Prius hackers plug their cars in at night - get 100 MPG Marc Hedlund 02 Apr 2005

32 comments Latest by Pat

NY Times: Hybrid-Car Tinkerers Scoff at No-Plug-In Rule - great story about Prius hackers getting huge gas mileage by plugging their cars into the electrical grid overnight:

Plug-in hybrid prototypes have been around for several years, but the idea of modifying a Prius stemmed from the curiosity of some Prius owners in the United States, Mr. Kramer said. They were aroused by a mysterious unmarked button on their Prius and discovered that in Priuses sold in Europe and Japan, the button allows the car to drive for a mile in electric-only mode. Mr. Hermance said the feature was disabled in Priuses sold in the United States because of complications it would have created in emissions-testing rules.
Mr. Kramer said “a bunch of engineers reverse-engineered it in the United States and figured out how to hack it.”

32 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Brad 02 Apr 05

In a region like, say, the Pacific Northwest, where most electricity is produced without emissions (i.e., hydro), plugging in your Prius at night may be a good thing for the environment. But more than half the electricity in the United States is still produced by coal, so in some parts of the country your plugged-in Prius will have some pretty dirty emissions associated with it.

Also, I wonder how the economics of it work out…electricity isn’t free…how much does it cost to charge a Prius by plugging it in overnight versus charging it the usual way (through the little gasoline motor inside)?

Brad 02 Apr 05

Duh, I see that Dan Becker says the same thing in the NY Times article, should have read that first!

Anyway, the other thing that I’ve always wondered about the Prius — the article quotes an owner as saying that he gets 40-45 mpg in his Prius. That’s no better than a Toyota Echo, which costs more than $10,000 less. Hey, if you want to do something for the environment and can afford a Prius, why not just buy an Echo and donate the $10,000 to an environmental group or the Democratic Party?

Steven Andrew Miller 02 Apr 05

Toyota Echo, which costs more than $10,000 less. Hey, if you want to do something for the environment and can afford a Prius, why not just buy an Echo and donate the $10,000 to an environmental group or the Democratic Party?

I have read several times that there are more than a few hybrids that are less expensive and more readily available than the Prius, but they just do not sell as well. The problem with the other cars is that they do not “look” like hybrids. The Civic Hybrid for example looks like a normal Civic. It is a status thing. In fact, I think it is the exact polar opposite of people who drive H2s around. “Look at me, I’m _____ the environment”

Marc Hedlund 02 Apr 05

Brad, I definitely agree with the point you make, but note this line from the article:

For power companies, the notion of people plugging in cars overnight represents not only a new way to make money, but the vehicles would also draw power mostly during off hours which would improve efficiency, because power plants cannot simply shut down at night as demand diminishes.

I don’t know enough about energy production to say whether, today, a lot less coal is burned at night than during the day, and whether this hack, spread widely enough, would change that significantly. I do think, though, that having the alternative available is a good thing. Maybe the pollution from one centralized energy source would be lower than that from all the cars that would otherwise be driving on gas.

I was more enamored with this story because of its hacker ethic, though. “Here’s this unlabelled button — what does it do?”

Brad 02 Apr 05

Well, coal is usually used on the baseload plants (those that run all the time, rather than those that are called into service to help meet peak loads), so I don’t think it’s going to reduce emissions in that sense.

But anyway, it’s not a big issue at this point because there aren’t enough Priuses or people who care enough to try the hack to have an effect!

Joe B. 02 Apr 05

I own a Toyota truck, and while in the service department one day a lady came in yelling at the top of her lungs because she *never* gets above 45mpg… ever. After she left the room, I heard the Toyota service people say “This is the worste thing Toyota could have done for that car… claim those number, it never happens”. I heard them talking about the same “line” they tell all the irrate prius owners… has something to do with getting above a certain MPH or something and being in the right “mode” before you start seeing the real benefits. An echo does sound like a better option if your real goal is to spend less on gas and help the enviroment. Maybe if they put one of those nifty screens in the echo with all the cars’ vital statistics people would go for them more? :)

Dan Boland 03 Apr 05

I actually drive a two-door 2002 Toyota Echo. When I bought it, I had four criteria:

1) Good gas mileage
2) Inexpensive
3) Small
4) Won’t fall apart in no time flat

The Echo was the perfect fit for me. The Prius is a beautiful car, but if I were to get a hybrid (which I might actually do eventually), I would get the Civic Hybrid. I can’t comment on highway mileage because I don’t do much long distance driving, but city mileage varies from 25 to 33 MPG.

