Stress test: Long road trip with 2008 Toyota Prius

After finding myself in a mode of required time-off, I thought it’d be great to get out of the house and go somewhere I’ve never been before.  Looking at the map, I closed my eyes and opened them real quick (since I didn’t want to choose Bentonville, Arkansas or something), and chose New Orleans in Louisiana.  I’d never been to Louisiana before, and I figured it’d be an interesting trip!

The trip was driven entirely with my 2008 Toyota Prius, equalling 1,537 miles one way. (or about 3,000 miles round-trip, not including local travel)  After putting new tires onto the car, and washing her up (why? Don’t ask me…), I ended up leaving late in the evening due to dinner situations with the folks.  The entire trip was car-based, with no hotels/motels.  I thought that would be the most horrid thing but I figured it’d be worth a shot to see how the true road-life would be.  I was surprised really, since it was as easy as pulling into a rest area to tuck into a spot and kick the seat back.  Well, not as comfortable as a bed but definitely not as bad as I thought it’d be.  I had to twist to my side a bit because of the lumbar support on the Prius seat, though.

From Phoenix, AZ to New Orleans, LA the terrain ranges from mountainous to complete flatland and altitudes ranging from -38 feet to 4500+ feet.  The “normal” speed limit is 75 MPH, except in Texas where it’s been risen to 80 MPH recently.  This drastic change of altitude throughout the trip definitely showcased power-curve and fuel-economics of the Prius.  On the long, steep, drawn out, mountain passes that never seen to end, I noticed that at 75 mph the fuel economy ranged around 25-30 MPG.  While this may seem not quite so good, any car going through this terrain is suffering a heavy fuel penalty due to the harsh inclines.  25-30 MPG is highway standard on most cars.  One rule of thumb though, don’t use the cruise control when going through hilly terrain unless fuel economy is not an issue at all.  The mindset of the cruise control unit is to use as much power as possible to maintain the speed which it was set for.  Obviously, keeping an 80 MPH speed while going up a 7% incline requires quite a punch, and when using electric it will quickly diminish and the engine will be the only source of power as it charges the battery.  It’s better to be at 80-90% throttle or less, leaving the motors some room for switching back and forth.  The power is there, it just needs to be managed differently than a non-hybrid.
One of the biggest issues I had during the trip was a problem that very few people will experience, however it still exists for me.  My right foot does not bend, which means I use my leg to push my foot down onto the accelerator pedal.  Unfortunately, the area around the pedal is not terribly accommodating of my size 10 boot which stops the range of pedal-motion after about 3/4-inch… unless I twist my leg.  I’m going to look for a component to attach to the pedal to extend the surface up a bit.  An issue I dug up when at brisk speeds was the suspension.  It works great when under 40-45 and in the city, but at speed it was way too giving and rocking.  I had to avoid a squirrel in the street when I was in Texas, and I was doing about 55 MPH at the time.  It was purely instinctual, which makes it more realistic, I believe.  When I jerked the wheel to the left to avoid the squirrel, I could feel the car yawing as if the weight was shifting to the back and the suspension was collapsing.  When I yanked the wheel to the right to get back onto my driveline, the suspension yawed the other way, and it was like a bowl of jello.  Once I got into my driveline again, everything was back to normal, but that alone told me that a suspension upgrade is necessary for any spirited driving. 

The entire trip there and back (round-trip) was $262, which isn’t terribly bad for a little over 3,000 miles and gas prices $3.60-$4.10.  to put it into context, I had cancelled a California trip just before this trip and the hotel alone would have been $149/night.  One thing to note is that after coming back I decided I’d have the wheels aligned – they were all around .26 toe-in.  NOT good, but unfortunately within factory tolerances since Toyota has decided to really have a good tolerance for it.    The best toe-in is about 0.05/wheel (0.10/axle), which would explain the wheels “wandering” at high-speeds on the highway.  I have a feeling the fuel-economy will be better now, as well.  Shame after a 3,000-mile trip…

Would I do this trip again?  Yes, definitely.  What would I do differently next time?  First, I’d keep cash around for the fuel purchases since apparently any time I use my card outside of my normal daily route the card becomes deactivated due to possible fraudulent use.  (UGH)  I can understand large purchases, but $20 gas purchases?

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