By on November 8, 2012


Six years ago I managed to make a $2000 profit on a car without it ever leaving the auction.

A few winks to the auctioneer. A few clicks on a digital camera. A few paragraphs on Ebay. Done. I had managed to purchase and remarket a 2001 Toyota Prius in mint condition with 113k miles. It was near factory clean inside and out. A spanking new hybrid battery. Brand new Michelin low resistance tires, and a maintenance history that showed it had been dealer maintained since day one.

In the car business we refer to these opportunities as an automatic slam dunk.

I bought that Prius $6650 and sold it for $8950 to a nice family from Alabama who met me at the auction two weeks later to pick it up. Back then, I was one of the very few who did his homework when it came to researching older vehicles. These days not a lot has changed… at the public auctions.

Condition (6.5/10):

Whenever anyone sees a hybrid with a check engine light at the auto auctions, they discount the price accordingly. A lot of folks who end up having bad battery packs will dump these vehicles to a new car dealer who will then invariably attempt to recycle their trade-in at a variety of nearby auto auctions.

Rarely do you ever see one that doesn’t have this problem. Although this was only one of three 1st gen Priuses I have ever seen at the sales.

This one was a little ugly on the surface. Two doors had dents. The check engine light was illuminated at the time it was bought, and there was even a rust spot on one of the lower rocker panels.

However when I dug below the surface. I found the true beauty of it.

Dealer records. A recent battery pack replacement. Reasonably low miles at 109k, and the rust spot was little more than residue from a scuff that was never fully tended to. The rest of the vehicle was fine except for that check engine light which was  code P1436. That turned out to be nothing more than a bypass valve (non-advert clicky) near the catalytic converter that usually required some PB Blaster.

A few good sprays. A check for $2860… and a far tougher decision than in the past.

Should I…


I can’t think of anything that would be more popular to rent than a Toyota hybrid. If I took this route, I would likely charge $25 a day and have it only offered with a seven day minimum rental period. Plenty of customers who have vehicles in need of major engine or transmission work wouldn’t mind driving a car that gets two to three times their usual fuel economy.

Out here in the ex-urbs of Atlanta, people drive a lot. If anything this would be a heck of an attraction for the rest of the business.


$1000 down. $65 a week for 24 months. I have no doubt that this will make the note so long as I can find a good owner.

Except in this time of the year, that’s hard to do. The last three months of the year are pretty close to a no-man’s land in terms of finance customers. October and November offer no spending holidays. While December tends to be a good month for smaller ticket items, and dumber than a bag of hammers new car leasing options.

The folks who have bad credit and/or unproven income are usually stretching to make ends meet at this time. I do get customers. But they are either referrals from the current customer base, or folks whose cars just broke down for the last time and don’t have the means to meet the down payment or monthly payment.

More than I likely I would have to hold it until next year.


On a retail sale I would be looking at around $5000. This is a popular car. But I would also have to spend a few hundred dollars to get it to look right.

There is a part of me that would consider putting the Prius on Ebay during the next couple of weeks. Large hurricanes like Sandy usually result in spikes for models that are popular. But usually it takes several weeks for the insurance companies to write checks for all the scrapped units.

I just got a 1983 Mercedes 300D that had been a Southern car for its entire life, which means no rust and minimal suspension wear. The Prius may be a better fit in the online world where folks in the northeast could bid it up.



This is a weird car. The door panels and hood are as about as thin as a wore out brush on an old broom. Frugality is nice. But the side impact safety strikes me as troubling for a young family of four.

Would it be good for me alone? Nope. The Insight likely has far better structural rigidity and side impact safety standards. You may not assume this. But the 1st gen Insight is a surprisingly strong car for the time period. Plus it’s about 67 times more fun to drive than ye olde Y2K+1 Prius.

I’m not keeping it. But would you? Which one of these four choices would offer a monetary economy that would match the outstanding fuel economy?

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48 Comments on “Rent, Lease, Sell Or Keep: 2001 Toyota Prius...”

  • avatar

    I don’t know which choice is correct ahhh…….oh here you go None Of The Above, cause I would never have bought that ugly piece of crap in the first place!

  • avatar

    I always wondered – was the Gen 1 Prius just a worked over Echo (another ugly duckling, except maybe in hatchback form)?

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Rental. Toyota threw piles of money into the design and build quality on the various Prii, so this is about the best bet for a car that can withstand indifference and neglect.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Keep if you like it, otherwise sell it, battery should not be an issue at this point although you never know, it is the Achilles heel of any hybrid with the battery being so damn expensive to replace if it goes bad.