But do you guys remember the Geo Metro? It claimed to get 59 MPG highway. My sister had the first model from 1989 (drove it for 13 years, too), and while the gas mileage was excellent, it only ever topped out in the low to mid 40s.

Michael 03 Apr 05

I saw a british car show, top gear, where the reviewer concluded that a VW Lupo diesel was far better for the envoironment.

I don’t know if they sell the lupo in USA, but they claim it has a mileage of 27 km per litre (roughly 63 mpg) when driving in the city and 33 km/l (77 mpg) on the highway.

Caleb 03 Apr 05

SmartCar (substitutable for other diesel engine car) + Bio-diesel = yessssss.

what if someone hacked out the gas engine of the prius, replacing it with a diesel, and ran it on bio-diesel�

Now that would be hawt

Brad Pauly 04 Apr 05

The EPA is responsible for the estimated mpg of a car. It was recently in the news that their estimates come from tests under optimal condition in a controlled environment. When people get out on the road the cars don’t perform anywhere near the estimates and people are pissed. The EPA is apparently considering changes for its tests.

I owned a Jetta TDI for a couple of years and it got around 50 mpg on the highway. Loved it.

eric 04 Apr 05

did you guys make changes to you stylesheet? this is the first time in a while that your content div wasn’t smooshed to the left, in Opera. awesome.

Lee Dale 04 Apr 05

If I were to purchase a fuel-economy centric car, I can tell you that I would definitely purchase a Prius over an Echo or any other existing options.

It has nothing to do with status, it has to do with space. The Prius is a mid-size car and has substantially more cargo space than, say, a Honda Civic or Toyota Echo. In Canada, we like to fit our hockey equipment in the trunk, not shove it in the back seat. ;-)

Darrel 04 Apr 05

”+ Bio-diesel”

The problem with a lot of biodiesel (like ethanol) is that it actually takes more oil to produce the fuel than you get out of it. Bio-Diesel, at least for now, is just yet another pork-barrel farm subsidy. Now, if we’re talking those ‘recycled McD’s fryer greese’ cars, well, there’s something to that… ;o)

Brad 04 Apr 05

The Matrix gets amazingly good fuel economy (the Canadian version is rated around 45 mpg) and has more cargo space than the Echo, and it’s still more than $10,000 cheaper than the Prius. I think the Matrix has as much or more cargo space than the Prius; I’ve been car-shopping lately and have checked them both out.

I’m not bashing the Prius, I think it’s great that people are buying hybrid cars and helping to push the technology forward. But from a purely environmental perspective, the Prius doesn’t perform much better in real life than the Echo or Matrix. The only real reasons to buy a Prius are 1) it’s cool and 2) you’re supporting the development of hybrids.

Oh and one note on those Volkswagen TDIs — diesel can give you incredible fuel economy, but it’s still not considered a “green” choice because of the particulate emissions. Even the newest “clean” diesels emit too many particulates to get good environmental ratings. Particulates have been strongly linked to heart disease and cancer, and a significant portion of those diseases in urban areas may be due to diesel emissions (mainly from trucks and buses, though cars don’t help).

smoothj 04 Apr 05

From a purely environmental perspective, the Prius doesn�t perform much better in real life than the Echo or Matrix. The only real reasons to buy a Prius are 1) it�s cool and 2) you�re supporting the development of hybrids.

I’d think that you have to add the 40-60% less tailpipe emissions from the Prius to that list. The average car (even the Echo and the Matrix) produces about 13,600 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. Any reduction in that has to be good …

MrBlank 04 Apr 05

“The problem with the other cars is that they do not �look� like hybrids.”
Yuck! The Prius is U-G-L-Y. I’d go with a Honda just because it doesn’t look like a hybrid.

My questions are: How many miles do you get out of a hybrid before it craps out? less than 200,000 miles? What do you do with the dead batteries? If they don’t last 200,000 miles, then what do you do with the waste from the batteries? Even though you aren’t dumping as much waste into the air, how much extra would you be adding to the landfill? How much extra energy would it take to recycle the stuff? Is it really that much better than an efficient gas-powered car?

