The Prius is one of the most famous cars of the past two decades. Touted as the original hybrid vehicle, and viewed as a bold leap in automotive technology, this Toyota is the best of both worlds. But what exactly makes the Toyota Prius so effective as a hybrid car? This article will tell you everything you need to know about Prius battery operations, how the Toyota Prius battery charging system works and affects the car’s longevity.
First, a hybrid is any car defined as using a combination of gasoline and electricity to produce the power necessary for operation. There are different types of electric vehicles and two types of hybrid vehicles (1) Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) and (2) Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs). All PHEVs are hybrids, but not all hybrids are PHEVs.
- Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) are vehicles that rely primarily on gas but do contain some electric components like regenerative braking. HEVs do not rely on a source of electricity to charge their vehicle batteries and are fueled mainly by gas. HEVs are the most common type of electric vehicle on the road today and became popularized by Toyota when the company released the revolutionary Prius hybrid.
- A Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) uses gas and electricity and has a split engine wherein a battery operates the motor used for low mileage driving at minimal speeds. The battery is charged by a plug with an electric car smart charger, much like that used for a battery-electric vehicle, as well as a system called regenerative braking. The Prius Prime, a PHEV, works similarly to a standard Prius, but with an increased EV Mode and driving range of 25 miles, with more powerful electric motors and enhanced fuel efficiency. It also recharges the battery of the car through regenerative braking and most Prius Prime drivers charge at home, so they don’t have to worry about where to charge their electric car.
So, how long do Prius batteries last?
In California, hybrid electric vehicles are warranted up to 150,000 miles or ten years. Outside of California, most states only require hybrid electric vehicles to guarantee the life of their hybrid battery for 100,000 miles or eight years. Because Prius hybrids are still relatively new cars, there is only a small sample size concerning how long a Toyota Prius hybrid battery will last. Most Prius owners with vehicles from the early 2000’s claim that their Toyota Prius battery lasted anywhere between 12 and 15 years before it needs a battery replacement. Some Prius owners boast of battery life that reaches mileage volumes of 200,000+ miles, but these cases seem to be rare.
Why do rechargeable batteries wear out?
If an electric car battery is rechargeable, then why would it ever wear out? In the same way, the rechargeable battery on your phone wears out over time, so too will the battery in your car falter, fade and eventually die. The degradation of a rechargeable car battery is partly due to its material chemistry and partly due to the charging process itself. However, an increase in temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit or frequent deep discharge can also expedite the battery aging process. Still, batteries can degrade even without use.
What do I do when my Prius battery finally bites the dust?
When the original battery in your Prius is no longer able to hold a charge, the hybrid battery pack will need to be replaced. The average price of a new battery pack for a Prius is somewhere in the range of $2,400, not including labor costs. While this battery replacement cost is higher than the typical cost to replace a lead-acid battery for a gas-powered car, you must consider that the lithium-ion battery pack in a Prius is much more powerful and handles a much larger workload.
The other important factor to consider when replacing the original battery in your Prius is that these batteries last a very long time. Though the upfront cost to replace the Toyota Prius hybrid battery may seem high, the long term dividends of having a new battery will pay off with the long term use of your vehicle.
How to maintain a Prius battery
There are several maintenance tips that you can follow to ensure that the life of your Prius battery lasts as long as possible. Here are a few ways to prolong the life of your battery.
- Avoid fully charging your vehicle’s battery.
While it may be counterintuitive, this helpful trick will prevent your battery from wearing out faster than it should. As your battery charges, it shifts the ionic charge of the battery from cathode to anode. This shift from cathode to anode during the charging process, and from anode to cathode during use, put a strain on your battery. While your battery is made to do exactly this task, the materials of the battery itself can only withstand so much stress over time. Additionally, the final 20% of the charging process is the toughest on your battery.
As most of the ions have already shifted from cathode to anode, the final 20% remaining must be pushed harder. This means that your battery takes on a significantly higher workload to finish the charging process. Preventing your car from taking a full charge prevents the final push of ions and does not force your battery to work as hard to gain and hold a charge.
- Don’t drop below a 20% charge.
Similar to the tip above, do not allow your car to become fully drained. In the same way that your car has a hard time pushing itself to the final 20%, your battery has a tough time pushing the initial 20%. If your battery becomes fully depleted, it takes a much bigger push to begin the process of changing ions from anode to cathode. It is far more beneficial for your lithium-ion battery to use a partial discharge as the batteries do not have to work as hard in the mid-range charging areas i.e., between 25% and 80% charged.
The Prius Prime's battery can be fully charged in approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes using a JuiceBox smart home charger.
- Limit the amount of DC fast charge sessions.
There is a reason your car likes to see a specific voltage and electrical current when it is plugged into a charger. High powered DC fast chargers can have a severely negative impact on the life of your car battery as they push the battery too hard during charging. If you frequently use your Prius plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, invest in a high quality, Level 2 smart charging station that offers your electric car the energy it needs at a voltage load it can handle.
While most hybrid vehicle batteries contain fail-safes put in place to avoid overcharging, it is still best to avoid pushing the battery too hard too fast. A Level 2 smart charger is the optimal method for ensuring a steady, safe charge for your hybrid vehicle.
- Keep your battery in the sweet spot.
The closer your battery is to 50% charged, the harder the battery has to work. Because your battery is continuously pushing ions from cathode to anode and vice-versa, it is most stable when those ions are balanced i.e. 50% anode and 50% cathode. This equates to a 50% charge, and this halfway mark is the point where your battery is doing the least amount of work.
In other words, your battery would last much longer if you could perpetually keep it at 50%. While it is not always realistic depending on how far you drive, trying to keep your battery at 50% could lead to a much longer life expectancy.
- Extreme temperatures are bad.
The electric battery in your hybrid electric vehicle doesn’t care for extreme temperatures. The ionic charge of the battery interacts with the lithium core much differently in extreme heat and extreme cold. In the same way that your tires expand and contract whether it is hot or cold, the core of your car’s battery swells and condenses in hot and cold temperatures respectively.
You may be thinking that extreme conditions can only be found in certain parts of the world, but the reality is that an 85-degree day can wreak havoc on your car’s battery. If you continuously park your car in the sun, the long term effects could be detrimental to your car’s battery. The constant exposure to direct sunlight and heat could eventually degrade the core of your hybrid battery. Similarly, any temperature below freezing could shrink and crack the lithium core of your battery over a long period of exposure. Extreme conditions are ultimately bad for your car as they speed up the degradation process of the electric battery your hybrid relies on for use.
Even though the Prius has only been around for the last twenty years, it has grown in popularity. The Prius has had several design overhauls, and each one has improved the internal components of the car to make it a more reliable machine.