2003 Toyota Prius
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Why Gen 1 Toyota Prius Is Hands Down Better Than Either Generation Of Nissan Leaf

The Toyota Prius is without a doubt a better engineered vehicle when it comes to comparing it to the Nissan Leaf. I have mapped out exactly why it is and also why you should avoid buying one.
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I am certain there will be comments tell me that I am wrong, and that the Nissan Leaf is far superior to the 1st Gen Toyota Prius. Although, it could be the complete opposite way. We may just see a spike in used Leaf cars for sale.

I want to walk everyone through my scientific reasons why Prius (and especially the worst of them all) is still better than the best Leaf. Not many people know this and probably most Leaf owners do not know it either. I feel it is my duty as a automotive professional to help other become more aware of what they are buying, so they can make an informed decision.

Last night as I was sitting on the couch, I had a friend of mine contact me. He wanted to buy a Leaf for fuel economy reasons. I told him (in a much shorter text message) why he should not and that if he was still interested in buying a more fuel efficient vehicle, that a Prius would be a much better option. What I will tell you and what I did not tell him, is the full gambit of why.

2019 Toyota Prius Interior
2019 Toyota Prius Interior

Toyota Prius Battery Was Better Initially

You have to understand something here, we are dealing with two types of battery tech that are very different. However, this is no excuse to be lazy about taking precautions when dealing with high voltage systems.

When Prius rolled off the line it had Ni-MH (nickel metal hydride) technology. It was great tech for the time and over the years Toyota has been able to improve on that tech and make it better. They still actually use it today in a few of their hybrids. Ni-MH is great for taking a charge and using the energy it stores rapidly. It was also air cooled, as using a battery and charging a battery at rapid rates creates heat, and a lot of it. Air cooling has been proven to be sufficient and reliable for long term use according to Toyota.

Toyota Prius Battery

I am not sure what mind bending drug the Nissan engineers were on when they put the Leaf together. While yes, the Leaf uses Li-Ion (Lithium Ion) the stuff you find in laptops and cell phones, they took no thought as to cooling it. At all. Like, they do not even air cool this beast. A big no, no when it comes to longevity and useable miles of driving.

Here is why this is such a major issue. When you charge a battery, it will put off heat energy. When you use a battery it will put of heat energy. This process is called heat cycling and it very detrimental to the lifespan of Li-Ion batteries. Overheating causes the internal parts of the battery to break and thus short it out.

When you have multiple batteries stacked together to create a large energy dense platform, something like heat control is beyond required. These batteries put in a large block like this create what is called capacity, and as parts of the battery begin to fail we lose that capacity which directly translates into loss of actual useable driving miles.

Thus when you do not cool the battery at all, it does not matter what kind of battery tech you are using, it will fail. Thank you Leaf for allowing Prius to take this win. Not that it was needed, we just wanted to rub that in your face a little.

When To And When Not To Drive Your Prius/Leaf.

So now that we know heat cycling will kill the battery, we should take a look at when heat cycling occurs. This is needed in case you are reading this, already bought a Leaf, and are now trying to put a game plan on how to proceed, listen up. First, read the owner's manual. In there it is going to tell you all the conditions you should not use this vehicle, which are as follows.

Avoid exposing a vehicle to extreme ambient temperatures for extended periods. So hot climates and most places where the season "summer" occurs better not use it then.

Avoid storing a vehicle in temperatures below −13°F (−25°C) for over 7 days.Cold climates and wintery places you are out. Avoid leaving your vehicle for over 14 days where the Li-ion battery available charge gauge reaches a zero or near zero (state of charge). Drop at the airport before going to Singapore? Bad Idea. Oh and what time of year would this be in as well?

Allow the vehicle and Li-ion battery to cool down after use before charging. So, absolutely no road trips where we need a fast charge, as the battery was hot coming off the freeway and how we are going to induce heat back into it with a fast charge, with zero cooling, seems legit.

Do (here is one thing to do) Park/store your vehicle in cool locations out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources. Odd, it is like heat kills these things. So strange.

Avoid sustained high battery temperatures (caused, for example, by exposure to very high ambient temperatures or extending highway driving with multiple quick charges). Again, no road trips.

