Toyota Prius Notes

Russell Bateman
June 2014
last update:

Notes on my Prius experience. I bought a new 2013 Toyota Prius in November. Most importantly, I talk about how to use an iPod or a thumb drive to play music.

Notes on gas mileage...

I've driven my Prius over 15K miles now because I use it to commute 49 miles each way, every day, plus I've driven to Gilbert, Arizona and to Saint George, Utah twice each. Ordinarily, I put only a fraction of this much on a car in the course of 6 months.

Being a motorcyclist, I usually put the miles on my Honda rather than our cars. However, my commute is a bit too far, the clothing circumstances a bit too inconvenient (black leathers, boots, etc. while for work I have to be in shirt, tie and jacket) and the Prius' gas mileage much better than my Honda's.

Here are my experiences.

The commute to work...

For most of the time, I've settled on 73 mph going to work and I get between 50 and 53 typically. I drive in the ExpressLane and meet few people at the time I go.

Going home early to avoid as much of rush hour as possible, I try for about 74-75 mph and usually have to pass (go around) other cars in order to keep to the usual lane of travel.

Note that because the Prius is thought to be a green vehicle, I'm able to drive in the ExpressLane, variously also known as the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) or carpool lane.

I recently upped my morning speed to 74-75 because going home in the afternoon, having to speed by people at 80 mph, slow down, speed up, etc. all the while thinking about how bad my mileage is going to be, I nevertheless often see better mileage than when I'm "behaving" myself in the morning.

The first morning I tried this, I got 54 mpg (as compared to the usual 50-53). I've unexpectedly got better than 55 mpg coming home in the afternoon sometimes when I've been up to 80+ mph trying to get around slowpokes in the HOV lane. I thought I'd be penalized for doing this.

I may update this note when I've got a little more experience with the new speed.

The ExpressLane

On the ExpressLane, the double-white lines be damned, I'll move completely out to let someone going faster who comes up behind me with a convincing display of intent and then get back in behind him as a show of courtesy. Of course, I only do this if traffic permits and as long as I see no patrolmen around.

The open road...

I'm pleased with the gas mileage all the time, especially when comparing it to what my Chevrolet Astro gets (15-19 mpg whethere city or highway) and my Mitsubishi Galant (19-25 mpg).

On one trip to Phoenix, we found out that a road we could not avoid was closed until a certain hour later that morning. So, it was pointless to hurry to get there. I drove just over 50 mph the 60 or so miles and my Prius got 66 mpg.

Around town, if I "play the Prius video game" on the console, I can get amazing mileage, like 90+ mpg, on condition I watch the video game and keep it in electric mode by not going fast. This is very hard to do starting out from a stop light. It also explains why Prius owners are known as "Prius pricks" because anyone who does this is a nuisance to others. I'm careful not to do thus when anyone's behind me.

Note that, unless you've got the super-expensive Prius with the huge battery, the Prius battery doesn't last very long, only a few miles especially when you're running the refrigeration in summer, and the car will simply start the gasoline engine to charge it back up no matter how slow you try to go.

Gas mileage after changing tires

The sad truth is that my new Michelin tires (see note below) have cut at least 5 miles per gallon from my mileage figures. It's now been 2 weeks, I've continued to commute to work (100 miles per day) and gone on a 500-600 mile trip only to verify this unfortunate fact.

Using an iPod

I've had success using my iPod in the Prius. I bought a very inexpensive 30-pin to full-size USB connector, only 6" long, that hooks it up easily. As the Prius has software to run it, not having a longer cord is not a problem and the short cord doesn't muck up my console storage the way a long one would. The Prius' USB connector is in the console storage box under the arm rest.

What I don't like is:

  • The inconvenience of having to remember my iPod, expose it to theft, etc.
  • The interruptions on (not even very rough) roads. The iPod has a hard drive inside which cuts out when going over bumps. Note that I've never consciously noticed my iPod cutting in and out when carried in my pocket on my motorcycle or walking around.

