Friday, June 24, 2011

What's wrong with Prius ?


So, here we are again! As promised, in this post we will discuss whatever we know as cons in Prius. For those who are already feeling like left out : In part1 of this post we discussed few basics in Prius, in part2 we covered bit more detailed stuff.

Most of those stuff discussed in those previous posts, I could personally vouch from own experiences. Sadly, (for the readers that is :-) ) I can't vouch for most of things we are going to discuss today since I still haven't had the misfortune of experiencing many of them myself. (yet!)

Issue 1, Prius need a baby sitter!
Rechargeable battery is NiMH, so it is not good for this battery to be idle for a long time or fully charged or low charged for a long duration. While driving, Prius is making sure that the battery charge is around 50%-60% most of the time so that it's life will be prolonged. However, when the car is parked and idle, it is the owners responsibility to make sure the car doesn't stay like that for weeks continuously, that will make the battery fully dead!

In 2001 model, Toyota issued a open warning that if the car remained idle for 3 continuous weeks, the battery will be irreversibly and permanently damaged. (that could be a loss of about $ 2000-3000). So if you are out of home for such a duration with the car leaving in the garage, you will have to ask someone to start it and go for a little ride (or at least start and let the engine run for few minutes) once in every few days!

Believe it or not,  This actually benefited me! When I bought my car from a local dealer in 2005, they have put it in the show room for few months without knowing what that would do to the battery. So, they had to import and fix a brand new battery before selling the car to yours truly. That battery is still working in acceptable quality. Also, I'm not a person who get to leave the car alone for weeks on end, So the baby sitter problem was never an issue for me. 

Issue 2, crash impact on the rear could ignite the battery ?!
A Toyota engineer told me this. This has to be a severe crash, which is very rare so the available information is scarce. A quick search in the net will find you few cases but most of them have following characteristics. Either someone has put the car on fire deliberately, or this has happened to a plug-in hybrid (we will discuss this in little later) or the car got in fire for some other reason and what they are really claiming is it's difficult to put the fire off when it got close to battery compartment. So it's not really clear whether there is a proven fire issue in Prius. If there is one it is unlikely the car comes to the global market after passing safety tests. So I guess at most, this is a very rare case of a normal fire spreading into the battery pack. Even in a normal car, a fire could be lethal if it spread near petrol tank for instance. Nothing to fear about but something better to keep in mind I guess.

Issue 3, overall performance can degrade in extreme cold
This has been witnessed in some countries in winter. Little drop in battery performance and also due to engine heating required, I guess. Not an issue if you not going well into minus degrees often.   

Issue 4, performance can go down temporarily after sitting under hot sun for hours.
This too I heard from a Toyota technician. Curiously enough, I haven't seen a noticeable effect myself! May be it has to do with the high power needed for AC for a while after being under the sun, or may be the electrical parts performing sub optimally under excess heat.. We would like to hear from new model owners whether they see a difference. Meanwhile, it's better to park your car in a shade when ever possible. :-) 

Issue 5, Don't get it dropped in water or get caught in severe floods!
There is lot of electrical parts, computers and batteries inside.. So, water is understandably allergic to the internals of this particular animal. When cleaning or servicing, don't let people to use the water gun at the engine area! (after opening the bonnet) that part needs to be cleaned by air, not water.

If the the extremely funny case of car getting dropped in a river or a lake and the driver surviving, if it is a normal car and if you somehow manage to get it out of water, you would expect it to run after some basic repairs and servicing isn't it ? but not the Prius! In this case you would be most probably in for some series repairs and troubles with the electrical parts... Same goes for getting caught in severe flooding. I guess this is an extreme but an obvious case, so no need for further explanations. If you feel like taking a dive or two together with your car once in every year like, then the Prius is definitely not for you. :-)

Issue 6, reversing could be a problem when the battery is really weak.
New car owners will not see this for at least 10 years I hope. My old car sometimes gives up this complaint. This happen when the hybrid battery is weak and not charged to the expected level. Prius relies on the battery for the reversing. (at least my old model is, check with your one!) So, if I have to reverse a long distance, or worse reverse uphill then the car would simply not move! Will have to shut off the engine and start again in this case, sometime I had to do this few times. It can be embarrassing in a crowded park for instance. Fortunately this is a rare case even in my old car and can be averted by making sure the battery is charged before you leave the car (keeping the engine on for a little while), or avoiding parking in such ways as you have to perform a reverse uphill to re start your journey. As mentioned in part1 of the post, this problem went away after servicing the battery.

Oh.. we almost forgot to mention about the plug-in hybrid! This is a new model of Prius which is now being tested in few continents and expected to hit the markets next year. This can we can optionally charge in the night from the main line and can go up to 30 kms in a single charge without using a drop of petrol! This is in addition to behaving like a normal Prius.

Few observation :
1) One might think this is totally green but not necessarily so. If the electricity is being produced in a power station using fuel, then car is still indirectly runs on fuel. However, power generators uses fuel much more efficiently in converting them to electrical energy than a vehicle engine converting fuel into kinetic energy, so you are still making a contribution to the environment. Another aspect is sometimes electricity you use at your home is being produced by nuclear, hydro or solar power. In those cases, it will be a 100% fossil fuel free ride for you!!

2) One might think this is very cheap than running on petrol but not necessarily so. It depends on how expensive the electricity is in the country you live. I don't think this will be that cheap in Sri Lanka. However, in certain countries wherre they have abandon nuclear energy, this could turn up to be a big save and total independence from fossil fuel as well!

3) Even your current Prius can be turned into a plug-in model! There are 3rd party battery charges available in the market. (got to eBay for instance) using one you could charge the batter at night. However, these technologies are not recommended or endorsed by Toyota. In fact, they will  make your warranty null and void if you get caught using such a device. There are people who still do this, but it is advisable you do it knowing what you are doing and taking a risk as well. Personally I wouldn't even think about this until one day the electricity become cheap in here. Until (if/when) minster Champika Ranawaka get his nuclear power plant operational that is.

Ok... we are closing the shop now. I have no intention of writing any Prius articles any more. (at least not in near future) I didn't really intend to write 3 posts as I have ended up doing! Very happy to see the interest it generated and if these information were helpful to anybody somewhere. We can discuss more via comments.

See you next time then...

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