Rent, Lease, Sell Or Keep: 2001 Toyota Prius

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
rent lease sell or keep 2001 toyota prius

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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2 of 48 comments
  • Chris P Bacon Vinfast made a splash with their release here? I guess a thud can create a splash...
  • Svenmeier I want to drive the car, not be driven.
  • Ajla It'll be hilarious if everyone adopts the Tesla charger except Nissan.
  • SCE to AUX This is not a race worth winning.
  • JMII These would sell better if they came with a service to drop it off (with new tires and brakes) at which ever track you decided to visit per weekend. While its small it still doesn't fit on a private jet and there aren't many tracks close to where your yacht can be docked. 1st world problems here.