Halftime Report: Our 2010 Toyota Prius and the Benefits of Long Range Planning

On July 27, 2009, precisely five years ago today, we bought a new 2010 Toyota Prius III. We made this purchase with a long range plan in mind: we hoped that barring a major accident our new hybrid would last at least ten years. We’re now exactly halfway there, so it’s a good time to check up on how things have turned out so far.

Usually, we like to buy used cars because they’re much cheaper. But 2009 was no normal year. The country was in a deep recession. Governments were doing everything they could to boost sagging auto sales. At the time, we were faced with three amazing enticements:

  • the federal government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program would pay us $4,500 for our near dead Explorer (170,000 miles, failing transmission, and practically worthless);
  • the State of Colorado would issue us a $2,880 tax credit if we bought a new hybrid; and
  • the IRS would let us deduct the sales tax paid on any new vehicle, which eventually saved us $161.60.

So we bought a new Prius. The negotiated purchase price, including 2.9% sales tax, was $28,670. After factoring in the $7,541.60 in incentive payments, our net price dropped to $21,128.40.

These governmental incentives were huge, but they weren’t the only reason we chose a Prius. Cars cost money to operate. Some models cost less than others because they feature better gas mileage, lower insurance premiums, fewer repairs, etc. Consumer Reports says the Prius has the lowest five-year ownership cost of any vehicle. Which gives rise to a question: how does our own actual five-year cost compare to projections that auto experts were making back in 2009? Are we doing better or are we doing worse?

I’m a numbers nerd, so I enjoy digging into such details. The chart below compares our actual five year costs with those initially projected for a new 2010 Prius by the experts at Intellichoice.com.*

Expense Intellichoice Actual Difference
Depreciation $11,983 $6,892.40 $5,090.60
Auto Loan Expense $2,484 $0 $2,484.00
Gas $5,448 $5,078.16 $369.84
Insurance $6,565 $3,171.77 $3,393.24
Tires $0 $814.07 -$814.07
Body Work $0 $1,283.95 -$1,283.95
Repairs $1,624 $0 $1,624.00
Registration/Tax $395 $1,922.89 -$1,527.89
Oil Change/Maintenance $3,566 $323 $3,243.00
Total $32,065 $19,486.23 $12,578.77
Mileage 75,000 83,202
Cost Per Mile $0.43 $0.23

As the chart reveals, our actual costs undercut expert projections by about 40 percent—even though we exceeded the 75,000 mileage estimate by a wide margin. To see what happened, let’s review the numbers line-by-line.


Depreciation is what a vehicle loses in market value over time. To figure actual depreciation, I visited KBB.com and entered the relevant data about our Prius including its mileage (83,202) and overall condition (very good, but not excellent). I then subtracted the car’s current value ($14,236) from its original net purchase price ($21,128.40) to arrive at a figure for accumulated depreciation. We undercut Intellichoice’s estimates by $5,090 because we got such a great deal from the government.

Auto Loan Expense

Seventy percent of US car purchases are financed. As lifelong savers, we had the resources to pay cash. Savings: $2,484.


We beat the projections by $369 even though we drove 8,202 extra miles.

Auto Insurance

Our insurer cuts premiums for second vehicles and we’ve continuously owned two. The reported figure reflects 50 percent of our insurance bill for the past five years. Savings: $3,393.


Intellichoice doesn’t separate tires from other maintenance costs. We do. We saved bundles at TireRack.com and Costco.

Body Work

Ahh, the cost of clumsiness. I had a small accident which cracked the front bumper cover. Why were the repairs so expensive? The plastic cover had to be replaced. And then it had to be painted to match the rest of the car—which triggers beaucoup labor costs. Intellichoice doesn’t expressly factor in the costs of such crackups, but perhaps it’s a component of the projected maintenance expenses.


In five years, our Prius hasn’t required a single repair, not even for brakes or new windshields. This admittedly requires luck (offset, perhaps, by my unlucky bumper buster). Savings: $1,624.

Registration and Tax

Intellichoice accounts for registration fees but inexplicably ignores ownership taxes (even though almost everyone pays them). Newer vehicles trigger higher taxes, so during the first five years the Prius cost us a bundle. But now the car is older. Next year, this line item will cost us only $173.80.

Oil Change/Maintenance

All oil changes occurred on schedule. My reported expenses include tire rotations.

*   *   *

I love it when a plan comes together. Back in 2009, we got a once-in-a-lifetime deal on a new hybrid. Since then, our ownership costs have been running at a mere $3,897 per year. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it looks like we made a terrific decision. So let the halftime festivities begin! Cue the marching bands! Let’s hope I never bust another bumper!


*Note: we bought a Prius III model, but its sunroof package brought its total price closer to the base price for a Prius V model. I therefore use projections for the Prius V.

Great Prius Pic Joi Ito!

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4 Responses to Halftime Report: Our 2010 Toyota Prius and the Benefits of Long Range Planning

  1. Free To Pursue August 1, 2014 at 5:40 PM #

    What a perfect example of being able to jump on an opportunity when you have the funds available.

    A depressed economy = a one-time deep discount sale on cars via pricing and incentives.

    Who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to save 26%. It effectively nullifies the punitive depreciation associated with buying new. Well played Noonan!

    Also, I must say it looks like a sweet ride too.

    • A Noonan Moose August 1, 2014 at 6:46 PM #

      Thank you F2P! It’s getting 55.1 MPG halfway through the current tank!

  2. Louise August 17, 2014 at 3:50 PM #

    It seems you have got a once in a lifetime deal beating the odds and if you keep the car a few more years you may actually turn a profit on the deal. It seems you may have gotten yourself a very good deal. Great job!
    Louise recently posted…You’re invited! Introducing The Hybrid Shop System with hands-on Hybrid TrainingMy Profile

    • A Noonan Moose August 17, 2014 at 5:13 PM #

      Thanks for stopping by Louise!

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