Another "do". Use the normal charging or trickle charging methods to charge the Li-ion battery and minimize the use of public Fast Charge or Quick Charger. Remember children heat happens when electricity flows at high rates. Avoid repetitive charging of the Li-ion battery with high battery state of charge.

So, basically do not drive the vehicle, like a normal vehicle, and probably avoid driving it. Seems reasonable. I bet Nissan went to great lengths to ensure that all the people who bought these things would read the owners manual as well, but somehow I doubt it.

Toyota Prius on the other hand, and especially first generation can be utilized in all conditions. Another win for Prius for sure.

Charging Toyota Prius Battery

If you did not get the message about no fast charging in the previous section, well then there is no helping you. However you can normal charge and trickle charge if you literally have nowhere to get to within a reasonable amount of time. Which I guess if you are retired, and only visit the grocery store, bingo club and your grandkids (who live next door) this car may be right for you, as long as you are not living in extreme climates, which a lot of people are.

Charging takes time and must be done in a controlled manner. Remember charging and discharging causes heat, which is the enemy here. So your best option should you meet the above criteria for climate would be to trickle charge. This takes about 21 hours to do out of a 110V outlet and should give you about 84 to 134 miles of range. This is dependent on many variables that the owners manual is happy to point out.

Things like avoid using the HVAC or heating ventilation and Air Conditioning, when you can, sure make me want to jump in one and take it for a spin on a hot day. Oh wait, Leaf says it is too hot to play outside so, cannot do that. Why even have AC as an option other than for defogging windows? Ask the engineer.

Normal charging will put you out at least 4-7 hours so make sure before you go on that date later, you plugged your car in.

Prius on the other hand self charges, unless you have the plug in Prius like the Prime. Even then the plug in cars can charge the batteries.

Conclusion

If you have met all the criteria as mentioned and are willing to do everything under the sun (lol keeping it out of) that Nissan askes you do, then the Leaf is right for you. In my professional opinion 90% of people who bought one of these (like most consumers) will not read the manual, heed the warnings, or listen to reason when it comes to taking care of these cars. No wonder Nissan had so many warranty claims for batteries on these things.

The solution Nissan had for second generation Leaf, which is the cherry on top of all of this is that the remedy was to add more modules, and still have no cooling. Awesome.

The only way I would take a Leaf over a Prius is if someone paid me to drive it. Even then it may be worth more in scrap for all the hassle it would be to make sure I am driving it in the right conditions.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about new Prius Technology. Check out my other story 3 Top Tire Brands You Should Consider For Your Toyota Prius to find even more ways to make that fuel sipper go the extra mile.

See you in the next story where I am discussing why the Toyota Prius AWD-e is the best one yet.

Also Watch New tech means more MPG from your Toyota Prius and Click to Subscribe to Torque News Youtube Channel for Daily Toyota Prius and Automotive News.