Brad 04 Apr 05

I�d think that you have to add the 40-60% less tailpipe emissions from the Prius to that list. The average car (even the Echo and the Matrix) produces about 13,600 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. Any reduction in that has to be good �

Sorry to be nitpicky, but the reduced tailpipe emissions you’re citing (relative to other high-economy cars) are not carbon dioxide, they’re the other stuff like NOx and particulates. The amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a car is directly proportional to its fuel economy; emissions controls have no effect on CO2 (in fact they may increase CO2 emissions since gasoline is burned less efficiently than it would be otherwise).

MrBlank 04 Apr 05

Thanks, Eamon, I liked those links. Saved me a lot of time. :-P

PS: How else do you phrase speculation if you want an answer?

One of several Steves 04 Apr 05

Eamon, thanks for the bullet points. Every thing I wanted to say is captured right there.

One other thing to note: as appealing as diesel is for fuel economy, the stuff is still pretty filthy in terms of emissions. It’s gotten a lot better, but it’s still very sooty and still cranks out a lot of sulphur. As Brad notes, that invites its own host of problems.

Dan Boland 04 Apr 05

Lee Dale: I don’t know, I was surprised by the amount of trunk space in the Echo. It had more than my old car, a Pontiac Grand Am (a much larger car). Though I’ll admit that your hockey equipment still wouldn’t fit. ;D

Eamon: You’re exactly right that fuel economy and emissions are equally important in determining a car’s environmental record. But fuel economy is the only one that’s relevant to the average person’s daily life. Idealistically, I would drive the car with the best combination of the two, but realistically, I’m going to pick better gas mileage over better emissions every time because you can have the former for not a lot of money (e.g. the Echo), whereas having the latter requires a lot more green up front.

Now I’m sure someone can go dig up a bunch of information about how high emissions cost the country billions of dollars a day or something equally horrifying from a financial standpoint. And I wouldn’t doubt that for a second, to be honest with you. But the average person can gauge how much gas he/she needs to spend and can afford to spend to get around. That’s something tangible I can put in my budget.

sloan 04 Apr 05

In the end, going to something like zero emission hydrogen based cars is the way to go. I haven’t seen a study, but I would have to imagine that it is much more cost effective to clean up power plants than each and every car individually. Coal can be cleaned up greatly, but recent laws have actually made it dirtier than in years past and mining for coal has had restrictions removed, resulting in more environmentally devastating practices. Over a third of greenhouse gas pollution in the US comes from cars, hybrids are a great middle ground for the foreseeable future. I prefer the Prius over the Honda’s because it is a 5 door. But all of them are priced too highly and the tax break was reduced to $1500 from $2500 (if I remember correctly) so the price hike to be greener is hard to take.

Cinnamon 06 Apr 05

My partner and I purchased a Prius a little over a year ago. During the winter we averaged 46-50 mpg in the city and during the summer it was more like 50-54 in the city. There are tricks to driving. It turned my partner from a brake and gas quickly guy to more of an easygoing, spend a lot of time coasting guy. How you drive really does affect the gas mileage.

We chose the Prius over the Echo because it doesn’t have enough space for all the stuff I need to take to craft shows, or for our road trips. We chose the Prius over the Civic because the gas mileage was better, the air bags seemed better, the sound system was much, much better, the seats were more comfortable for my slightly-short frame, and our 6-foot plus friends fit in it easier. The sales person at Toyota was also much more informed and less pushy than the person we dealt with at Honda. It doesn’t hurt that we think it looks cool and that it came in better colors and that it is bluetooth enabled.

