By on September 5, 2012


Lynn writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I enjoy your columns for their history and technology surprises of what might be wrong. Two history questions:

Since I have always been a penny pinching cheapskate and introvert I have never had an interest in large cars or silly awkward pick ups that burn lots of fuel and make lots of noise. Anyway, I don’t know what an auto Panther is or why several people at TTAC seem to remember it with fondness. Apparently the word has something to do with a frame built by Ford for many years but what is special about it and what is its history? Perhaps this could be worked in to one of your columns while helping someone with such a vehicle.

Many years ago I switched from Volkswagens to Toyotas and my life is now boring with no repair drama (or insults to my dignity from VW dealer staffs) and I haven’t been involved with auto repairs. A friend with a 2006 Prius with 90,000 miles asked me how long her car’s nickle metal hydride batteries would last out here in Phoenix’s hot sun. Any thoughts and history about this? Can the batteries be replaced with Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries?

Thank you,
Lynn E.

Sajeev answers:

Quite frankly, your life is boring to the point of shame.  And not because you can’t comprehend Panther Love, explained and defended here and a decent year-by-year analysis given here by yours truly. But because your life never included proper American Icon.

VWs and Toyotas are fine, but there’s more to automotive life. Especially in the American South, where we pride ourselves on our proper American rides, even if they are swanga’d customizations of some of the worst machines in General Motor’s history. But the Panther is an amalgamation of the best of Americana, it’s the right sauce for many people’s palette.

Put seriously, these cars have merit even if they will never be mainstream.  So if you don’t get it, don’t sweat it.  It’s all good.

About the friend’s Prius: because Hybrids have a temperature control system for their battery packs, Arizona’s heat isn’t as big of a deal compared to a normal battery under the hood of a steaming hot engine. I expect for Arizona heat to tax the system more than other regions, but this article does a good job putting it into context. Maybe one of the fixes and preventative maintenance suggestions in that article will significantly extend battery life. Or–as we used to say around here–not.

So let’s wrap it up: Toyota warranties these systems for 8 years or 100,000 miles.  Much like Hyundai’s insane warranties, I have little reason to doubt that Toyota did their homework.  Car companies don’t usually gamble with their cash flow in such a dangerous place. With any luck, your friend has a few years of life left…fingers crossed on that.

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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19 Comments on “Piston Slap: Riddle Me This about Prius’ Batteries, Panther Love...”

  • avatar

    This is anecdote, not data, but: my mother has a 2005 Prius with 110Kmi on it. The batteries are fine. I also met a local politician a couple of years ago who put over 200Kmi on her first Prius, again without any battery pack issues.

    They may not be for everyone, but they sure do seem to be pretty bulletproof.

    • 0 avatar

      “They may not be for everyone, but they sure do seem to be pretty bulletproof.”

      One side-effect of the Prius’ powertrain is that a lot of components that, in a traditional ICE car, would be subject to higher stresses, aren’t. Cranking, thanks to that massive electric motor and EV-only low speeds, is a much less stressful affair, the engine gets assist under load, runs at more optimal throttle, and even the brakes last longer thanks to regen-braking.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed 100%. The Prius may be boring, but it sure is well engineered. Lots of them have 200k+ miles on the original battery. Running them well into 6-figure odometer readings is the same as any car: As the miles pack up there’s a slowly increasing chance of a major repair. In the Prius that might be a ~$2000 battery, and in a conventional car it might be an transmission or engine which costs as much. (And just as with conventional cars, you can save cash getting parts from crashed cars – according to PriusChat, there’s a steady supply of Prius batteries from dismantlers running $500-900.)

      To answer your other question: No, I don’t believe that there is any “upgrade” kit to replace the battery with a Lithium-based unit. (From what I understand, there’s really not much need – as the system works best with the battery it was designed around. Plus, the replacement batteries keep getting cheaper…)

      Also worth noting: If you’re in a CA emissions state, the hybrid system and battery is warranted for 10 years and 150k. That’s a long time.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        However there are ‘piggyback’ batteries that you can get to augment the stockers, in lithium-ion..

  • avatar

    Judging from the many older Prii in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey, the batteries are generally good for at least 150,000 miles. But I haven’t tried to look at only those in hot climates.

  • avatar

    There are plenty of cities that have Prius taxi cabs, still going strong with well over 200k on their battery packs.

    Keep in mind the packs don’t just up and die as they age. It’s a gradual degradation, and unless you regularly go up and down mountain passes, you probably can’t regenerate a full battery’s worth of charge in one fell swoop anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      Even if you regularly go up and down hills, the Prius will not flat-line the battery, nor overcharge it. It’s designed specifically to prevent the kind of abuse that would result in Toyota paying out serious warranty claims on prematurely petered-out batteries. There’s a trade-off versus fuel economy.

      Honda, by comparison, didn’t do this with the (first-generation) Insight and (I think) the Civic, and it’s packs don’t last nearly as long.

  • avatar

    Wait, did you just diss the LeSabre? Possibly the most classically American of unibody FWD sedans? Long, low and wide with comfy sofa seating up front, a drivetrain happy to putter around all day below 2000 RPMs and a suspension that kept the worries of potholes and cracked and heaved pavement away from you? Not to mention a plentiful trunk with an opening large enough to actually make use of. They even get pretty good MPG too.

    OK, in fairness, the window regulators are disposable and the dash warped terribly on ours even though it spent half its time parked inside or in the shade. And the intake manifold thing. So they’re not perfect. But almost.

    • 0 avatar

      The LeSabre was a seriously cost engineered machine, with a truly awful interior in every visual aspect…and some half-assed styling outside too. But the proportions are classically awesome, so it makes a decent swanga.

