No, it doesn’t plug in

Last week, you’ll recall, I had finally made the decision to buy an LGM (little gas miser). This was done in order to give my lumbering SUK, a ’95 Chevy Diplodocus, a much-needed break from the rigors of weekday commuting, since it had become obvious in the last two years that the Brontosaurus was one of the world’s worst commuting vehicles, just slightly more fuel-efficient than a Russian garbage truck. Now seemed a fine time to make such a move, since gas experts assure us prices will be jacking up well into the twos in the very near future (nice of the experts to gently lube us for the insertion of a major shaft of petro-malice).

The LGM that had caught my eye was the Toyota Prius, a dinky gumdrop of a vehicle powered by a remarkable new half-gas, half-electric engine that gets about 50 to 55 mpg. The only speed bump in the plan: Toyota can only crank out 36,000 Priuses a year (guess they underestimated our desire for innovative and halfway sane transportation), which meant, according to both Reno and Carson Toyota, I’d have to wait four to five months for a Prius. So be it.

Then, I got lucky.

With nothing to lose, I called Fallon Auto Mall. They confirmed the four-to-five-month story, and then asked if I might be interested in the used Prius they just happened to have on their lot.

A used Prius? I hadn’t even thought to ask. Used Priuses just aren’t out there, about as common as an albino raven. This was an ’03 with 11,000 miles and was on the lot because the original owner fell on some hard times. In other words, it was a repo. The price was $19,000. One quick test drive later, I was all over it. Hell, the Stegosaurus was paid off, so there was room in the monthly budget for a payment. After a token haggle, I signed on the line.

So if your household has two thirsty Behemoths in the garage, and you’re getting to a place where you’re asking yourself why, I can tell you, after driving the Prius for a month, that it’s a pretty neat little car. The price range for a new one is about 21 to 26k, depending on your option load-up. And yes, be prepared to wait for a few months.

The one thing to be clear about with the Prius—YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PLUG IT INTO ANYTHING. That’s what I figured, and I’m happy to report that notion is straight out of some clunky vision of yesteryear. You just drive this thing like you would any other car; the battery that powers the electric engine gets recharged when you’re rolling downhill or braking. It’s clever and it works. And yes, it’s pretty darn zippy. It has no trouble going 65, even 70.

There’s only one downside I can think of. Should I get nailed by a Pontiac Godzilla or a Dodge Doom, I might be in rehab for quite a while.