Michael McClennen 23 Apr 05

I have also found that the gas mileage I get from my new Prius varies considerably depending upon how it is driven. I have learned to accelerate as gently as possible and coast as much as possible, and can almost always get >50 mpg highway and >55 city, and can get >60 mpg on relatively long trips through the city when I’m being very careful! In city driving, I never exceed the posted speed limits, and tend to accelerate gently to a few mph above my desired speed and then ease off on the gas pedal until the gasoline engine stops and the battery is providing just enough power to keep the car moving at a more-or-less constant velocity. The battery can keep the car moving for several minutes in this mode without using any gas, at speeds up to about 40 miles per hour. On the highway, the car does need to run the gas motor in order to maintain highway speeds, but by being extremely precise about how much I press down on the accelerator I can get it into a steady state at about 60 miles per hour and 51 miles per gallon. As long as the highway is flat, I can travel indefinitely at that level of efficiency. And as long as I’m not being bothered by idiots honking their horns behind me, I can let the car gently slow down to about 50 mph when going up shallow hills, and accelerate again on the downhill without losing much in the way of efficiency. On city streets, I look far ahead and, if I see a red light coming up, will take my foot off the gas pedal right away. That starts the car gently slowing down and the battery recharging, and often the light will turn green again before I get to it (and before I’m completely stopped), so that I don’t have to use a lot of gas accelerating back up to cruising speed.

My wife, by contrast, never gets more than 45 mpg. She drives much more aggressively than I do, and worries a lot more than I do about whether the people behind her will get annoyed if she’s driving slower than the rest of the traffic on the road.

Conclusion: if the Prius is driven very carefully, the EPA’s posted numbers ARE ACTUALLY CORRECT!!! Yes, you really can get 51 mpg hwy, 60 city—I do this regularly. Now that I’ve had the car for a month or so, my special driving habits have become routine and I don’t really have to think about them anymore.

On the other hand, if you are planning to just drive this car like any other, you might as well save $10,000 and buy a Toyota Corolla or some other car that will get 40-45 mpg with a regular drive system.

Note bene: I live in Florida, which is probably an optimal environment for this drive system. If you live in a cold-weather climate, you may only get this kind of efficiency in the summer months. I also am careful to use a heat-reflecting windshield insert in order to keep the car from becoming too hot while parked. The efficiency goes down if it needs to run the airconditioning a lot. I get my best efficiency in early morning and late evening when the outside temperature is relatively cool.

PAX2000 04 Apr 06

I now have 1500 miles on my 2006 Prius. My first mpg tank was 51.6. I now stay at about 55.8mpg tank average. I love it!!!!!! If someone is not getting 50+mpg in this car, they need to learn how to drive as an adult.

Bob 10 Aug 06

I have a Honda C. Hybrid. I consistently get better than the EPA when I do the following things:

Have the A/C off
Don’t drive like a maniac
Ease up a bit-take life a lot stresslessly.

My best mileage was 60mpg for a distance of over 60 miles. Over 180 miles, 55.2 is my best, and for a full tank’s worth, (12 gallons) I’ve travelled 562 miles with a bar still left. (I’m sure I would have hit the 600 miles mark). I have done better than 50 mpg on the freeway many times. On city streets, I can get over 50 as well…It’s as everyone says…you have to think when you drive and be conservative…thinking the same way has helped in other vehicles I drive as well. I’m constantly experimenting on how I can get better gas mileage. I would really like to get over 60 mpg on a long distance trip and I think I could do it…just have to keep practicing… epa is something like 49 city and 50 hwy. I can’t think of a vehicle I’ve ever owned where I got epa or worse. Some people just don’t know how to drive properly and spend their lives complaining how someone else is the reason for their problems. sad…

Joe Cool 29 Aug 06

Let’s face it. While the environment is a hugely important issue over the long term, we are facing some pretty serious issues pertaining to fuel at this time. What ever we can do to save fuel is good for ourselves, the country and, in the run, the environment. Frankly, I believe REAL leadership from someone in either party would be to pull all troops out of the Middle East and let those people kill each other and get it done with. Then take all the savings and invest in making the USA energy independant!

Pat 21 Sep 06

I bought my 2005 Prius with the “0” package in Oneida New York. I went up there from Fort Myers, Florida because the local dealer was pushing their fleet Prius’ for $3,000 more than I could get my new one for.
I now have 43,374 miles on it and recently completed a 10,512 mile tour of the US.
I had to go through Montanna because I wanted to legally find out what my “wimpy” Prius woul do. I still don’t know because I quit when the display showed 103 mph. and I am still using the original tires.
Highway mpg averages 51.8 at 70 mph. and I don’t baby the car.
I bought it for techie reasons and am of course delighted that “tree huggers” like it, but that is purely a non-requirement for me.
I don’t notice much difference in performance than any other vehicles that I have owned. Still enough guts to accelerate and pass on the freeway and blessings, I can run the airconditioner in a rest area when I need to take a nap.