      Plus the 3.8L V6 sounds like it will shake itself apart, but I know there are many 90-degree V6 fans out there: I’m just not one of them.

      • 0 avatar

        If thats the W-Body GM I know how it is, I drove a Pontiac Grand Prix version and it had the cheapest interior in any car that I can recall, terrible seats, “sporty” suspension that broke easily, the thing was just a joke.

        The engine was alright though.

      • 0 avatar


        Nah, it’s the H body – the Bonneville was the LeSabre’s twin.

      • 0 avatar

        “Plus the 3.8L V6 sounds like it will shake itself apart, but I know there are many 90-degree V6 fans out there: I’m just not one of them.”

        Those engines have merit even if they will never be mainstream.  So if you don’t get it, don’t sweat it.  It’s all good.

        I’m hesitant to defend a post-1999 H-body but it’s not like the Panthers didn’t have some cost-cutting stagnagtion going on at the same time.

    • 0 avatar

      Ah, I just figured it was based on Sajeevs comments but I guess I was wrong.

      • 0 avatar

        Moot point. All GM platforms were seriously beancounted back then. Love GM or not, at least the current crap has class-average or better design/workmanship/quality.

        EDIT: I actually meant to say crop, not crap. Major Freudian-Faragoian slip right there.

  • avatar

    There’s still not much hard data from long-term durability studies, but anecdotally at least, hybrid battery packs seem to be holding up much better that originally predicted. I remember when the first Honda Insight went on sale, and everyone was doom and gloom that the batteries would be dead before the loans were paid off – a decade later, I’ve seen some with nearly 200,000 miles and still on their original set. There are some hybrids, Prii included, that will fail much before that, and others that will go on long after that, but in general, they seem to be holding up OK at higher mileages.

    As far as the Panthers, well, I drive one. It’s a big, comfortable RWD car with restrained styling and a standard V8 that handles well for its size, gets decent fuel economy, and will last several trips around the Moon with no complaints. Good old-fashioned technology, there’s not a whole lot about the car’s construction that someone transported forward from, say, the 50s, couldn’t understand.

  • avatar

    Discharge due to disuse probably hurts the battery more than any particular clime.

  • avatar

    I really wanted a Panther myself, the thought of a V8 and US iron just made me drool like a good pizza, plus I liked the idea of a tried and true design (being dated isn’t always bad!).

    I drove an old box Panther and have ridden in many jelly-bean era cabs (one being an ex cop car), they are comfy cars with good pep but there were a few factors that made me not want one and others should consider:

    1. Base models are very rare so get ready for broken power this and broken that, especially broken window motors.

    2. De-Contending with later models and just general bad cost cutting, like those plastic intakes and the AODs plastic bits that would break at 100k. Easy to fix and easy parts yes, but still inconvenient.

    3. Like almost all used cars, its hard to find one that hasn’t been modified with custom exhaust or ruined for a cancelled custom speaker job. That and I’m skeptical of the many “driven by an old lady around town” claims, they’re far too frequent.

    4. Either you’ll deal with the boxy models better styling but delicate tranny, the Taurus models better luxury but mediocre styling, or the later models de-contending.

    5. While a silly factor, Panthers aren’t all that unique.

    6. Support seems to be “My whips got a 5 inch lift, grille delete, superZ engine tune, glass exaust, 55 inch speakers in teh trunk, and a million other things I don’t need”. That and the great authors at TTAC.

    7. Earlier models weren’t all that great at rust prevention despite being bigger cars, you’d think they would’ve used a higher grade of steel for a big car.

    8. If you can find a low mileage RWD Volvo you’ll get the same qualities but with an engine thats easier to work on (if its a 4 cyl), a ride thats just as good, more reasonable mpg, and better build quality. You’ll still need to wrench a few things but its worth it.

  • avatar

    My fiance seems like the perfect candidate for a Prius. She’s fairly frugal, keeps cars until the wheels fall off (seriously… she’s 34, and on her second car… which is a 6 year old Versa), likes to try to be as green as possible, and doesn’t care for the act of driving all that much.

    Can’t say I get the Panther love (though admittedly, the only Panther I’ve driven was my grandmother’s ’03 Grand Marquis, before she finally gave up the pretense that she’d ever drive again… Whenever I’d visit, I’d take her out for lunch and errands driving her maroon colored barge. Fiance’s mom has a Lesabre, which seemed equally bad.

    But, color me surprised, I rented a ’12 Impala last month on a vacation in San Francisco, to drive down the coast and meet some old friends. I really liked it. That car felt so solid, the power so responsive… It didn’t slosh around like a LeSlug or a Grandma-Rquis. It was 100% opposite of what I expected. I still wouldn’t trade my tC for one (I like having two doors, a hatchback, and a manual transmission), but I was very, VERY pleasantly surprised. Other recent rentals included a Ford Focus and a Ford Fusion – the Impala was definitely on the “Focus” end of the spectrum from the wallowy Fusion!

  • avatar

    First learned to drive in my father’s old ’84 Mercury Grand Marquis. My friend’s first car was an ’87 version that was virtually identical. I kinda helped teach him how to drive it properly. He later upgraded to a 1994 model and then traded that in on a 2002 LTD, which I helped him out with from time to time. Over the course of the last couple decades many of my uncles have owned several iterations of either the Grand Marquis or the Lincoln Town Car and during my late adolescence, I found myself behind the wheel of just about all of them at some point or another.

    So yeah, you can put me squarely in the category of people who “get” what Panther Love is all about. That is all.

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