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Why Do Toyota Prius Hybrid Owners Drive So Annoyingly Slow?

Updated on January 18, 2011

2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid

The 2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid at midnight.
The 2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid at midnight. | Source

Toyota Prius Hybrid Drivers Are Different?

Toyota Prius Hybrid drivers are more than likely going to be using different driving techniques that what you are used to seeing. They just don’t drive the same way you do, and there are very specific reasons for this. I know because although I used to be one of you, I am now one of them.

No, really, this is not about you versus them, it’s not about people being different. This is about what brings a person to make the decision to drive a Toyota Prius Hybrid car. It’s about what they go through when they get that car and start learning how to drive it. It’s about high efficiency fuel mileage and more miles per gallon.

Dodge Pickup Truck

The Dodge: V10: Lots of Power - Not A Lot Of MPGs!
The Dodge: V10: Lots of Power - Not A Lot Of MPGs! | Source

A Little Background

First, let’s back up just a little bit. In a former life, I lived in the country and loved it. My wife and I bought 45 acres up on the side of a mountain and built a home there. We did a lot of the work ourselves, which included hauling all manner of building materials up there. So back then I bought a very powerful, very capable Dodge pickup truck. That truck gets about 8 to 9 miles per gallon. I still have that truck for practical reasons, even though I don’t live in the country anymore.

For the longest time I didn’t buy a second car for a variety of reasons, including the concept of ‘invested energy’. I finally was able to get another car. But I could not settle for just another gas burning, pollution spewing internal combustion engine vehicle. I was making my new car decision even as BP was running a twenty-ring circus in the Gulf of Mexico, and I was so angry that I was determined to start reducing my petroleum consumption as much as possible. I wanted the best possible fuel efficiency I could afford.

The Toyota Prius Hybrid Is Rated At 50 MPG!

It did not take long to narrow the list of potential new cars down to the Toyota Prius Hybrid and the Honda Insight Hybrid. They both come from reputable car companies, and were advertising similar fuel efficiency numbers. I also spent a lot of time prowling fuel economy and car performance forums on the internet, looking for information from actual users as to how these cars perform in the real world. In the end, the Toyota Prius Hybrid was the choice for me.

During my research I came across people who routinely achieved fuel efficiency numbers, miles per gallon (MPG), of 60, 70 and even higher (as high as 100 MPG!). That’s right, there are Prius and Insight drivers out there who are getting 70 miles per gallon (MPG) and more. Well, as you might imagine, I wanted in on that! Think this through for a minute... if you have an eleven gallon gas tank, and you get even just 60 miles per gallon, you are going to get 660 miles between filling your gas tank. For some drivers, that means filling your gas tank only once every 6 weeks or even two months!

But the more I read, the more I learned about what is required to get 70 or 100 miles per gallon in a Toyota Prius Hybrid. There are hypermiling driving techniques that actually have names, like Pulse And Glide, Warp, Engine-Off-Coasting, and so on. While I applaud these MPG Pioneers, I could see readily that some of these more extreme techniques were not for me. So I concentrated on learning more about ‘normal’ fuel efficient driving techniques for getting more miles per gallon. In fact, I start using these methods while I was still driving my truck. Over the course of 3 months, I was able to bring up my average MPG from 8.3 to 9.5. It doesn’t seem like much, but that is an almost 14.5% improvement in fuel efficiency, just from making simple changes to my driving habits.

2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid: Images From Instrument Cluster. Each of these images are displayed sequentially when buttons on the steering wheel are pushed. The bottom left image is the Hybrid System Indicator.
2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid: Images From Instrument Cluster. Each of these images are displayed sequentially when buttons on the steering wheel are pushed. The bottom left image is the Hybrid System Indicator. | Source

The Toyota Prius Hybrid System Indicator

Enter the Toyota Prius Hybrid. Now I was driving a car that was supposed to get 50 MPG around town. Wow, talk about happy days. I was going to show BP that I was on my way to personal petroleum independence. Not so fast. The Prius has some of the coolest information available in the instrument cluster. All sorts of gauges that tell you where the energy is coming from to move the car, whether you are charging or depleting the battery, and lots more. There are also several ways to see how you are doing in terms of fuel efficiency, or not.

So if you bought the Toyota Prius for that 50 miles per gallon, like I did, you will be watching those gauges closely to make sure you are getting it! Then you realize you are NOT getting it. But you can, you know you can.

