially offset by a high resale value later.
    4. Tax advantages – though the federal government is no longer offering tax incentives on the Prius (they have updated their formula in favor of all-electric vehicles such at the Nissan Leaf) many states still offer significant tax incentives that can help offset the cost of a Prius. Also, some cities and states offer other perks to Prius drivers, such as dedicated parking or free use of the HOVT lane.
    5. Comfort – if you really wanted to just go with the cheapest possible transportation, you wouldn’t be buying a new car anyway. If you are buying a new car, chances are that comfort and reliability are concerns for you, and perhaps also seating capacity and cargo capacity. In these areas, the Prius significantly outperforms the compact cars to which this author compares it. The Prius has the additional advantage of being very peppy (for a 1.8L 4-cyl) and thus more fun to drive than a Chevy Cruz or a Corolla.

    Consumer reports has a fairly in-depth article about finding the hidden costs of vehicle ownership here http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/12/what-that-car-really-costs-to-own/index.htm and they reached a much different conclusion than the author of this post.

  16. Curtis B says:

    I waste all the gas your Prius has saved by going around your dumbass flying wedge, it’s not just me wasting the gas that you’ve saved but the other 9 cars that are behind you that have to accelerate to get around your Prius, so if anything the Prius is causing the planet to run out of petrol due to people accelerating around the Prius, so really Prius drivers are responsible for creating more carbon monoxide . Thanks for ruining the world Prius drivers.

    • Maggie says:


      I love when people aggressively drive by me, as you have explained, only for the fact that I am driving a Prius. I actually go around most cars myself and drive fairly quickly. However, it cracks me up seeing people like you who feel the need to be the boss of the road due to their own personal insecurities (some may relate to SPS, overcompensation, etc.). I honestly don’t care what I pay for gas, but it is important for the environment. Also, the South Park episode about Prius/hybrid vehicles was awesome and I wanted people to say, “Good for you!”. Sorry about your bad day!

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