As an automotive instructor, I am always looking for ways to do real world research that can help my students learn. After I bought my $1000 Toyota Prius and got it working again, I was determined to set out on a real world adventure that would help me gather data on how durable this little car actually is.
What better way than to test the car out than on a long 2000+ mile road trip? It would provide real world experience and help me understand if my traction battery repair was actually going to hold up to the abuse I was about to put it through.
To better set the tone here, I should preface the road trip story with some background information. The Prius was cheap because the hybrid or traction battery was bad, the catalytic converter was failed, it was an oil consumer, had one bad tire, a check engine light on for some strange code I had never encountered, and overall needed some serious inside and outside cleaning. In short, a car with 245,000 miles that was a total disaster, was probably not the best car to take on a long road trip through hot desert weather. I did it anyway.
I eventually worked out all the bad and finally had the Prius in good enough shape to make it road worthy again. I ended up spending about $500 dollars and doing all the work myself, but for $1500 bucks to get a 40+ mpg car, I was in.
The Toyota Prius Road Map
I live in eastern Washington State and would be driving through north east Oregon, southern Idaho, and then into Utah. I would start in northern Utah then make my way south to see my family.
I had planned out to go to a training at Weber State University to take a hybrid and electric vehicle course from professor John Kelly, who only (what seemed to me) a few short years before was one of my automotive instructors there at the school. I was super pumped.
Total drive time from Tri-Cities, WA to Farmington, UT (where we were staying) about 10 hours, but with kids it is more around the 12 mark. So, in typical road trip fashion we started out way later than I wanted to, and began the journey.
The First 5 Hours
From our house to Boise, ID is about 5 hours. Since we had left semi early the kids slept most of the way. We pulled off at a rest stop to get out for a bit and stretch. I also thought it would be a great time to give the Prius a once over and make sure everything was ship shape.
I popped open the hood and scoped around with my flashlight. No leaks, nothing falling off, everything was in tact. We had been hitting a bit of a strong headwind and been doing some decent hills so fuel economy was not exactly impressive at the moment. Not to mention we also had this beast loaded down with about 2 weeks of stuff that we would need for the family vacation, and it added a few pounds to it as well.
I met some Prius friends and asked if I could snap a shot with them. After explaining what I was doing they were more than willing to become semi-famous. Thanks Rick and Terri (or whatever your names were, I do not remember) for the cool shot of your 2013 third gen.
At 40 mpg average, I was not complaining, (my civic never got that) but I was hoping to see a little bit better economy once we found some down hill grades.
The Arrival In Utah
We rolled into our airbnb at about 2 am (love my wife she is just never on time) and we were dead tired. We unloaded the Prius and put the kids in bed. Luckily, it was Sunday the next day and we were meeting some friends later so there was no pressure to really get moving the next day.
In typical research fashion, I checked the car over as best as I could, and added about a half quart of engine oil. The first part of many to understanding what people can expect with high mileage oil consumer is that it you need to check the oil more often.
I had not yet tried out the BG Hybrid kit yet and so adding oil was the only thing I could do right now to keep my Prius from burning out on our trip.
Miles down, just over 600 one way. So far the only thing that I had to go off of was I had an oil consumption problem. No worries, oil is not super expensive and I can monitor that. Next stop, class, all week.
The Toyota Prius As A Commuter Car
For 5 awesome days, reliving my university life, I commuted about 40 miles each day to and from the school. I started seeing much more impressive fuel economy numbers as well, since the Prius went on a diet and was only carrying me.
My personal best for fuel econ numbers that week was 57 mpg. I was really impressed with this little car now, and besides the oil consumption issue, I was really pleased with it.
During the week there at the school, I used about a tank of fuel (another 400 miles) bringing the total driven miles to right about 1000 at this point.
I had met a friend there that was attending the course with me and he owned the same generation of Prius as I did. He told me that he had swapped his PCV valve and he oil consumption had stopped on his. Before we parted ways, I had an OE PCV valve being shipped to my next location in St. George Utah where I would install it and continue my research.
We said goodbye to the wonderful week in northern Utah, I closed the hood of the Prius (again after adding about another half quart of oil) and we headed out on a hot journey south. Loaded, once again.
The Stint In The Desert
I was raised in southern Utah. Since I have moved around the country a fair bit, I love coming "home" to see family and friends. I also, love the hot summer (comparable to Phoenix, AZ). This is where I was sure if we were going to encounter issues, it would be here. Little did I know how right I would be.
We had a great time, and had a great place to stay at the Air bnb (this is a super great place by the way and I highly recommend it), but we eventually had to say goodbye to that place as well.
I checked the oil, again, adding another quart (up to 2 at this point which is more than half the amount that is required) closed the hood, and felt good about the new PCV valve I had installed.
We loaded up once more, and set out. The climb out of the city is pretty grueling, really only because it was blazing hot that day (105 degrees) I think. The Prius had been working some hard overtime running the A/C as best we could to keep from sweating to death.
The traction battery was pretty low on charge, but since we had a Prius with a boost converter, I figured we would be okay.
The Triangle Of Death
7 miles. That was all it made it. We started the ascent, I nailed the accelerator pedal and the dash lit up like a town square on the 4th of July (which oddly enough had been previous weeks before). The car said to pull over so we did, and in the boiling heat, I shut it down.
I did not panic though, instead I reached for my trusty OBD2 scanner and plugged it in. I turned the accessories on and read the code, P0A93. Inverter coolant pump failure. Great, I thought, we are trying to get out of town and this happens. I was devastated.
I figured that I would clear the code and see if it came back. I cleared it, and we started out again. I made it 4 miles. Back on, pull over, stop driving. We were stuck, or so I thought. I knew this car had already undergone the recall for the inverter pump, so getting it covered was not an option. Then my training kicked in. I am an automotive technician, I can fix this.
I thought long and hard about it, I realized while I had not lost any coolant, it could be possible that the heat threshold could have been too high and I needed to let the car cool off for a bit. We pulled into a parking lot, popped the hood and did our best not to swealter in the shade. Trust me, if you ever visit St. George in the summer, just know it is hot no matter where you are.
I cleared the code again, (checked the oil, just to be sure I had not lost more) closed the hood, and started the Prius back up. We kicked the A/C on high, and hammered down. It has not skipped a beat since. We made it all the way back home, another 1000 + miles with absolutely no issues, at all.
The Toyota Prius, high miles and all proved itself in the heat (literally) of battle. Not only did it perform, nearly flawlessly, for a super high mileage car. We still got 40 mpg round trip. That is pretty darn impressive.
The Prius is still running strong today, and I drive it everyday. I have since begun the research on the BG Hybrid repair kit for the oil consumption issue, and have had some great results so far.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading about The Toyota Prius 2000+ mile road trip. Check out my other story Why the first generation Prius is better than either generation Nissan Leaf.
See you in the next story where I am discussing why the Toyota Prius AWD-e is the best one yet, why car enthusiasts and average car guys loathe the Toyota Prius as well as 3 quality accessories every Toyota Prius sould have.
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Peter Neilson is an automotive consultant specializing in electric cars and hybrid battery technologies. He is an automotive technology instructor at Columbia Basin College. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Automotive Service Technology from Weber State University. Peter can be reached on Linkedin and you can tweet him at The_hybrid_guy on Twitter.