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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Prius: the Blizzard Disaster Car

I wonder if Robb Graham has tried this yet....

So you're thinking of buying a hybrid car to ride out the next gas price spike (and you know there will be one), but you're not sure you want to eat the $3K–$4K premium instead of buying a straight gasoline-powered Corolla or Civic.

But consider this added value in your calculus: folks are finding they can use their Prii as emergency back-up generators. From Harvard, Mass. (the town, not the university), where an ice storm knocked out power this month for days:

round the corner at Madigan Lane, John Sweeney, a member of the town’s conservation-minded Heat Advisory Committee, took a characteristically green approach to powering his home during the storm. He reported his achievement in an e-mail, saying it was no big deal, but that his wife thought it an impressive tale worth sharing: Sweeney ran his refrigerator, freezer, TV, woodstove fan, and several lights through his Prius, for three days, on roughly five gallons of gas.

“When it looked like we were going to be without power for awhile, I dug out an inverter (which takes 12v DC and creates 120v AC from it) and wired it into our Prius…These inverters are available for about $100 many places online,” he wrote.

The device allowed the engine to run every half hour, automatically charging the car battery and indirectly supplying the required power [Valerie Hurley, "Ice Storm Tests Mettle of Harvard Residents," The Harvard Press, 2008.12.19].

A Prius, an inverter, and an extension cord, and you can ride out a lengthy power outage. Or you could just spend your Christmas gift cards on a regular emergency generator... at least the larger of which will run you about the same price as the premium on the Prius.

It's just a thought; your mileage may vary.


  1. That scheme will work with a regular car or truck too. But beware: You gotta get a good inverter, especially if you intend to run a computer off of it.

    I have a dedicated Honda 2 kw generator for backup power. It has a built-in inverter and runs my computers, as well as the furnace fan and electronics, burning about a gallon of gas every six hours.

    Three full days on five gallons of gas with a Prius? Sounds good! Now when are they going to make a good, solid hybrid pickup truck (or snowmobile)?

  2. Obviously, anyone who buys a totally new car is a sucker, period. But price gouging on the used is not an absolute. We actually bought a 2005 Prius in Sioux Falls a couple of days ago for not too much more than another dealer was asking for a Corolla. There is hope!

  3. Kelsey: Why would you say "anyone who buys a totally new car is a sucker, period."? New cars are discounted about as low as I've ever seen them and you get full warranty, sometimes as long as 10-year, 100,000 miles. Sure, they depreciate, but if you're getting a $12,000 to $16,000 discount upfront, that puts you on an even keel with used car annual depreciation of around 10%. So why not buy NEW and have free warranty and no worries about unexpected repairs? What will a set of batteries cost in that used Prius? OUCH! I'd rather get 35mpg in the new Corolla and only put in one battery after five years, make my $179 payment with zero percent interest and relax, knowing I can install the same inverter on the Corolla.


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