Using a thumb drive with MP3s in place of an iPod

I've had success using my iPod in the Prius, but I greatly prefer just using a thumb drive. In part it's because my iPod is a more or less a cul de sac because of Apple's rather bad iTunes software and probably a defective iPod. In short, I can't put any more tunes on it, wiping to start over has proven useless (even from a Macintosh) and I'm a Linux guy anyway and don't want the mess of trying to run Apple's lame iTune for Windows in a VM.

I once tried a thumb drive plugged directly into the Prius; this didn't work at all. I reasoned that the Prius wanted some kind of minimal OS or stream or something and required an actual player. The Prius technology manual says precious little other than to reveal that you can plus an MP3 player, like an iPod, into it.

A few months later, I read somewhere on-line some guy saying he'd achieved it, but he wasn't too technical and gave precious few helpful ideas other than crowing that he was able to do it when nobody else, least of all Toyota, was helpful.

I finally removed everything, including the utility software, from an old 2Gb thumb drive I had kicking around. I put the contents of two Eagles albums on it at the top level. This worked fine. I plugged it into my Prius and after a few seconds it came right up and played.

So, I removed everything and dragged some five albums onto it and tried again. It worked perfectly. There are, as you see, even images, subdirectory hierarchy, MP3s at multiple levels, even some garbage like a stray Windows desktop.ini, etc. All of these worked.

Please click to make full size if desired.

What I found...

I found that plugging it in live leads to roughly the same experience as my iPod in that I see album covers, artists, albums and titles. The menu list for artists, albums, etc. works just about as well.

If I'm playing a piece when I shut the car down to go into a store, it starts right back up where it left off, but the artist, album and song names are "Unknown" until the next song change when the Prius gets over it.

I noticed no cutting out such as my iPod does. The Chicago album shown below does not show up in the albums list, but in the artists' list it shows up as "Unknown." This said, choosing it works well and from the very first song gives all the correct details. This may be the fault of the ripping software. It may be fixable with one of those programs you use to correct the lame metadata in an MP3 file.

Update on using a thumb drive

I was too hasty in assuming that my bigger thumb drive full of additional stuff I keep backed up on it would not work. I tried it and waited a couple of minutes until the Prius found music on it.

More observations:

  1. It played random songs until I browseed to an album and began playing it.
  2. It hung part-way through the third piece on an album I browsed for and chose. I could not fix that without pulling out the drive and putting it in next time I started the car, which cleared the problem.

Michelin tires

After nearly 26,000 miles, the tread of the original tires is gone. Toyota offered 4 tires for 3, cheapest deal circa $350. Les Schwab offered a 25,000-mile tire, all 4 for circa $330.

My father told me that he bought Michelins for his Subaru at 15,000 miles and, at well over 60,000 miles, he's still on them. He got them from Costco.

I went to Costco and got Michelin 90,000-mile tires for 4×$112 plus installation (4×$14), 4 pressure sensors (obligatory since 2008), etc., coming out to just under $500.

Obviously I'm hoping that I get something like the 50,000 miles (and more) that my father's getting. If so, that will be a savings of (at least since I would expect the prices to go up) 2×$330 - $500 or $160+.

The tire maintenance, on which the guarantee depends, consists of:

  • Inflation, 35 lbs for front, 33 lbs for rear; if hot, add 4 lbs to these numbers.
  • Rotation every 6,000 miles.
  • Car maintenance including alignments.

Costco tires

I got the Michelin tires at Costco as noted, but I've had a rather mixed experience.

First, let me say that at no time was I ever displeased by the folk who work at my local Costco. They have been unctuously polite and helpful.

However, it took over 2 hours to get the tires installed, over 90 minutes a couple of weeks later to get one tire that kept going flat fixed, a rotation that took about 2 hours and, ultimately, more than 2 hours to get a slow leak fixed in which they decided to replace the tire completely.

The slow leak plagued me every time the temperature changed, then about once a month, then finally every couple of weeks I had to go by Costco to air out the same tire over and over again. It's impossible to find air anywhere, even when you're willing to pay for it, the dispenser is unlikely to work with any adequacy. Costco's hose and chuck, unavailable except open hours (0900-2000), are superb. I wish I could find a set to keep at home on my compressor.

