2009 Toyota Prius
"Sure, but what do the batteries cost to replace?" is a question frequently posed to hybrid and electric vehicle owners.
It's true that batteries aren't cheap, and at some point down the line they'll have expended their useful life and require replacement. But what do these packs actually cost, if and when that replacement date comes?
We've previously looked at the cost of replacing battery packs in the first-generation 2001-2003 Toyota Prius, but with several other hybrids on the market from Toyota alone, we wanted to investigate further.
[NOTE: This article was first published in August 2012, and proved very popular. We have updated it with the latest prices as of June 2016.]
Replacement is rare
The first, and most reassuring thing you should know about these battery packs, is that replacement is a rare occurrence.
Toyota told us that the engineers consider the NiMH batteries in Prius and other Toyota hybrids to be a life-of-the-car component. It could be several owners and hundreds of thousands of miles down the line before the pack requires replacement, at which point the car itself may well be past its prime.
That's backed up by stories like the 300,000-mile Ford Escape hybrid taxis, and Consumer Reports recently tested a 215,000-mile 2003 Prius and found its performance had barely diminished. In the latter, the only component that had needed replacement was a fan belt, at 127,000 miles.
Warranties are long
Toyota clearly has confidence in its battery packs, and offers an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty in most states. In states that adopt California's emissions regulations, that rises to 10-years/150,000-miles.
So in a worst-case scenario, any battery failure or significant performance drop-off will be covered by the warranty for up to a decade.
2004-2009 Toyota Prius battery pack, second generationCore credit
2004-2009 Toyota Prius battery pack, second generation
Should worst come to worst and your battery need replacement, there's one final silver lining from Toyota, known as "core credit".
This is a sum deducted from the new battery pack MSRP for returning the old battery to be recycled. That's not only better for the environment than the battery being thrown away when it gets replaced, but in a car like the Prius, it reduces the cost of a new battery by around a third.
The only additional cost is that of labor, which varies between cars, and labor rates which vary depending on where you live.
Toyota hybrid battery replacement costs
Below is a list of MSRP battery cost details for the various hybrid Toyota models offered since 2001.
Each of these prices will be reduced by a $1,350 "core credit" for the old battery pack being replaced, which the dealer then recycles through a long-established Toyota program.
Battery replacement costs were not immediately available for most 2016 models, or for the 2012-2015 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
Labor rates differ from vehicle to vehicle, and vary by location, but the customer will likely pay for more hours than the minimal number of hours for which Toyota will reimburse dealers doing warranty work.
The lowest warranty-reimbursement rate is 1.3 hours for a 2012-2016 Prius C pack, but customers will likely be charged for 2.0 to 3.3 hours in that case.
On the high end, Toyota reimburses a dealer for 3.7 hours of labor to replace a 2011-2013 Highlander Hybrid battery, but customers may be billed for 5.6 to 9.3 hours.
2009 Toyota Prius
Any battery that needs replacement within the warranty period will be replaced at no cost.
It's worth noting that there is a growing network of third-party hybrid specialty shops that either repair or replace batteries, often at a lower cost than at a dealership.
If a car is still in warranty, it's advisable to have the work done at a dealership, to ensure the work is fully warranted and performed by a factory-trained technician.
Little to worry about
Whatever you think of the prices above, it's worth reiterating that replacement batteries are the exception rather than the norm.
The vast majority of owners will never incur the cost of a replacement unit, as proven by any number of Priuses used as taxis for as many as 300,000 miles.
For the few owners who do require a pack replacement, the prices above give you an indication of what to expect--and the reality isn't quite as dramatic as many people suspect.
If your car is out of warranty, however, check out those third-party hybrid-specialty shops.
[Research assistance for the June 2016 update provided by Bozi Tatarevic]