Sitting on a Hybridised Bomb?

In my search for a fuel-efficient car I was amazed to learn that in New Zealand you can buy a Prius (Toyota’s hybrid car) for around $5000.

While New Zealand has some of the cheapest second-hand cars in the world, I wondered – was this too good to be true?

Cheap Generation I Prius? It comes with a big risk.

After some extensive desktop research I found out that it probably is. Here’s why…

Any Prius earlier than year 2000 (NHW10 model or ‘Generation I’) was an experimental model which was released only in Japan. About 70,000 were sold and it appears hundreds  of these are now being exported to New Zealand.

Apparently around 1 in 40 can have a battery problem and Toyota Japan still replace these battery packs for free – but only in Japan. Additionally the diagnostic equipment in most Toyota workshops throughout New Zealand aren\’t compatible with the Generation I Prius (so if you have a problem, you may have trouble finding someone who can fix it).

I rang three Toyota dealers to verify this.

Toyota Wellington seemed unsure but strongly recommended I avoid the Gen  I Prius. Toyota Kapiti told me a similar story, but it was Toyota Northshore who seemed to have the most hands-on experience trying to fix common problems with the Generation I Prius.

The Toyota Northshore workshop said they frequently had people coming  in with the Generation I Prius, and while making repairs is possible, can often  be very expensive. For example, a new battery costs upwards of $7000 plus labour costs.

They recommended, if looking for a cheap Prius, to start with the Generation II (NHW11 model). If the back seats fold down flat then it’s probably the NHW11, and they began producing these in 2000. But if you’re wanting a Prius for under $10,000 you’ll be out of luck, the cheapest NHW11 I’ve seen advertised was $12,000 – they usually sell for around $15,000.

A good place to start your own research is the Green Car Company – at first I thought their information sounded bias towards enticing me to buy a more modern Prius – but it turns out they are right in their analysis.

Anyway, I ended up buying a freshly imported 1997 Honda Logo for $5000 – which is averaging   5 litres per 100km (just as good as the Gen I Prius).