Finally, I took the time (over 2 hours as I said) to get this problem addressed once and for all. I can only hope. They should have charged me 25% of the new tire (though I had only 15K of the 90K miles on it and it had never performed correctly), but in the end, they gave it to me for free. Note that I'm not the sort of person to press my suite with any force; most the time, I don't even mention it.

My assessment is that Costco is a very nice place to buy tires at a good price, but you'll pay for it in bother over the life of the tire. I'm pretty sure it's their process. I don't think all the front people are empowered to make decisions or even run some cash register functions. They scoot off to the back several times during your visit. You see qualified technicians manning the cash register up front. Once day I saw no fewer than 4 people come up front to work the cash register, answer questions, sell tires, etc. during my 2 hours. This is very inefficient. They also have to field battery questions.

Costco just can't get the through-put.

At Les Schwab, I would have had the new tires in well under an hour, flats or leaks fixed in under ½ an hour, etc. All my other tire dealings have been with them and so will my Prius' the next time around.

Last, one of the Costco guys told me that the Prius chews tires. In fact, said he, all hybrids chew tires. I find this curious given that hybrids tend to be driven by folk who don't accelerate by nature. The cars themselves don't make your nose bleed when you accelerate. They weigh far less than standard cars. Etc. I don't know where the guy was coming from.

Gas mileage Fall 2015

In the middle of this hysteria in Europe over gas mileage, I would point out that Toyota claimed for my 2013 Prius 51 (city), 48 (highway) for 50 (combined).

What has been the truth?

When I was commuting to Salt Lake City every day, I would get up around 50 on the way there, better than 50 on the way home and anything between 35 and 45 in town. However, I would point out too that as soon as I needed new tires and bought a set of nice Michelins, my mileage was shot by 5-10 mpg.

Two observations:

It's possible to get amazing gas mileage if you're not in a hurry to get anywhere. (This is true for all vehicles, you just don't have the electronic monitoring equipment to tell you so.) Knowing that US 89 was cut off until a certain hour in Kanab, I slowed way down once to about 50 mph from Panguitch to Kanab and got up around 66 mpg. In town, if Julene and I are just shooting the bull not caring how fast we get to a restaurant, the displayed gas mileage can be up in the 60s or even better (except when going home given we live up on the bench).

This said, however, there are reasons drivers of this vehicle are labeled "Prius pricks." It's because Prius owners tend to be arrogant pricks thinking themselves better than others because of their gas mileage. It's also because, if you carefully play the Prius dashboard video games to squeeze the best mileage possible out of the car, you're going to remain in electric mode as much as possible and hold up traffic à la funeral procession. You may get better mileage, but you're also behaving like an ass. (Most American drivers behave like asses anyway, oblivious to other drivers on the same carriageway, so you just mix in with the crowd.)

Personally, I refuse the moniker and put my foot in it. I don't get the in-city mileage claimed because I will not hold others up even if I don't care how fast I need to get someplace (which isn't a frequent option in real life anyway). I will either speed up (my normal speed is 10%-20% over the posted speed limits) or move over and let everyone by me.

Service record
Miles Performed Date Services
5,000 miles 4,810 8 February 2014 scheduled maintenance
10,000 miles 9,817 1 April 2014 scheduled maintenance
15,000 miles 14,759 24 May 2014 15,000-mile service
20,000 miles 20,099 2 August 2014 scheduled maintenance
25,000 miles 25,026 4 October 2014 scheduled maintenance
30,000 miles 30,282 20 December 2014 30,000-mile service
35,000 miles 35,331 23 April 2015 scheduled maintenance
40,000 miles 40,634 10 August 2015 scheduled maintenance
45,000 miles 45,650 3 December 2015 scheduled maintenance
50,000 miles 50,886 25 March 2016 scheduled maintenance
55,000 miles 2016 scheduled maintenance

Service: How to reset the oil-change indicator

I.e.: how to get the video game back.

  1. Press the trip-indicator button until you reach Trip A.
  2. Press the Park button and then Power off the car.
  3. Press and hold down the MPH/Km button while restarting the car by pressing the Power button waiting for scale to reset.
  4. Once the scale is reset, let go of both buttons.

This procedure may be on page 428 of some Prius operator manuals.

2013 Toyota Prius