Slowly I got the hang of it. The gauges are really great for providing instant feedback on your fuel efficient driving techniques. In addition to simple concepts I learned while still driving my truck, like not accelerating toward a red light, and resisting the urge to accelerate so quickly from stop lights, I started to learn how to manage the Toyota Prius Hybrid system.

The Evil Gas Pumps Are Lurking For You
The Evil Gas Pumps Are Lurking For You | Source

So Why Do Toyota Prius Hybrid Owners Drive Differently?

From the light:

The Toyota Prius Hybrid has a cool little gauge that shows how much energy I am using at any given moment. So when the light turns green, and we all start to accelerate, I can see an indicator of how it is affecting my fuel efficiency. It has three sections to the little gauge graphic. Basically, if I keep the indicator in the main section of the graph, I am in “ECO” mode, and getting good mileage. If the indicator pushes into the small section at the right, the “power” indicator, I am using more energy, and getting poor fuel mileage.

It doesn’t take long to realize that keeping the indicator OUT of the POWER segment gets me closer to 50 MPG. That means I don’t accelerate as quickly from the light as other folks. That also means I get a close up look at the grill of the car behind me. I call it counting dragonflies.

The main point here is that with some effort to restrain myself, I quickly found that I still get where I am going in time. It just isn’t worth the wasted fuel energy to get where I am going 30 seconds faster.

Does It Matter?

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100 MPG At Cruising Speed

Once I am up to speed, I am going to be trying to get my energy usage indicator to slide over to the left of center position. If my battery has enough charge in it at this point, I can get the internal combustion engine to shut down completely and I can drive in battery only mode for a while. All the while I am driving in battery mode, I am getting 100 MPG or more! But to do this requires letting the car settle into a smooth cruising speed. I don’t drive below the speed limit to achieve this, but it may seem like it because I won’t accelerate to close the gap between myself and the car in front of me. If I get slowed down, I am going to try to build speed smoothly again, so I can stay in full electric mode as long as possible.

The more I twitch and wiggle that gas pedal, the worse my fuel efficiency numbers. If I want to get the best possible miles per gallon, I want to keep my demands on the engine smooth. Another way to look at this is to consider that any time you want to change the speed of something in a hurry, it will cost you way more energy than if you change the speed of something gradually. So, while I am driving my Toyota Prius Hybrid, trying to get 50 MPG or better, I want to accelerate at a moderate pace, and I won’t try to catch up to traffic ahead by using a lot of pedal.

Don't Accelerate Up To Stopped Traffic
Don't Accelerate Up To Stopped Traffic | Source

Watch Ahead For Slowing Traffic

I look down the road ahead, almost always now, looking for the next red light or traffic slowdown. Because I don’t want to waste energy cruising toward a braking situation when I could lift my foot and coast to it. No, I don’t coast to a red light from a mile away, it will be green by the time I get there. But I do coast sooner than I used to, because it is completely useless to burn energy getting to a red light and then waste it all by hitting the brakes and stopping.

This is another big "counting dragonflies" moment, as the people behind rarely seem to look ahead, so they don’t seem to get that we are going to have to stop, and I am just slowing at a more rational pace. I have seen this over and over and over again. On two lane roads when I am slowing for a red light ahead, people will come up very close behind me, trying to intimidate me into speeding towards that red light. When I don’t speed up, they jump in the lane next to me and accelerate to the red light and jam on their brakes. Then I coast up and stop next to them at the light and look over at them. They rarely look back.

Always Consider Other Drivers

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to come across as righteous just because I drive a Prius now. That's not how I feel. I feel like I have figured out I have been driving all wrong in the past. Now I want to use high mileage driving techniques (not quite hypermiling) to get the best possible fuel mileage I can. I'm just trying to learn how to get around while using as little oil as possible. And I really do understand that other people are not necessarily thinking or feeling the same way.

Here is what I try to do for other drivers. When I am on a two lane road, I try to stick with one lane or the other. I will usually take the left of two lanes if the right lane is getting a lot of exit/enter traffic, which is a real killer when you are trying to get high miles per gallon. But I always pay attention to the traffic around me, and I try to let the speeders by. On three lane roads, highways, I will stick with the middle lane to give everyone ample opportunity to get past me. This in spite of the fact that I am going the speed limit or above. On single lane roads, I will often sacrifice my fuel efficiency to make sure I am not causing a slowdown for other drivers.