    • 0 avatar

      reread the article…..

      “However when I dug below the surface. I found the true beauty of it.

      Dealer records. A recent battery pack replacement. Reasonably low miles at 109k,…………..”

      Battery is new in this car.

  • avatar
    Andrew Bell

    Rent it! I don’t think you will make much money off of it otherwise. Great buy though. I love this column.

    • 0 avatar

      new battery or not these cars have some unique components that due to rarity (they never break) are expensive to replace.. a quick mistake using jumper cables by a renter and you will be out of any profit.

      Meanwhile gas rationing to continue for several weeks in the NY-NJ area.. they are begging for a car like this.

  • avatar

    Sell. I am no hybrid expert, but I would be more comfortable renting/keeping the second gen ‘release’ than the first gen, new battery or not.

    I could see this doing well on Ebay, esp with that odd teal color its a total woman’s ride. I can see it now… idealistic, heavily indebted, hippie type employee at [insert east coast liberal arts school] who currently drives a beat 96 Corolla complete with a hundred obnoxious bumper stickers who can’t afford a new Prius but needs save on gas. She’ll get financing @ 8% through her credit union and probably drive down to Georgia to pick it up.

    • 0 avatar

      “Odd teal color”?

      If I were to go by casual observation, I’d think that was the only color ever offered on that car. Certainly, it’s by far the most common on the ones I see (and saw, when they were new)in service.

  • avatar

    Keep it. And report to the b&b the ownership experience of an older hybrid. The joys and travails of such an endeavor…

    Kidding! I wouldn’t want to see a friend living in an automotive hell! Your Honda has you covered and is much more interesting in this, how can I put it? , visually-challenged car.

    Sell. The idea of selling it to a storm afflicted northeasterner for the highest price possible makes the most financial sense. Rent you’ll alway be worried about that battery.

    Good luck!

  • avatar

    eBay…after Sandy, people in the crowded NE will pay top-dollar for a relatively low mileage Toyota that is reliable and gets amazing fuel economy. Avoid gas lines, park in the city and don’t worry about dents, etc. Given the pent up demand you’ll likely get $6k-$7k for it, cash, immediate.

  • avatar

    Definitely sell it. Ths is an 11 year old car. Even for an ultra reliable car like the Prius- it’s a lot for a rental car. Patch it up and sell it and thank your lucky stars.

    • 0 avatar

      Eleven is not so old anymore…I’ve had older cars than that pressed into daily service and they were not problematic at all. Nor were they as good as a Toyota.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. Ten years old today would have on average 120K to 130K on the odo – still life left. With all the updates to this one and 113K miles? Pffffftttt, just broken in. NO ONE would be hooning a Gen I US Prii – it violates the laws of physics…and hooning.

  • avatar

    Why were the batteries replaced in both Prii? I thought they were durable and usually lasted >150k? Age? Or how the cars were treated over the years?

    • 0 avatar

      Heat is the enemy of batteries, I would assume that the climate in Atlanta has a lot to do with the battery replacement in addition to time-related degradation over almost twelve years of service.

    • 0 avatar

      The original 1st gen Prius batteries didn’t turn out to be all that long lasting (maybe 100k miles-ish or 7 years-ish?).

      The 2nd gen Prius batteries are bulletproof. 145k miles on the clock and still going strong. The Prius online community keeps upping the MTTF estimate – it was around 250k miles the last time I checked.

      If you want to hack with a hybrid, then the 1st gen Prius is a great platform. It turns out that you can put the cells from a 2nd-gen Prius into the 1st gen battery pack, which is a great weekend project for someone who has been educated on elecrical safety. The replacement packs from Toyota are probably using the new cells too. But you can skip all of that and just buy a 2nd gen Prius and have the most reliable and efficient vehicle Ive ever had the privelege of owning.

      • 0 avatar

        Makes sense. I was probably thinking of the second generation, I dont see too many of these ones on the road, not that there were too many sold around these parts anyways, it took a while for people to warm up to the idea of a Hybrid in cold Northern Ontario. There is a beige Prius of this gen that I see around town often, it seems to be in good shape. I find these ones look a bit too dowdy for my taste. I dont mind the wedge shape of the generations that proceeded this.

  • avatar

    If you have the machinery to do the repos (tow truck + borderline psychotic character) then finance is the way to go. No? What did YOU do with the car Steven?

  • avatar

    Sell on EBay or Craig’s List. Gas lines in the Northeast won’t be gone for months. Plenty of people have the cash to buy this car, even without an insurance settlement. Half the car dealers are not up and running. There is minimal auto inventory. Sell in Jersey and reap the scarcity premium.

