After getting my Prius last year, a lot of people asked about the battery (not the little one that kicks the ignition, but the big one that powers the electric motor), hinting they had heard it was not good for long, and would cost a fortune to replace. I had no idea what they were talking about, and still don’t, other than to assume they’ve fallen prey to an urban legend propagated by Ford, or these guys.
My big battery’s been fine. But that little one, it can cause some real hell.
Batteries die, it’s a fact of life. You don’t close the trunk all the way and the interior light stays on, and, left long enough, the thing will run down and need a jump. Or your daughter will not close the door all the way as she gets out, and it just may be the night before the family vacation to Florida. A vacation meant to cleanse you of the feeling that life has just about tipped over the edge to unsustainable – not “green” unsustainable, but just plain old unsustainable, as in between shuttling her to preschool, logging nine hours of manic work, getting her home on time, fed, played with, indulged in all the modern arts, you find there is nothing left once it gets dark but to collapse into bed, a book open long enough only to hold your gaze for two sentences, followed by the painfully predictable startle of said book falling on your nose once you’re asleep.
And you may come back, nice and tan, believing once again you can manage all this and it is in fact more than sustainable, it’s a downright pleasure. You may come back, load her into the Prius on a sadistically cold morning (considering your tan, the Gulf’s brine still under your fingernails) and find that pressing the cool little power button on your dash returns nothing but silence. Nothing. And it’s cold. And you’re already late.
Then you think, "How do you jump a Prius?" And you have no idea.
First, you have to find the battery. Is it under the hood, like all the other cars you’ve owned in your life (’78 Rabbit, ’95 Accord, ’64 Valiant [gone, sadly], ’00 Outback)? Nothing you can recognize. So you have to open the owner’s manual with an unwelcome feeling of impotence for someone who has lain beneath that Valiant and adjusted transmission linkages, etc. It points you to an oddly shaped hidden compartment in the far right interior of the trunk. That’s weird, right? And the picture of the battery doesn’t look like any battery you’ve seen; but this is a Prius, and there are a lot of odd things about it so, fine, you’ll go find the battery and charge it.
Here’s where it gets strange, and maybe a little of that love you have for the Prius will drain away. You try to open the trunk. Nothing. Same cold reply as the button on the dashboard. And it hits you: The trunk is not operated manually, by a little lever above the license plate, but electronically, by a rubber-covered button. Electronically.
So you need to get to the battery somehow, which is in the trunk, which opens only when the battery has a charge. The manual mentioned this, but it seemed too illogical to even register. But it’s true.
The manual declares confidently that the trunk may be opened from the inside, but I would warn any large man, or any woman who is not flat, that this will hurt. Probably worse if you are claustrophobic, because you must wedge yourself between the top of the rear seats and the roof, which thanks to the aerodynamic design of the Prius, goes very slim right there (some of you may be able to fold the back seat down, but not if you have car seats anchored there). And what if you see a stroller in the trunk, along with a backup diaper bag, umbrellas, pail and shovel, a toy fishing pole, an old road atlas? Well, you have some more work to do, and it will stink.
Here’s an opportunity to get creative. You think to yourself, "Well, the kid got us into this mess, she can get us out of it." She’s been waiting patiently, lunch box in mittened hand. She’s not yet four feet tall, thin, flexible, a good sport.
You direct her from the backseat, wincing a little as she puts her hand into the dark opening that removing the plastic trunk lever cover created, feeling among yellow and white wires for something to pull. But the battery’s dead, right? So those shouldn’t be a problem. Thankfully, they’re not. She pops the trunk, looks back over her little shoulder at you, beaming, only a little out of breath.
You don’t even have to employ the safety rope you tied around her waist -- she wriggles up and over the seats like a well-trained sapper.
But your work isn’t done. Because the hatch has to be completely open, not just popped, you’re going to need to get out (attach the rope to the front-seat head rest or something), go behind the car now, and work with her through the rear window. As she presses that little hidden release lever again, harder, you’ll need to pull up on the hatch so it comes completely free (remember, it has no lever from the outside, just an electronic button).
The hatchback is open now. Remove the rest of your stuff from the back, lift up the luggage cover, find another cover plate on the right, pry that open and beneath you’ll see the crappy little battery that starts (or fails) your Prius. Attach cables, power it up and you’re back.
Sort of. The Hal of Prius doesn’t like to be sapped of its power and restarted. So lights will flash, your dash will blink and in a final expression of its indifference to your labor, the hatch will not reopen after you close it unless you read another page of the owner’s manual to learn how to reset most of the automatic electronics.
That works. You get to preschool and for once find a good parking spot (because you’re so late), check all the doors, peek in at the interior lights to make sure they’re dark and you’re good.
The ’64 Valiant, for all its leaks, noises, and appalling lack of safety features, was a hell of a lot easier to get out of this jam than the Prius ever will be.