The Deep Horizon Oil Rig Burns In The Gulf Of Mexico
The Deep Horizon Oil Rig Burns In The Gulf Of Mexico | Source

It's About The Really Big Picture: Running Out Of Oil

It’s all about coming to the realization that the way I used to drive was all wrong. It was inefficient and wasteful, and it doesn’t support my goal of personal petroleum independence, or oil freedom. I know there are a million other ways I consume petroleum in my current lifestyle, but this is a big step I can take right away. The more I look around at how others drive, the same way I used to drive, the more I see it as completely unsustainable. I know I wasted lots and lots of energy with the way I used to drive, but I was just an average driver, and so it seems more and more evident to me that we, as a nation, could be saving lots and lots of gasoline if we just modified our driving habits even just a little bit.

If you find yourself behind a Toyota Prius Hybrid, please try to be patient, try to open your mind to seeing how they drive, and think about how it could actually save you money to modify your driving habits just a little bit. Yeah, it’s awkward at first, because it new and different, but this is important and much bigger than just being annoyed because the person in front of you is not trying to race to the next stop light. Also, beware of this sticker in the back window: “If you can read this, start getting your insurance papers together.”


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    • Smaridge01 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Florida

      Well Dougiefresh, it does kind of sound like you drive like an ass. But that's okay. It's still a free country. I'm sure you never impede traffic. Bravo. Oh wait... were you being sarcastic?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      My 2005 saab 9-3 turbo with a stick easily gets 40mpg and i don't have to drive like an ass to hit it. On the highway, im cruising around 80, keeping up with or passing traffic instead of impeding it. I always hit 70 before the top of an on ramp to allow safe merging . in the city, I'm the fastest one away from a red light to create safe distance and the last one to decelerate to a light to avoid being rear ended, and to keep distance so i don't roll back into the asshole that crawled up my ass on a hill

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      So Prius drivers achieved fuel efficiency numbers and don't care about inconveniencing others with their way of driving, nor do they care about flow of traffic. I didn't read the whole article.

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 

      6 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Great article! I was a Prius owner and can testify to all that you've said here. We DO want to conserve with our new car. We DO drive differently. And we DO save doing so.

      Now, though, I drive a Chevy Volt. With nearly 1/2 the tank of gas remaining, the odometer is showing 1300 miles since the last fill up. For my type of driving (suburban short trips) it's beating the Prius rather handily.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      A prcivoatove insight! Just what we need!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I really wish there were more artielcs like this on the web.

    • suvreviews profile image


      8 years ago

      One things that drivers do not realize is that when you are driving, you are not walking. So, no need to go berserk on the throttle.

      Great hub. I am glad that energy efficiency is becoming so popular with each day that passes.

    • Smaridge01 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Florida

      I agree Laurel. I have long since realized that my Prius has some startling acceleration capabilities. When you 'put your foot in it', that little car will really go. And I find, compared with normal driving, putting my foot in it to get up to freeway speeds does not hurt my overall MPG all that much. It's a learning.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I can understand modulating acceleration off a stop light but when getting up to speed to get on a freeway, you are causing a hazard. I have been stuck behind any number of Prius drivers and was nearly unable to get up to speed to merge into taffic getting on a 65 mph posted freeway. Put you foot in it!

    • Car Salesman 4 U profile image

      E Chris Baker 

      8 years ago from Indianapolis, Indiana

      As a car salesman of Toyota vehicles I am glad to see someone explain things this well for others to read. One thing not many people think of, but each and every "product" we buy lasts for a period of time before becoming useless and needing to be recycled into something else. The "LONGER" that product lasts, the longer before more resources are needed to replace that product. In the case of the "Toyota" brand vehicles they typically outlast all other brands regardless of it being a Prius or other hybrid making the Toyota brand vehicles better for the environment than most if not all other auto makers in the world. I hope your Prius lasts you many many many years to come. Good luck with the high mileage results. As an additional note, Toyota is ready and prepared to produce Hydrogen vehicles, we simply need the infastructure "Hydrogen Gas stations" to create a demand for Toyota to put into production the Hydrogen Hybred Prius. Can't wait.


    • MickiS profile image


      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Smaridge01, don't get sucked in by Daniel. Better to just delete rants like that and ignore them. He just wants a response and, frankly, doesn't deserve one until he can put his thoughts into a coherent comment and not an irrational rant.