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 at Certified Consulting


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Comments

Great advice you give...thanks ...now if I can just figure which used Prius model, version, generation, configuration, with which options, etc.... I need to buy for $ 6000 to $8000 ...so I can be safe in knowing I have the right one for me... After a decade of enjoyable driving in my Honda Insight...I am now faced with a very confusing market of mind-bending options... a gagle of electronic alterations and adjustments to the original concept ??? I Want to make a decision and start tracking down the right vehicle ??...I can't develope an adequate criteria !!?? I figure the latest one is likely to be the best one but the price is punitive and a new better version is right around the corner and in the future we may find it is the one with major flaws !!?? So back to the slightly used market with so many options... You need to write the book : Title : " Which used Prius (or electric/hybride car) do I buy and Which one do I run away from, and Why ??
I will have to do that. thank you for the compliment.
I've been driving a LEAF since 2013 and would recommend a used LEAF as the ideal commuting vehicle to almost anyone. The notes in the manual are hints to basically eliminate loss of battery capacity, but guess what happens if you just drive it and charge it with a 6kW charger? A 2013 LEAF will be at 92% of original capacity.
Thanks for the advanced insight on the issues involved... I am very encouraged by this technology...but there have been battery issues since the first Honda Insight in 2000 after 20 years they should have the battery issues sorted out by now...I like the concept of cooling and warming the battery to improve the state of charge and extend the batteries life...also it is good that the individual battery components can be replaced instead of the entire battery... Also, need to find a way to isolate these vehicles into" for sale by owner, only" ...not always comfortable with used cars from used car dealerships... thanks again, Ron in Michigan
First off, way to completely overblow the battery degradation issues of Nissan leafs. I recently test drove a 2011 that had 80k miles on it, had been exclusively quick charged, and had the factory battery pack; it still had %87 of its rated capacity left. And this is in the Midwest, where winters can easily go to -30°F and summers can get into triple digits. Furthermore, you've literally advocated for the use of a battery technology that is known to lose capacity (sometimes very quickly!) when taking a charge after a partial discharge. Another issue is that you advise the use of trickle charging. Yes, charging generates heat; that is not up for debate. However, the trickle charger is spec'd to have an efficiency around %75; meanwhile, the average Level 2 charger has an efficiency around %85. So you're quite literally advocating for wasting electricity there. While we're on the topic of charging, has it never occurred to you that the rate of charge will slow when battery temps get high? This is required for ALL battery technologies; otherwise it doesn't matter if it's Li-Ion or NiMh, that battery WILL go up in flames. And while we're on the topic of battery temps; if a battery is heating up during discharge to the same level as when charging, then heat is the least damaging thing going on because you're pulling WAY too much current from the battery and THAT is what's damaging the cells. And lastly, don't understate the practical range capabilities of any vehicle. Saying that a leaf is only good for grocery runs or "visit the grand kids (next door)". Even out in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming, your "next door" neighbor will be less than 40 miles drive away (even if you get lost trying to find them); that's easily attainable for a car with around 84 miles of range. And given the fact that over %90 of people commute less than 100 miles one-way, I'd say a gen-1 leaf would likely work for most people as a commuter car. And that's not even mentioning that a taller person like myself may find the Prius hard to get in and out of the driver's seat. I know the 2015 Prius I test drove was a nightmare for me, and I'm only 6' 3". Lastly, let me just put some cost numbers here for ya. To make a Prius cost competitive with a leaf using my current electrical rate, gas would have to cost less than $1.40/gal, assuming the Prius gets 60mpg (rounding up the 2018's numbers) at the absolute worst. Now, I don't know how much it costs where you are, but the cheapest gas within 100 miles of me is $2.64 (93 miles away, thank you very much)... quite a far cry from the $1.40 to make a Prius competitive.
I've had a 2015 leaf for 3 years now. Bought it used for $11k out the door with just over 10k miles. Battery health guage still showed 12/12 cells. After 3 years of commuting and running errands in it, I've put on 38k miles and have lost one cell on the health meter. The noticeable difference was a loss of maybe 5 miles of range. Still it is my favorite commuter vehicle I've ever had. (We do also have a 2013 prius plug-in)... I say commuter vehicle, because that is all I need it to be. I have a roughly 35 mile commute (70 miles total). My battery hasn't degraded much but I think it is due to the fact that I charge on 110v 95% of the time. I wake up to a full battery (~80m range), drive to work (~45m left), and charge at work for free on 110. By lunchtime, after 4 hours, I've got 55-60m charged, so I can easily make an extended lunch run. By the end of the work day, im usually at 90-95% capacity which is right where I want to be. I drive home with enough juice to run more errands if I so desire. When I get home, I plug it in and relish in the off-peak-hour energy prices. Even if I get home at 11 pm or 12 midnight with only 10% of