Save Money, Plug-in with a Toyota Prius Prime Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle

Reader Contribution by John D. Ivanko and Inn Serendipity
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We now go to gas stations to wash our windows, not fill up the fuel tank. With mpg ranging from 59 mpg to 89 mpg, depending on how much local versus long-range driving we’re doing and the temperature outside, our 2017 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in electric hybrid vehicle has transformed how we move about, saving us money and reducing our environmental impact.

The Toyota Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that, with our first-hand experience of driving it on the open roads for more than 25,000 miles, has demonstrated that driving green is well within the financial reach of many people. The Prius Prime has both an 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery and a 1.8 Liter 4-cyclinder engine, capable of driving all-electric in EV mode for the first 23 to 32 miles (our experience, depending on the season), then switches to the regular hybrid-electric-motor-and-gasoline-engine hybrid mode for the duration of the travel – eliminating any so-called range anxiety experienced by people driving all-electric vehicles. We never have to worry about running out of power and getting stuck on the side of the road as long as we keep our gasoline tank full.

Previous Experience with a Toyota Prius Hybrid Vehicle

For several years, my wife, Lisa Kivirist, and I enjoyed driving the hybrid Toyota Prius 2 (models from both 2015 and 2016). Vehicles, for us, are necessary to get around in our rural area, to various speaking events related to our books, or for our journalism or consulting work off farm. The Prius 2 base model more than satisfied our needs for a family of three and, more importantly, had enough space in the hatchback to fit two or three boxes of books and presentation materials, including a standard large display board. While we are a 3-person household, we only have one car, so it had to serve many needs. Storage space demands ruled out most other hybrid or all-electric vehicles. We also found the interior had plenty of passenger room.

With our Prius 2 hybrid, we were averaging about 45 to 55 mpg, but we had to drive with a mind to be conservative in order to be energy efficient. If you have a lead foot, don’t bother with a Prius. You need to go slow, both on acceleration and braking in order to take advantage of regenerative breaking. It was great on the open road, which is most of our driving given our farming homestead location with lots of open roads. The Prius is great in the city and suburbs, too, since the engine turns off at traffic lights and we often find ourselves going for miles on electric in stop-and-go traffic when in the city. Mountains are tougher, however, as we discovered when attending the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle: Toyota Prius Prime

Now, with our new plug-in electric hybrid 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Plus, we get 59 to 89 mpg, depending on how many long-range trips we take and what time of year. If on a given week, we’re doing mostly local driving, like a round trip into Monroe, Wisconsin, to mail out a book, we can complete the entire 25-mile round trip entirely on electric power. When we return home, we plug-in and recharge the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) using a ClipperCreek Level 2 (240 volt) Universal charging station that’s in our garage. As one would expect, the bitter cold winters of Wisconsin and the use of the vehicle heater reduces our all-electric battery range considerably, from 32 miles down to 23.

That said, with our plug-in hybrid Prius Prime, we’re constantly on the lookout for places to plug-in while we get our groceries at a food cooperative, grab a bite to eat, or spend the night at a B&B. The locations are becoming easier to find thanks to apps like PlugShare and ChargePoint. On a trip to Door County Wisconsin, there were plenty of free places to recharge our Prius Prime while we caught a sunset or walked around town, like when we plugged in at Bailey’s Harbor. The tourism industry in Door County made it a priority to offer numerous electric vehicle charging stations throughout the county, both universal chargers like we needed for the Prius Prime, but also Tesla chargers only able to be used for Tesla vehicles.

We’ve also ferret out and get permission to use standard 120-volt outlets at churches, YMCAs, hospitals and hotels; while the charging takes longer than the Level 2 chargers, free is free. Our annual fuel cost to operate our only vehicle was cut in half after switching from a hybrid Prius to the plug-in hybrid Prius Prime. Due to the growth of plug-in electric vehicles on the road, a growing number of Level 2 charging stations may have fees associated with their use. In our case, we can just skip those with fees because we don’t require electric recharging to be able to get around thanks to the plug-in and hybrid configuration of the Prius Prime.

If you use your personal vehicle for business purposes, according to the IRS, the business can reimburse the vehicle owner at an IRS rate for the business use of the personally owned vehicle. This IRS rate changes from year to year. In 2018, this rate was 54.5-cents a mile. So, if we use the car for business purposes for 10,000 total miles, that’s a reimbursement check of $5,450. Since we drive a 2017 Prius Prime, in reality, we were actually reimbursed for more than the vehicle cost to operate that year, especially given the lower gasoline needs. Since we purchased the 2017 Prius Prime new, we’ve had zero maintenance costs, since it’s covered under Toyota’s two-year or 25,000-mile warranty and maintenance coverage plan. Of course, we keep a written mileage log for the IRS.

When looking at the cost of the Prius Prime, it’s important to keep all the above considerations and realities in mind, plus your own needs on the homestead or farm. A Prius Prime cannot be used to pull a trailer or haul products to market. Just maybe, you can get away with adding a bicycle rack. But the Prius Prime can be the ultimate vehicle if you live like we do, in the middle of nowhere, and produce your own power on site. If you can quickly find a Prius Prime, you may qualify for a federal tax credit. Unfortunately, Prius Primes can be hard to find on dealership lots. We purchased ours on our first phone call to the dealer.

Using a Level 2 ClipperCreek Home Charging Station

Our Prius Prime is recharged at home with a ClipperCreek universal Level 2 connector. Since a 10.8 kW solar electric system completely meets the electricity needs of the farm, our Prius Prime is recharged with renewable energy, not utility energy often generated from burning coal or natural gas. A ClipperCreek home electric charging station can run about $500 to $900, plus $1,500 to $2,000 for the installation by an electrician. But a growing number of electric utilities may offer significant funding toward the unit or its installation.

As a side note, our ClipperCreek was secured by our business, Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast and Farm, as part of the Tesla Destination Charging program, which also included a Tesla Wall Connector. Guests staying at the B&B can recharge their electric vehicles for free, using the renewable energy generated on site by our solar electric systems. If you’re a business or organization, consider participating in this amazing program since Tesla pays for the connectors if your location is selected.

A Level 2 charging station is not required, however, to recharge our Prius Prime.  We could have used the standard 120-volt outlet. The result is the same, a recharged battery. It takes about 5.5 hours with a standard household outlet (Level 1), versus about 2.5 hours with a Level 2 charging station. Either way, electricity is much less expensive than gasoline, especially of you produce your own power with a solar electric system like we do.

As we write about in our Rural Renaissance book, or in our Mother Earth News articles on renewable energy and strategies for self-reliant living, everything is connected to everything else. When started our sustainable living journey 22 years ago, our goal was to go fossil fuel-free and work and live in a way that was “carbon-negative,” in essence sequestering more carbon than we generated annually by our operations and lifestyle. The Toyota Prius Prime is a major step in helping us achieve this goal by solving our transportation challenge.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chefcookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8-kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs. Read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Save Money, Plug-in with a Toyota Prius Prime Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle


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