    • Smaridge01 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Florida

      Love your comments MickiS. I love to get in traffic and see two or three more Prius nearby. Always looking to see if they will wave. LOL

      I still maintain that the police are too embarrassed to pull us over and give us a speeding ticket. Yes, my Prius IS able to exceed the speed limit! :)

    • MickiS profile image


      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Awesome Hub, Smaridge01. I laughed when I first got my Prius that it came with a video game included! New Prius drivers spend so much time watching those screens and re-learning how to drive.

      I find that, in addition to the fuel savings, it's made me a more relaxed driver overall. However, given the choice, I never pull in traffic behind another Prius! I know how slowly they drive! LOL.

    • strkngfang profile image


      9 years ago

      Very interesting and great insights. I use a lot of the same principles with my non hybrid Honda Fit that still gets a lot better mpg than is rated. How you drive definitely makes the difference. Most Honda drivers I know love to use the high reving engine hence the poor mpg.

    • Smaridge01 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Florida

      I've met lots of people who like to drive their cars with big engines and that like to drive fast no matter what. They usually have some rationale for explaining why it makes sense to drive as fast as they want and ignore the fact that we are running out of oil. That's okay. We will run out a little faster is all.

      If your Prius did not come with a "power" button, I would seriously consider trading it for a new model. It's very effective when you need to get the car to move quickly.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Why do Prius owners drive so slow you ask? It could be that the Prius does NOT have ANY pick up whatsoever and we are driving as fast as we can!!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      While I get what you are trying to accomplish, cursing in the left lane is simply an annoyance. Just because you have made a personal choice to drive a certain way doesn't mean you should be inconsiderate of other drivers who are trying to get where they are going. Driving like that actually causes the traffic around you to achieve less economy because the cars behind you have to bunch up and modulate their speed. Not to mention this also causes accidents. I would encourage folks to take a trip to Europe- the Autobahn and make mental notes on their driving techniques. Its a harmonious demonstration of a massive number of cars driving with a flow of traffic - and they still achieve great fuel efficiency. The best thing to do on the highway is stay in the right lane and let the rest of traffic flow.

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      9 years ago from UK

      This is a really interesting hub. It’s great to see that even though you still have your pickup you now drive a Prius. I so agree that we need to be careful with fuel. We had a Prius for 5 years and then switched to Auris Hybrid, which is equally good for fuel consumption. I try to stay in Eco mode, and though I don’t monitor it too closely, it’s amazing how little we spend on fuel.

    • Smaridge01 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Florida

      Thanks Jpcmc! I'm glad you got something out of this hub. As always, it's good to get the positive feedback. Good luck in your search for better gas mileage.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      10 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      I've been driving almost half my life now and this is one very informative hub. I do try to drive in such a way i could save more fuel, but getting a more fuel=friendly car would be a good idea. This is the first time I heard about techniques like Pulse and glide, warp and others. I'll definitely look into these.

      Your hub deserves a vote up. Great job.

    • Smaridge01 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Florida

      Thanks Glenn! It's good to know I'm not alone. It's hard to get people to understand. But I try to remember, I have not be a reformed driver all that long. I used to drive like a maniac who thought gas was free, but I just can't ignore the truth any longer. By the way, you might enjoy a website called, if you don't already know it.


    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      10 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I am so glad you wrote this hub. I thought I was the only driver who coasted to red lights. I've been doing this all the years I've been driving. I even accelerate slowly. If you have a tachometer then you can do the same thing you describe with the Toyota Prius. I presently have a Honda Accord and I get 33 mpg city driving. I watch the tachometer and I try to keep it under 2000 rpm and any speed. That does the trick. Sure enough many other drivers get upset as I approach red lights and they floor it and race around me just to slam on their breaks when they notice the red light. I guess that's why Honda claims only 23 mpg in city driving. They know people drive that way. You can see why I loved reading your hub. I voted up. Thanks.

    • Smaridge01 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Florida

      Thanks Steph, I know what you mean. When I first got my Prius I kept wanting to pull over to look at the display because I wasn't used to it and wanted more time to figure out what was going on. Of course, once you pull over, it all changes, so that doesn't work. Good luck with your Prius, I am sure you will come to love it. One tip: If you really need some extra juice in traffic, hit the POWER button. It really works.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Fantastic article, just bought a Prius and am learning how it all works. Just hoping that I am not so busy looking at the information panel that I drive up the back of someone!


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