the charge left, My car is usually at 80-90% by around 8-30 or 9 am. (I tend to work between 10-6). I live in Utah with 20 degree winters and 100 degree summers. I have noticed it drives fine in the heat of summer with modest AC (enough to be pleasant, but not freezing) with very little change in range. During winter, blasting the heater to be comfy can easily chew through battery, so I am a bit more conservative with my driving during winter months. Oddly enough, the seat heaters and the heated steering wheel (such a good feature) dont seem to eat much range. My solution to be comfy during the coldest winter commutes is have steering wheel heater and seat heater on high, and to wear a hoodie, and I'm set. I know this isnt a perfect vehicle for all occasions, for any otger driving demands, we have a prius. However for my commute, its the leaf all the way. Fun-wise, even the old leaf has a very fast 0-40 accelleration compared to most commuter cars. It is like driving a go kart. Visibility-wise, it sits higher than our prius and the windows are taller, plus the rear window isn't cut in two like the prius. Overall I think its a better 360 degree view than our prius. The back up cams in both our cars are practically identical. Cost wise... here's the kicker. Average energy cost where I live is 10.31 cents per kwh. My car has a 24 kwh battery. Assuming a 30% loss due to inefficiency, meaning I'd need to charge about 31.2 kwh, it costs $3.22 to get a 100% charge. I charge about 40% at work, so really it costs me about $1.93 for every 24kwh. On a full 24 kwh, I can drive about 80m. Cost for a gallon of gas where I live is about $2.50. For the cost of 1 gallon of gas, I get about 31 kwh on average between work and home, and that gets me about 103 miles. 103 miles for the price of a gallon. Thats being highly conservative, because i know my charging isnt only 70% efficient, and the cost of gas is typically around 2.9 to >3 per gallon here. Overall, with my current commute, I will drive about 17500 miles in one year. With my leaf fuel economy, I will pay the equivalent of 170 gallons of gas at $2.50 per gallon. My prius gets (with brand new low-rolling-friction tires and a recent alignment) gets 51 mpg. On that same commute with the prius, I would buy 343 gallons - a difference of 173 gallons. That is a baseline savings of $433 in one year, but i would have done 2 full synthetic oil changes in my prius for $90 each during that time, so its a baseline of $613 saved in one year (over a prius and assuming a gas price of $2.50)... technically we have solar panels and our energy bill is $8/month (the cost to stay connected to the utility)... but I wont get in to that. Overall, I know its not the best car, but for commuting, it is perfect...
If we want to compare to a 2019 F150 with max efficiency rating of 30 mpg, assuming a cost per gallon of 2.50 and assuming 2 full synthetic oil changes at $90 each: 17500m / 30mpg = 583.3g ... 583.3g x $2.50 = $1458 (rounded down) ... $1458 + (2 x $90) = $1638 ... $1638-$425(cost for the Leaf) = $1213 saved in one year. If I lost 5 miles of range on my battery every 2 years - over 10 years, I'd be left with 55miles of range (which would still be enough to complete my commute mind you). In those same 10 years, compared to my Prius, I would have saved a minimum of $6130... Remember I only spent $11K on this car to begin with. That savings is assuming that gas will remain at $2.50/gallon, and my electricity rates stay at 10.31 cents. If I wanted to buy a replacement battery at that point - which at today's cost is roughly $7500 USD for a 40kwh pack - it would nearly have paid for itself. On top of that I am grandfathered in with my utility for 100% net metering on my solar panels, and after two years, they have proven to provide our home with nearly 100% energy needs year round (when you account for the 100% net metering). For one month of commuting - 20 days at a conservative estimate of 12kwh charged for the vehicle a day (and absolutely no other energy spent on the home)... I use 240 kwh... my energy bill is ~$8/month, so if all I used energy for was the car, I'd still only be paying $0.0334 per kwh.... So, in reality, it's much cheaper than what I described above.
But we aren’t comparing a truck to a leaf now are we? It’s Prius to Leaf and you can buy a cheaper Prius that is more reliable than the Leaf.
I'm only comparing the leaf to the truck for fun. The rest of the reply is comparing a newer, cheaper leaf that I've owned for 3 years to an older, more expensive prius that I've owned for 4.5 years. Both cars I love - but the point is that I bought a leaf that was 2 years newer, with 30+K miles less and for nearly $5000 less than the prius. over the past 3 years that I've owned the leaf, it has netted at least another $1800 less than the prius in costs of ownership (again not considering my solar panels)... The leaf will easily be reliable for another 6 years for my needs, and at that point it will have netted another $3600 savings over the leaf... so after 9 years, the leaf will have been over $10,000 less than the prius in cost of ownership at the very least. Again, my wife and I love both of our cars, but for commuting, the leaf just makes sense.
and yes, I intend to hold onto both my leaf and my prius until they die. I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with a prius, because I love my prius. What I am saying is that there's nothing wrong with my leaf either. I know that the leaf doesn't make sense as a primary vehicle, and there I totally agree - get a prius all the way. However, as a secondary vehicle that is primarily going to be used to commute, I prefer a used leaf for 10K.
I've run a 2011 Nissan Leaf here in Montana for five years. It is extremely reliable and cheaper than ANY Prius to operate and maintain. Terrible range, yes, but it's fine for a commuter car.