In September of 2011, I sold my wife’s Jetta TDI and started looking for a fuel efficient, sustainable vehicle for her to drive with an automatic transmission.
I try to make sustainability an important part of all my life decisions including purchasing a car. Here are the prioritized criteria I used for the decision:
- I want to buy a used car so I’m recycling an existing vehicle and not introducing another new vehicle into the global fleet.
- I want a fuel efficient car that uses as little petroleum as possible for the distance I cover.
- I want a vehicle that can use alternative/renewable fuel sources other than petroleum.
- I want a reliable car that won’t require tons of maintenance and parts replacement to keep it running.
After much research, I found that the second generation Toyota Prius built from 2004 to 2009 is a very reliable, fuel efficient vehicle that uses electricity for a portion of its propulsion. While electricity isn’t always produced from renewable fuel sources, it definitely has that as an option. I can eventually install a plugin kit where I can charge it with solar or any other fuel source that I can use to generate electricity.
I spent a month researching the Prius using online resources like Priuschat to determine the right questions to ask and troubleshooting inspection points to check when buying a used Prius. Here are some of the questions and troubleshooting points I used:
- Check Carfax for the vehicle accident report. I didn’t want a wrecked and rebuilt Prius. The Synergy drive systems are complex and there is risk that rebuilding the car might not be done correctly.
- Do a complete visual inspection inside and out making note of any visible problems with the vehicle. This includes testing all of the features such as lock/unlock buttons, window operation, gauge operation, lighting, tires, undercarriage, etc.
- Use troubleshooting sequences to verify condition of the primary and auxiliary battery systems
- Check fluid levels and condition
- Look for a Check Engine light. Make sure stop, drive and start the car at least three or four times to make sure the Check Engine light wasn’t reset by the owner before the test drive. If you get a check engine light, ask to drive it to a local Toyota dealer and have them pull the codes and give you an estimate on the repair. Some codes like coolant valve malfunctions can be hundreds of dollars in labor to fix and are only repairable by a Prius-certified service shop with proper equipment.
- Most Toyota dealerships will do a free pre-sale multi-point inspection of any Prius. Find one and get it done. You won’t be disappointed and can negotiate price using this report.
Once you are satisfied with the condition of the vehicle and make the purchase, here are the suggested updates to make on the car after purchase:
- Change all fluids. This is an easy DIY project except for the inverter coolant. If the previous owner doesn’t have proof of an inverter coolant flush and the car has over 100k miles, go ahead and get it done by the dealer. Otherwise, wait until you get a check engine light for any coolant-related issues to change the inverter coolant and make sure they perform the flush during the service.
- Change the spark plugs using Toyota or OEM equivalent spark plugs. Get the right ones for best performance. The good news is most Toyota dealerships have good parts pricing and you won’t save much by shopping elsewhere if you are buying the correct OEM replacement parts.
- Change the PCV valve if you have 100k miles or more. These eventually clog from carbon deposits and the check valve sticks. This will affect driving performance and/or fuel economy.
- Change the CVT transmission fluid. I’m singling out this fluid change since it isn’t recommended by Toyota but should be done at least every 100k miles. It does get dirty and running any petroleum-based product for more than 100k miles or more isn’t a good idea. (especially since these 2nd generation Priuses can run over 300k miles before needing an overhaul)
- Have a Toyota dealer or a good independent shop check the brakes and suspension for wear. Repair or replace worn components.
Once this is complete, you should be ready to go for a long, sustainable auto life!