Life After Death: What Happens When Your Prius Battery Dies

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2004-2009 Toyota Prius battery pack, second generation

2004-2009 Toyota Prius battery pack, second generation

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Believe it or not, the humble Toyota Prius has been on sale in the U.S. for 12 years.

While many of these original 2000 Priuses are still giving their owners the same gas milage they did when new, traction battery packs inside early cars are reaching the end of their predicted 10 year, 300,000 mile life. 

If the battery pack in your Toyota Prius dies before the end of its 150,000 (or 100,000) mile warranty, Toyota will replace it free of charge. But if your car is out of warranty, you join the 500 or so owners every month experiencing an expired nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. 

For them, reduced performance and a dashboard warning light indicate it’s time to visit the dealer and make a choice: buy a new battery pack, or a new car.

Gary Smith, Toyota’s corporate manage of product quality and service support, is keen to point out that the numbers of failing Prius battery packs are still extremely low.

It's also worth pointing out that while battery packs are warrantied for 150,000 (or 100,000) miles depending on the state you live in, many battery packs can survive twice that mileage or more.

However, given the 1.3 million Toyota hybrids now on the roads in the U.S., the number of failing battery pack incidents will rise over the coming years.

2002 Toyota Prius

2002 Toyota Prius

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For out-of-warranty cars, you’ve got two choices: replace the battery, or the car.

As we’ve told you before, the unit cost of a Toyota Prius battery pack is between $2,300 and $2,590, depending on the model you have. Installation of a new pack is likely to cost you more. However, for reference, the cost of replacing a battery pack is a little less than the avearge engine rebuild on a similar-age high-mileage car.

And while there are cheaper alternative routes to a dealer-supplied battery pack, most Prius owners will want to return to the dealer they purchased the car from to ensure that neither they -- or a local mechanic unfamiliar with hybrids  -- damages their car trying to fit a replacement pack.

For dealers, a Prius owner with a dying hybrid battery pack is a welcome customer.

“We tell them, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen in the next year or two’,” explains Mike Sullivan of Multiline Toyota in Santa Monica, California. “People don’t get mad. They understand it’s a seven- or eight-year life cycle.”

Rather than continue to drive a car with a dying battery pack, many owners -- some of which are ready for a new car anyway -- choose to trade their cars in for a new model Prius. 

2012 Toyota Prius

2012 Toyota Prius

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The old car is then fitted with a new battery pack, and sold on by the dealer. 

“The Prius is a good entry-premium car, and when this happens, we can get people to trade up to the next hybrid,” Sullivan said. “It’s a good story for us.”

Regardless of what the owner chooses, expired battery packs aren’t wasted, thanks to a battery recycling program Toyota launched in 2010. 

After being removed, the battery pack is sent to specialist recycling firm Kinsbursky Brothers in Anaheim, California -- the same firm responsible for recycling used lithium-ion battery packs from Tesla.

On arrival at the specialized facility, battery packs are broken down into their constituent parts, with nickel being smelted down for stainless steel used in making refrigerator doors, while rare-earth elements, plastic casings and electrolyte are all recycled into appropriate industries. 

Ultimately, the whole process is a win-win scenario for everyone involved: dealers get extra custom, and customers get to choose between a newer model with even better gas mileage or a new battery pack. More importantly perhaps, not a single traction battery pack ends up in landfill, proving that batteries -- no matter what their chemistry -- are still the most recycled consumer product. 


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Comments (12)
  1. Why is visiting the dealer the only choice for those customers? Can't Prius be driven with a dead traction battery???

  2. If the traction battery has a problem, the Prius can be driven in a mode similar to the limp-home mode of a malfunctioning automatic transmission. It is slow and fuel economy is very bad. Reverse also will not work.

  3. We have a car repair place in Sanford, NC that specializes in Prius battery repair. They can often replace a few offending cells and restore the pack to full capacity. That seems more reasonable than sending the whole pack to the recycler, particularly when the now again car may not last another 150,000 miles.

  4. It'd be great to hear how you go about repairing a battery pack. Perhaps you could share more information?

  5. I think Charles is referring to Re-Involt Technologies in Sanford, NC.

    Here is their website:

    They have videos on their too which you'll probably find fascinating. The guys at Electric Autosports who did my PHEV Prius conversion were telling me that there are Prius Taxis in Vancouver, B.C. with over 500,000 miles on them, still using the original OEM NiMh batteries.

  6. Thanks for the article Nikki; this is exactly the type of information that needs to be more available and seen by the public. Nearly every parking lot conversation about my Leaf involves the other person saying "I'm worried about all the landfills being full of batteries with their heavy metals and acid". I don't know who's providing that misinformation, but it's very widespread. An article regarding Nissan's plans and pointing out that their battery pack ingredients are very benign would be a great help.

  7. We have an independent shop in Santa Fe where we specialize in hybrid battery repair, for Toyota and Honda hybrids. A dealership is not the only source for expert repair. If anything, people have better luck with us on the hard problems because hybrid repair is our primary source of business. We had a car in recently with a bad hybrid battery where the dealer forced the customer to replace the battery ECU first for $1000, then later diagnosed a bad battery.

  8. Wish you were in the NW. Do you know of any shops in other regions?

  9. I really doubt the dealerships replace the batteries themselves for the vehicles that are traded in.

  10. How is this a "win" for consumers..?

  11. theirs a shop in fair lawn nj thats selling these batteries for 950$. they sometimes have sales and sell for $850.
    check them out

  12. I have a 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid that was serviced at a dealer in Illinois before I shipped the car to Hawaii. The dealer in Illinois commented what good shape my car was in for 125,000 miles. Three weeks later when my car arrived the hybrid battery was dead and the Toyota dealer in Hawaii offered me $500 for my car that was valued at $11,600 (Edmunds Blue Book) before I shipped it!
    That is not a typo…….Five HUNDRED dollars for a car in otherwise good shape…good tires, filters, belts air conditioning, power windows, power seats, sun roof, leather seats, xm radio…..
    I'm sickened tat I spent $1,800 to ship a car now worth $500. Never again a Toyota.

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