  • avatar

    Sell it! There is likely to be a spike in demand for good cheap wheels, epsecially for those hurt by Sandy. Many of these people will soon be getting insurance payouts and NEED to buy something quickly.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t worry about side impact protection in this car any more than I would for any other decade old small car. Standards have existed for such things in the US for decades, and there is a stout beam beneath that thin sheet metal. The biggest concern for the first generation Prius in actual use is the tires. Although it is a small car, it is a very heavy one, particularly for the day. 2,900 lbs is nothing in comparison to a Cruze, but it was about 600 lbs overweight in the days when compacts still mostly came with 175/65R14 tires. As a result, the early Prius needs XL load range rated tires in its original size, and options are few, provided there are any alternatives to the OE RE92 XL at all. The OE tire used to be very expensive when available, and they had a charming 160 treadware index to go with its high price. Going up a tire size takes care of the load handling issue, but 185/65R14 tires will throw off the odometer, speedometer and gearing by 2.5%. That’s provided they clear everything.

    Were I in your situation, I’d rent it or sell it. If someone wants it then they’ll pay for it and you’ll make out fine on any reconditioning costs. Personally, I found the first Prius to be a miserable thing to drive that didn’t achieve the impressive mileage of the later generations to make up for it. These were built for the twits known as early adopters, and it suited them just fine.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you mean 15″ tires – 185/65R14s won’t throw off the odometer as they’re merely wider than OE.

      Incidentally, there are plenty of options for wheel/tire combinations; a 15″ Ford Escort GT wheel is a direct mount and with a proper load-rated tire will clear everything just fine and relatively inexpensively. Going from a 65-profile tire on a 14″ wheel to a 60-profile tire on a 15″ will negate any speedometer/odometer issues.

      • 0 avatar

        185/65R14 tires are taller than 175/65R14 tires as the sidewall height is a function of tire width. To derive the height you multiply the width by the aspect ratio, which is 65% in this case. The larger tire is 13 millimeters taller than the original one, changing the circumference by 2.5%.

  • avatar

    How much rental business do you get? That’s an interesting market that I know nothing about. Do you have a sort of rental “fleet” already?

  • avatar

    I personally love the first-gen Prius, but as it looks a lot like an Echo (whew, I sure don’t see many of THOSE still around), it doesn’t have the same cachet as the later generations, except for those in the know.

  • avatar

    Sell. There are only 6 within 100 miles of Atlanta on under $7000 and most of those are over 150,000 miles. Spend the couple hundred on the cosmetics and put it online.

  • avatar

    “I can’t think of anything that would be more popular to rent than a Toyota hybrid.”

    There’s your answer.

  • avatar

    Sell it on e-bay.

    My coworker had one of these and i drove it in DC when we went up for a convention. I was quite impressed that at 186,000 miles it was rock solid without hearing a single squeek or rattle on DC roads. But damn was it slow and boring to drive and that broken chicken wing of a gear selector felt like it would fall off in my hand. She said it was that way from new.

  • avatar

    I can’t look at a 1st gen Prius without immediately picturing Larry David, the two are just completely and permanently linked in my mind. These should have come standard with a pair of Transitions lens glasses and a Pinkberry gift certificate.

  • avatar

    Whoever said this was a hippie car is on target. Take it to Berkeley, park on any random street corner, hop out and start taking bids.

  • avatar

    New Battery? Some Records? SELL!!!!

  • avatar

    Since there is now pent up demand in NY-NJ area, sell it.
    Rent out one of the many used Tauruses in ATL auctions, instead.

  • avatar

    New hybrid battery?

    But, but, but, but, I thought the Prius faithful insist they last forever.

    OK, OK, sorry, I need to go pop some popcorn.

    I respect the US Gen I Prii because of the ground breaking car it is. On the other side of the coin, it is at its core a very overpriced (when new) Toyota Echo.

    I would sell. ON THE OTHER HAND, rent would be darn interesting. You probably couldn’t command a high rental rate for an econobox Toyota Echo, but put a hybrid in it — and suddenly you’re getting midsize or premium car cheddar.

    • 0 avatar

      2nd and 3rd gen batteries last forever. 1st gen was a beta test, and Toyota used what they learned from it to build the good ones – like the one in my 2004 Prius.

  • avatar

    sell it and take the cash unless you want to use it as a rental and a business marketing tool, only you would know if that road works for you.

  • avatar

    Sell it. Plenty of life left in it, especially with a fresh battery.

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